Photo by Johnny Jackson
Blue Bell Creameries shipping manager Bill Thompson (l) and shipping clerk Antione Fernandez went out to give ice cold treats to participants of the Peachtree Road Race in Atlanta.
JONESBORO — Blue Bell Creameries sits quietly inside a residential neighborhood.
The sound of birds chirping and the occasional passing car interrupt the low hum of freezer motors that keep more than 600 pallets of ice cream frozen. The 3,500 square foot freezer stays a frosty -18 degrees Fahrenheit.
This Jonesboro location opened in 2000. It is one of dozens of wholesale distribution centers that stores and transports Blue Bell ice cream products to thousands of grocers, schools and convenience stores throughout the region.
Mike Overton is manager of the Blue Bell Creameries Atlanta South Branch. He said it is a relatively small operation with 21 employees out of offices in Jonesboro and Macon.
The branch’s nine driver-salesmen service more than 650 accounts throughout central Georgia. They deliver the ice cream treats as far south as Cordele and east to Eatonton.
Blue Bell is an iconic brand that spans 106 years, but the ice cream maker is only distributed in 22 states in the Southwest, Midwest and Southeast.
“Our growth has been slow but steady,” said Overton, who remembers when the Brenham, Texas-based company began delivering ice cream to south Alabama only a few decades ago.
He said the company’s growth has been intentional, spreading like coconut fudge to receptive markets primarily in the Southeast.
The ice cream is so loved by locals that some even visit the distribution center for the latest Blue Bell news.
“We get folks that come by to find out what new flavors we have coming out,” said Overton.
Peaches and homemade vanilla is a favorite flavor in Georgia.
He said, in October, customers look towards holiday flavors such as gingerbread house, peppermint, Christmas cookies and spice pumpkin pecan. But nothing yet has replaced the year-round favorite flavor for ice cream lovers — vanilla.
“One of my favorite things to do is to get a brownie, throw it in the microwave, heat it up and throw a couple of scoops of homemade vanilla on it,” he said. “Most of these flavor ideas actually come from our own employees.”
Shipping manager Bill Thompson, for example, was one of the employees who submitted the idea to create Christmas cookies ice cream.
“My favorite flavor is chocolate-covered cherry,” said Thompson, explaining the flavor is comforting.
Overton said fall is a good season for ice cream because it is a comfort food. But sales are largest between May and August.
Blue Bell is a partner in education with Jonesboro High School. The company has participated in Taste of Clayton, the Atlanta Heart Walk and the Peachtree Road Race.
“We do a lot of community events,” said Overton. “We do a lot of Red Cross blood drives.”
Overton offered tips on how to store ice cream so it stays fresh longer.
“Unopened ice cream can last several months, if it is stored at a consistent 10 degrees below zero (Fahrenheit),” he said. “It’s not a good idea to pack ice cream on ice, when you’re transporting it. Get a thick styrofoam cooler and use it exclusively for ice cream.”