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Italian confectioner Ferrero said Wednesday it will acquire Le Mars-based Wells Enterprises, one of the largest U.S. ice cream makers including Blue Bunny, in a deal that will broaden both companies’ offerings.
Wells, a 100-year-old family-owned company, also makes Halo Top and other brands.
It employs 4,000 people and produces more than 200 million gallons of ice cream per year at plants in Iowa, New York and Nevada.
The Ferrero Group, which was founded in Italy in 1946 and is now based in Luxembourg, also is family owned. Its brands — sold in more than 170 countries — include Kinder, Nutella, Tic Tac and Ferrero Rocher.
Ferrero has more than 38,000 employees.
Financial terms of the deal weren’t disclosed. It’s expected to close early next year.
Wells Enterprises will remain a stand-alone business, and the acquisition won't immediately affect any jobs.
Mike Wells, the company’s CEO and chief engagement officer and grandson of the company’s founder, will serve as an adviser during the transition period. Wells Enterprises President Liam Killeen will become the company’s new CEO.
Wells said Wednesday 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.
He invited Ferrero’s leadership to an annual ice cream celebration in Le Mars in June, and the acquisition talks took off from there.
Mike 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.
In 2017 Ferrero 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 such as Nerds and Butterfinger.
Wells Enterprises' manufacturing plants will continue to produce ice cream but may pivot to indulgent 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,” Mike Wells told the Associated Press.
“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.”
Although Ferrero is private, it reported consolidated revenue 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.