Italian candymaker Ferrero Group, which has its North American headquarters in Parsippany, plans to acquire Wells Enterprises, an Iowa-based ice cream giant that owns brand such as Halo Top, Blue Ribbon Classics and Blue Bunny.
In a Dec. 7 press release announcing the agreement, the two privately held, family-owned companies touted the deal as part of Ferrero’s strategic growth ambitions for the ice cream category in addition to Wells’ vision for accelerated growth.
The parties did not disclose financial terms of the deal, but said the transaction is expected to close in early 2023.
Ferrero – which started in 1946 as a small pastry shop in Alba, Italy – has grown to become a global leader in sweet-packaged foods, including confectionery, biscuits, ice cream and better-for-you-snacking, with over 35 brands sold in more than 170 countries.
The company entered the North America market in 1969 and now has more than 4,400 employees across eight offices and 12 plants and warehouses in the U.S., Canada and Caribbean.
Over the past five years, Ferrero, whose brands include Ferrero Rocher, Kinder, Nutella and Tic Tac, has expanded its footprint in North America through acquisitions, including of Fannie May Confections Brands, Nestle’s U.S. candy business, Kellogg’s fruit snacks and cookies division, and Ferrara Candy Co.
Wells Enterprises was founded in 1913 as a dairy delivery wagon business and has grown to become the second-largest ice cream company in the U.S. — just behind Ben & Jerry’s, which is owned by Englewood Cliffs-based Unilever. It’s also the world’s largest family-owned and managed ice cream maker, employing more than 4,000 workers and producing more than 200 million gallons of ice cream annually.
Under the terms of the agreement, Wells will remain a standalone business with its operations in Iowa, Nevada and New York.
After the deal closes, Mike Wells, member of the founding family, chief executive officer and chief engagement officer, will serve as an adviser to support the transition and maintain an active role. Current Wells President Liam Killeen will be named chief executive officer and the existing leadership team will remain in place, the companies said.
“I am delighted that Wells has agreed to join the Ferrero Group. This represents a win-win partnership, bringing together ice cream experts and confectionery champions. Together, we have the power of one and are well placed to grow and compete in the ice cream market,” Giovanni Ferrero, executive chairman of Ferrero, said in a statement.
“As Wells transitions from one family to another, we are committed to a long and successful future, building on their legacy of fantastic products and looking after the welfare of employees and the wider community in Le Mars,” Ferrero continued. “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.”
“We are a 100-year-old company focused on adapting for the next 100 years,” said Mike Wells. “Ferrero is a likeminded 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.”
UBS Investment Bank acted as financial advisor and McDermott Will & Emery LLP served as legal counsel to Wells. Morgan Stanley & Co. International plc acted as financial advisor and Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP served as legal counsel to Ferrero.