Blue Bunny ice cream maker Wells Enterprises bought by Ferrero Group

Ferrero’s brands include Fannie May, Nutella, Kinder, Tic Tac and Ferrero Rocher. Wells, based in Iowa, makes Blue Bunny, Halo Top and is one of the largest U.S. ice cream makers.

SHARE Blue Bunny ice cream maker Wells Enterprises bought by Ferrero Group
Blue Bunny and Halo Top brand ice cream products. The Italian confection company Ferrero Group is acquiring Wells Enterprises, the Iowa-based maker of Blue Bunny and Halo Top. Wells, founded in 1913, is one of the world’s largest family-owned ice cream companies.

Blue Bunny and Halo Top brand ice cream products. Italian confectioner Ferrero Group is acquiring Wells Enterprises, which makes the ice cream brands.

Seth Wenig / AP

The European confectioner Ferrero Group is acquiring Wells Enterprises, a 100-year-old company that makes Blue Bunny, Halo Top and other brands and is one of the largest U.S. ice cream makers.

Wells, a family-owned company based in Le Mars, Iowa, employs 4,000 people and produces more than 200 million gallons of ice cream a year at plants in Iowa, New York and Nevada.

The Ferrero Group, founded in Italy in 1946 and now based in Luxembourg, is also family-owned. Its brands, sold in more than 170 countries, include Chicago-headquartered Fannie May chocolates, Nutella, Kinder, Tic Tac and Ferrero Rocher. Ferrero has more than 38,000 employees.

Terms of the deal weren’t disclosed. It’s expected to close early next year.

Wells Enterprises will remain a standalone business, and the acquisition won’t immediately affect any jobs, the companies said.

Mike Wells, Wells’ chief executive officer and grandson of the company’s founder, will be an adviser during a transition period. Wells Enterprises President Liam Killeen will become the company’s new CEO.

Wells said he met some of Ferrero’s leaders in 2019 on unrelated trip to Europe and sent them some ice cream samples in 2020. During virtual taste testings, Wells showed Ferrero how it could recreate some of the company’s treats using ice cream.

Wells invited Ferrero’s leaders to an ice cream celebration in Le Mars in June, and the acquisition talks took off.

Wells said the combination will give his company access to Ferrero’s brands and scale. Ferrero has 8,000 employees and 18 plants in North America.

Ferrero entered the U.S. market in 1969 with Tic Tac and has widened its presence in recent years. In 2017, it purchased Fannie May chocolates; the following year it bought Nestle’s U.S. confectionary business and Kellogg’s cookie and fruit snack business. It also owns candy brands including Nerds and Butterfinger.

Wells Enterprises’ manufacturing plants will continue to produce ice cream but might pivot to treats under brands like Keebler or Ferrero Rocher.

“I look at it through the family’s eyes and through this community that’s all things ice cream,” Wells said. “You’ve got one big company that only does one thing. And, if there is a challenge to that category, if things go wrong, you risk everything.

“Being part of a portfolio company with access to brands and a better risk profile really allows the company to lean into growth in a very aggressive way,” he said.

Though Ferrero is privately owned, it reported consolidated revenue of the equivalent of $13.3 billion in its fiscal year that ended Aug. 31, 2021. Wells Enterprises expects to report revenue of more than $1.7 billion this year.

The acquisition gives Ferrero an ice cream platform in North America, one of the most popular markets for ice cream. U.S. ice cream retail sales rose 5% over the last year to $7.2 billion, according to Nielsen.

Ferrero entered the ice cream market in Europe in 2017 with the Kinder brand. In 2021, it fully acquired Spain’s Ice Cream Factory Comaker and introduced its first-ever Ferrero Rocher ice cream bars.

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