Months after shutting down its plants over a deadly listeria contamination, Blue Bell Ice Cream has found a new partner in billionaire Sid Bass. The family-owned company announced its partnership with the Texas investor on Tuesday. The partnership marks a new beginning for the once-popular creamery, which has been struggling financially since the listeria outbreak and ensuing business shutdown.
"We are pleased Sid Bass has made a significant investment with our company," Blue Bell CEO Paul Kruse said in a statement. "The additional capital will ensure the successful return of our ice cream to the market and our loyal customers."
Bass, a Fort Worth businessman who has has a net worth of nearly $2 billion, added in a statement: "Blue Bell is the quality leader in the ice cream industry. We believe quality is the principle attribute that ensures the success, growth and longevity of a business."
In April, Blue Bell temporarily closed its four production plants in Alabama, Texas, and Oklahoma following the deaths of three people who contracted listeria from Blue Bell products. There were 10 confirmed cases of listeria across four separate states this spring, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed the multi-state listeria outbreak, concluding that it stemmed from contaminated Blue Bell products.
According to Blue Bell, the affected ice cream product was its half-gallon chocolate chip cookie dough flavor. The company quickly recalled the product in April, before eventually shutting down all its plants.
But the shutdown took a toll on the company financially. In May, Blue Bell laid off more than 700 employees, in what Kruse called an "agonizing decision" and a "sad day" for the company.
"At Blue Bell, our employees are part of our family, and we did everything we could to keep people on our payroll for as long as possible," Kruse said in May. "At the same time, we have an obligation to do what is necessary to bring Blue Bell back and ensure its viability in the future."
Blue Bell is not disclosing many details around Bass' investment, but it's believed the partnership will help the ice cream company get back on its feet. Blue Bell said Tuesday that Bass will not only be an investor, but also a partner in the company.
According to KHOU-TV in Houston, Blue Bell representatives said the company will rehire furloughed employees when production resumes. At this time, it's unclear when Blue Bell will be back on supermarket shelves, but it looks like it could be soon. The company has also spent the last three months cleaning and refurbishing all its machinery to prevent another listeria contamination.
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