Blue Bell "Country Girl" Anna Pugh; photo by J. Griffis Smith courtesy of Texas Highways Magazine
Even though Texas' Blue Bell ice cream is sold in only 22 states, it's the third best-selling ice cream in the country. Ex-Texans, including both Bush presidents, have been known to pay the high cost of shipping a carton of Blue Bell across the country just to get a taste of home. Recently, the company set up a new distribution center in Richmond.
Blue Bell Creameries started in 1907 in the small town of Brenham, Texas. "E.F. Kruse took over in 1919, and today his grandson Paul is CEO," says Mark Fancher, branch manager for Blue Bell in Richmond.
The company, which has been operated by the same family for nearly 94 years, originally began as Brenham Creamery Co., making butter from excess cream brought in by area farmers. A few years later, the creamery started making ice cream and never looked back.
When Fancher explains how the company makes its ice cream, his passion is unmistakable.
"Number one, we start with fresh milk from local dairy farmers, and … we make all the inclusions that go in our ice cream," says Fancher. "For example, we have a bakery at our creamery where we bake our own cookies for cookies 'n cream [flavored ice cream]. We make our own sauces, such as chocolate or caramel sauce. This gives us total control over the quality and allows us to create unique flavors."
Blue Bell also controls who handles the ice cream. "We deliver our products to the stores, so when you buy any Blue Bell product … it has only been handled by Blue Bell employees," Fancher says. Melting is always a concern with something like frozen ice cream. This strict control ensures that nothing happens to it between the production center and the store freezer.
"Our ice cream is a reliable friend that you can go to and count on." says Ricky Dickson, vice president of sales and marketing for Blue Bell. "When you get it, you can expect the same great taste from Texas to Virginia."
Because of demand, it made sense to expand to Virginia. "We have been receiving phone calls and letters from Richmond and the Hampton Roads-area for some time. Richmond was the next logical step," Fancher says.
"We don't sit around talking about being number one. We just want to be the best wherever we are," says Dickson. "It's not a race. It's a journey. We're in for the long haul."