Blue Bell said Friday about 1,400 of its employees will be laid off and others will see salaries reduced as it struggles to get the company back up and producing ice cream again after a nationwide recall of its products, which were linked to listeria illnesses.
The employees represent about 37 percent of the company’s 3,900-person workforce, the company said. Of those laid off, about 750 are full-time employees and 700 part-time.
Blue Bell has also suspended operations at the following distribution centers: Phoenix (two branches); Tucson, Ariz.; Denver; Indianapolis; Kansas City, Kan.; Wichita, Kan.; Louisville, Ky; Albuquerque, N.M.; Las Vegas; Raleigh, N.C.; Charlotte, N.C.; Columbia, S.C.; and, Richmond, Va.
“The agonizing decision to lay off hundreds of our great workers and reduce hours and pay for others was the most difficult one I have had to make in my time as Blue Bell’s CEO and president,” said Paul Kruse, Blue Bell CEO.
“At Blue Bell, our employees are part of our family, and we did everything we could to keep people on our payroll for as long as possible,” he said. “At the same time, we have an obligation to do what is necessary to bring Blue Bell back and ensure its viability in the future. This is a sad day for all of us at Blue Bell, and for me personally.”
On Thursday, the state of Texas outlined procedures and extensive testing that will be required of Blue Bell’s production whenever it starts making ice cream again.
The layoffs are necessary due to the extended timeline required to ensure the highest quality and safety of Blue Bell’s products when the company resumes production, and because supply and distribution will be limited for some time to come, Kruse said.
The process of cleaning and improving Blue Bell’s four production plants is going to take longer than the company initially anticipated, especially at the main plant in Brenham, Texas, where major repairs and equipment replacements are expected, Kruse said.
There is no firm timeline for when Blue Bell will begin producing ice cream again. When production resumes, it will be limited and phased in over time, the company said.