Blue Bell closes Suffolk plant

Published 9:35 pm Friday, May 15, 2015

After recalling all products last month in the wake of a listeria outbreak, Blue Bell Creameries spokeswoman Jenny Van Dorf says all 30 to 40 workers at the company’s distribution facility at Suffolk’s Northgate Commerce Park will be laid off.

“Unfortunately, it’s included in the branches that closed,” Van Dorf said.

The Suffolk facility is part of the Richmond branch. According to a news release, operations are being suspended at 14 branches across the country.

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The decision, described as agonizing by Blue Bell President and Chief Executive Officer Paul Kruse, comes as the company acknowledged it will take longer than expected to clean and improve its four production plants.

“Extensive” work is required at the largest plant, in Brenham, Texas, Van Dorf said. “It’s an old facility, and we are having to make more expensive maintenance repairs, like replacing floors and those sorts of things,” she said.

The Suffolk workers are among 750 full-time and 700 part-time employees — or 37 percent of the total Blue Bell workforce — being laid off, while 1,400 employees will be furloughed, according to the company.

The furloughed workers will be paid “a substantial portion of their current pay, with the expectation they will return to work as production resumes,” the release states.

The layoffs are occurring because there is “not a clear timeline for when production will resume and because supply and distribution will be limited when it does.”

Employees “essential to ongoing operations and cleaning and repair efforts” will continue to work on reduced pay.

Van Dorf could not confirm the Suffolk facility would eventually reopen, but said Blue Bell will hold on to its assets.

She also could not immediately say how the company’s plans to build a new $5.8-million, 14,000-square-foot building in Suffolk will be affected. Suffolk’s Economic Development Authority approved a $100,000 grant for the project.

When production does resume, according to the news release, “it will be limited and phased in over time.”

Local businesspeople who believe they can help out the laid-off Suffolk workers with jobs can contact Blue Bell at 979-830-9831 or

Van Dorf said company executives would work with local chambers of commerce to try to find jobs for laid-off workers.

The company reported it has entered into voluntary agreements with the Texas Department of State Health Services and the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry in an attempt to get products back to market.

The agreements involve “a series of steps and actions” Blue Bell will take, according to a news release.

The listeria outbreak has reportedly killed three people in Kansas and infected at least 10 people in four states.