Blue Bell…not a Brand, a Family Tradition
Blue Bell Creameries is a private, family-owned company based in Brenham, TX. Started in 1907, the company has been in business for more than a century. It’s considered one of the top three best-selling ice cream brands in the country. But earlier this year, disaster struck. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention linked Blue Bell’s desserts to 10 infections, including three deaths, forcing it to shut down production and recall all of its products from 23 states. While everyone was sad to hear about the illnesses and especially deaths, the primary (and very selfish) outcry I heard was, “when are we getting our Blue Bell back??”. There were a great deal of posts on social media, yard signs were made and even t-shirts were created. That’s one of my employee’s dads supporting his love of the brand.
As a brand strategist, it made me wonder why this brand is so beloved in the South. For goodness sakes, it killed people and most people don’t even care! In fact, Crosswind Media and Public Relations’ did a survey in September of 1,000 Texas voters to get a feel for where the state stands on contentious topics like politics, football and ice cream, and 69% of Texans did not care that Blue Bell’s ice cream literally killed people before it was removed from shelves. Another 16% haven’t ruled out giving the company another chance. But WHY?
People may tell you they love the taste of Blue Bell, but in a blind taste test, it wasn’t even ranked in the top 10! When I asked friends and family why they loved Blue Bell, the answers can be summed up by saying, it reminds them of their childhood. One of my co-workers so eloquently said, “it’s a family tradition”. They have marketed themselves as a small-town family business whose ice cream is a labor of love. Blue Bell promotes warm and fuzzy moments from “the Little Creamery in Brenham”. According to Euromonitor International, production had expanded to four factories and annual sales grew to some $880 million.
It remains to be seen if Blue Bell will be able to recuperate from this all, but if the enthusiasm from returning to store shelves is any indication… they should be just fine. Lines were forming before the grocery stores opened and news anchors were reporting from freezer aisles letting customers know of the two container maximum (so there would be enough to go around). As the holidays are now upon us, I would say that people are more than willing to give the “family member” a second chance! Now that’s brand loyalty.