LE MARS, IOWA — Wells Enterprises, Inc., the third-largest ice cream manufacturer in the United States, has acquired Fieldbrook Foods from Arbor Investments. Financial terms of the transaction were not disclosed.
Wells Enterprises’ acquisition of Fieldbrook is part of the company’s long-term growth strategy, said Michael C. Wells, president and chief executive officer of Wells Enterprises.
“Ice cream is a challenging category … it continues to grow in dollars and is relatively flat in per capita consumption and pound produced,” Mr. Wells told Food Business News. “In that environment, you’ve either got to go steal share or you’ve got to acquire it. We’ve done our fair share of growth through stealing share — we’ve got a combined annual growth rate of about 5.7% — but the opportunity to consolidate and get some additional assets under our ownership as well as drive capital and growth as a result is definitely a part of our overall strategy; so is a combination of organic and M.&A. work to continue to fuel our need for growth and our desire to grow.”
Headquartered in Dunkirk, N.Y., Fieldbrook is a private label and co-manufacturer of ice cream and frozen novelty products, including ice cream sandwiches, cups, cones and stick novelties. The company, led by former Schwan’s Co. chief financial officer Robin Galloway, has been controlled by Arbor Investments since 2010. Under Arbor’s ownership Fieldbrook’s revenues increased nearly 70%, and the company acquired Mister Cookie Face and Washburn Dairy.
The acquisition is expected to give Wells Enterprises a strategic footprint on the East coast. Fieldbrook operates manufacturing facilities in Dunkirk and Lakewood, N.J., and distributes its products in all 50 states and Puerto Rico. The company produces more than 120 million frozen novelties and 25 million gallons of ice cream a year.
“Prior to this acquisition, everything we produced was right here in Le Mars, Iowa,” Mr. Wells said. “We operate the biggest under-one-roof ice cream plant in the world here as well as our initial flagship plant downtown. We’ve found that the concentration in the Midwest has been great for our Midwest business, but we’ve been challenged as we’ve grown to the East and to the West. As we have continued to add lines to our current facilities, we’re within a couple of lines of being absolutely tapped out in regards to our capacity and our ability to grow. The combination creates a stronger platform for growth and positions us to better serve our customers, as well as providing a more geographically diverse footprint for us. We’re excited for the future and growing our business together.”
Founded in 1913 by Fred H. Wells, Wells Enterprises produces more than 150 million gallons of ice cream per year at two manufacturing plants in Le Mars and distributes product in all 50 states. The company’s signature brand is Blue Bunny, with other brands including Bomb Pop, Blue Ribbon Classics and Chilly Cow.
Last year, Wells Enterprises launched two new product lines that Mr. Wells said embody the two major trends driving the ice cream industry: permissible indulgence and healthier lifestyle foods.
The first was Blue Bunny Load’d Sundaes, which debuted in February 2018. The 8.5-oz soft serve-based desserts launched with 8 varieties and have grown to 16, including cookie crunch and fudge, peanut butter marshmallow and strawberry shortcake. Each sundae is a “very indulgent, ‘no apology for 450 to 600 calories for me’ kind of dessert option,” Mr. Wells said.
In March 2018, Wells launched Chilly Cow, a high-protein, low-fat, low-calorie ice cream made with ultra-filtered milk. The treat comes in such flavors as mocha espresso swirl, malted vanilla chocolate pretzels and brown butter salted caramel.
“These are continued divergent trends,” Mr. Wells said. “So we have a group of consumers who are looking not for better-for-you as much as they are lifestyle foods. They’re looking for things that are free-from, that meet the lifestyle needs and desires of the ever-changing millennial and now Gen Z consumer. And then there’s still a whole bunch of people that look at the ice cream category not for health, but they look at it for indulgence. The trend that we really see is that consumers will spend all week long exercising and eating healthy and then be a little more indulgent on the weekends. So we are playing to both trends: the permissible indulgence trend as well as the health trend. Those seem to be the two areas that are really driving the ice cream category.”