Texas-based Blue Bell Creameries voluntarily recalled its entire ice cream inventory yesterday, citing potential for contamination with Listeria monocytogenes. The recall — the fourth issued by the company this month — extends to all Blue Bell products sold in Texas and 22 other US states and abroad.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, the bacterium Listeria monocytogenes can cause listeriosis, a life-threatening infection. Indeed, the CDC reported on April 8 that Blue Bell products were thought to be linked to eight hospitalizations and three deaths in Kansas and Texas. At the time, the outbreak was believed to be limited to certain products produced in Oklahoma. However, test results from an enhanced sampling program found contamination at multiple places and plants. The decision to issue the total recall was made after Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Ice Cream half gallons produced on March 17, 2015 and March 27, 2015 were found to contain the bacteria.
The ice-cream-inflicted misery extends far beyond Blue Bell’s home state of Texas, where the company was founded in 1907 in the small town of Brenham. Following a surge in popularity and market expansion, Blue Bell now ranks as the top-selling ice cream brand in the US (ahead of Ben & Jerry’s and Haagen-Dazs), with more than $628 million in sales in 2014. Ice cream sales totaled about $5.4 billion last year, with private-label brands accounting for about a fifth of total sales.
“We’re committed to doing the 100 percent right thing, and the best way to do that is to take all of our products off the market until we can be confident that they are all safe,” Blue Bell’s CEO Paul Kruse said in a statement. Actions taken by the company include recruiting leading food-safety microbiologists to inspect its plants and systems to get to the source of the contamination. Going forward, Blue Bell says it will move to a “test and hold” procedure for its products, only distributing those that have passed food safety tests.
Product recalls can be costly to a company’s reputation and bottom line. Indeed, the spate of recalls is estimated to cost Blue Bell in the millions. “I would suggest this is going to cost them between $4 [million] and $10 million,” Larry Keener, president and CEO of International Product Safety Consultants told The Dallas Morning News.
Quickly getting to the source of the contamination and back on supermarket shelves ahead of the summer ice cream season is imperative for the company if it’s to avoid permanent damage to its reputation and loss of market share. In the meantime, Blue Bell’s store- and name-brand rivals are ready and eager to fill the empty shelf space previously occupied by its products.
Industry Impact: Blue Bell’s absence from supermarket shelves creates an opening for rival ice cream makers to gain market share at its expense.