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I just don’t care about Blue Bell


Paul Kruse’s father had warned him about the perils of family-run businesses, but he couldn’t escape his place as the obvious heir of a dawning ice cream empire.

After ascending to the corner office in 2004, Kruse delivered Blue Bell Creameries to its greatest height, becoming the No. 1 U.S. brand.

This year, it took barely two months to undo everything.

Ironically, Blue Bell’s food-poisoning crisis could give it a one-up on competitors, because it already has been forced to make expensive changes to equipment and safety protocols that other ice cream makers soon will have to emulate under new federal regulations. It took most of the year to upgrade while other brands gobbled up market share.

Blue Bell, for most of its history, moved at a measured pace.

That strategy won ardent followers as Blue Bell went into rural markets where competitors wouldn’t or couldn’t reach. With Kruse still in the driver’s seat, the company’s future may hinge on his ability to return to a course charted by his forebears.


Before the listeria crisis struck in March, it sold more than $333 million, according to Euromonitor figures updated in August. As a privately held company, Blue Bell doesn’t publicly disclose sales. But by that reckoning, it had, in one quarter, sold more than half of what it did in all of 2010 – and peak summer sales hadn’t even set in yet.

All that production came with a price. Brenham plant workers said sanitation was hurried. Hot water ran low. And federal records showed that problems reached to plants in Oklahoma and Alabama, negating the possibility that the listeria outbreak was a failure of one supplier, one machine or one employee. Somewhere amid all that growth, reality couldn’t keep up with the clean country image. Worse, it hadn’t been keeping up for years. Epidemiologists this year determined that illnesses from as early as 2010 were caused by Blue Bell – retroactive medical sleuthing made possible by the DNA database.

I’m not a native Texan, so I have no emotional attachment to Blue Bell ice cream. It’s just another brand to me. My wife, on the other hand, is a native Texan, and she feels deeply offended by the betrayal of trust by Blue Bell, which acted awfully indifferent to its listeria problems until they were finally forced to act. For that matter, she’s offended by their long, incomprehensible list of ingredients, which look a lot more like a science project than something that could plausibly called “homemade”. If you love Blue Bell and couldn’t wait for it to come back to your grocery store, more power to you. I don’t get it, but I’m not going to judge. I do hope that if they ever have another problem even remotely like this that they’re not given the benefit of the doubt. Once was enough.

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One Comment

  1. I’m a former fan. Not really in a forgiving state of mind with Blue Bell.