Wells Enterprises’ south ice cream plant in Le Mars. Photo submitted by Wells Enterprises.

Wells Enterprises, the maker of Blue Bunny ice cream, will be sold to Italy-based Ferrero Group, the companies announced today.

According to a news release, the acquisition is part of Ferrero’s growth strategy, and fits in with Wells’ vision for accelerated growth.

Terms of the transaction were not disclosed. The sale is expected to close in early 2023.

Wells, based in the northwestern Iowa city of Le Mars, is a family-owned company that may be best known for its Blue Bunny brand but also has produced brands such as Bomb Pop and Halo Top. It was founded in 1913 and began as a dairy delivery wagon business.

According to the announcement, Wells will remain a stand-alone business with offices in Le Mars and production facilities in Le Mars, Henderson, Nev., and Dunkirk, N.Y. Wells employs 2,700 people in Iowa and over 4,000 nationwide.

The company produces more than 200 million gallons of ice cream per year and distributes products in all 50 U.S. states.

After the transaction closes, Mike Wells, who currently serves as Wells’ CEO, will serve as adviser to support the transition. Current Wells President Liam Killeen will be named CEO, and the existing leadership team will stay in place, the release stated.

“We are a 100-year-old company focused on adapting for the next 100 years,” Wells said in the release. “Ferrero is a like-minded company with a commitment to providing high-quality, premium sweet-packaged food products that bring joy to consumers around the world. This acquisition puts the business in the best possible hands, and I look forward to supporting the entire Wells team and Ferrero with the transition.”

Killeen said the acquisition accelerates growth for Wells Enterprises and “ensures a bright future for our company and everyone associated with it.”

“Ferrero’s brands and reputation for world-class quality are a perfect match with what has made Wells so successful – and we will be even better together going forward,” he said in the release.

Ferrero started as a small pastry shop in Alba, Italy, and has grown into a global producer of packaged foods, including such brands as Nutella, Tic Tac and Ferrero Rocher.

The acquisition is the latest for Ferrero Group’s expansion in North America. It acquired Fannie May in 2017, and Nestle’s U.S confectionary business and Kellogg’s cookies and fruit snacks businesses in 2018.

It also acquired the Ferrara Candy Co. in 2017. Ferrara made brands Nerds and Sweet-tarts.

Ferrero also expanded its presence with a new innovation center and research and development lab in Chicago, with expansions to its Bloomington, Ill., plant.

The company currently has about 8,000 employees in nine offices and 18 plants in North America.

Giovannia Ferrero, executive chairman of the Ferrero Group, called the acquisition of Wells a “win-win” that will bring together ice cream and confectionery experts.

“Together, we have the power of one and are well placed to grow and compete in the ice cream market,” Ferrero said in the release.

He said Ferrero is committed to the future of Wells’ products, its employees and the Le Mars community.

“I strongly believe that Wells and Ferrero are the perfect match and would like to thank Mike Wells and the Wells family for entrusting ownership of this great company to us,” he said.