In 1926, Dick Hoezee started Hudsonville Ice Cream, named for the town in Michigan where it was founded. After 77 years, the company was sold to the Ellens family in 2003 and the facilities were relocated to the town of Holland, Mich., soon thereafter. The move enabled Hudsonville Ice Cream to experience exponential growth, including the addition of new lines, innovative products and flavors, and notable collaborations.
Since 2019, the family-owned brand has tripled its production capabilities with facility upgrades. The company prides itself on its mix-making and bulk handling equipment, fully automated packaging and palletizing, best-in-class robotics, a new dry goods warehouse and one of the largest cold freezers in the industry.
The Hudsonville team has also grown in the last several years – from 80 employees to 280. This includes the company’s newly appointed chief executive officer, Tina Floyd, who joined Hudsonville in January. Floyd assumed the role from co-owner Denny Ellens, who remains a member of the board of directors for the company.
Dairy Processing had the opportunity to speak with CJ Ellens, director of sales and marketing for Hudsonville Ice Cream, about how the company has remained successful for nearly a century and what lies ahead.
Dairy Processing: Hudsonville Ice Cream has been in operation since 1926. Can you speak about your history and the key to keeping the business running for nearly a century?
CJ Ellens: We’re very fortunate. Hudsonville has had a lot of very talented and passionate people walk through its doors in the last century. As its stewards since the early 2000s, though, we’re looking at the next 100 years more than the last. Part of what’s kept Hudsonville in the position we’re in is our continuous focus on the future and we plan to continue that tradition.
DP: How does the company’s mission impact its culture, practices and structure?
CE: Outside of making the highest quality ice cream we can, our mission centers on the pursuit of organizational and personal improvement. We work hard to ensure a healthy and sustainable work environment, and know people do their best work when they’re both valued and challenged, which can be a tough balance, but it’s what we find gives people the opportunity to become more than they’d thought possible.
Internally we don’t do titles, which can be a culture shock to some, but we find it helps great ideas come to the surface and makes good work easier to recognize.
DP: What makes Hudsonville Ice Cream stand out in the ice cream category?
CE: We bring real ice cream to people at an incredible value. Our goal is to make real ice cream a treat for everyone, which means real ingredients, and a focus on quality and affordable pricing, an extremely rare combination in the freezer aisle.
DP: Hudsonville has come out with some new, innovative products in the last couple of years. One of the most notable of those was the collaboration with Little Debbie in 2022, which led to eight new flavors developed with the popular snack cake brand. How did that partnership come to be?
CE: Coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic, there hadn’t been a ton of new items in the ice cream aisle. Everyone was focused on getting back in stock and keeping up with demand, all while facing significant supply chain challenges. Retailers were looking for something to bring life to the category. McKee Foods had started to explore licensing the Little Debbie brand in other food areas. They saw a perfect fit in ice cream.
Both companies (Hudsonville and McKee) are family-owned and share many similar values around taking care of their people and making great products at price points for everyone to enjoy. A retail partner jumped in and added jet fuel – fully committing to making this a major launch. Customers responded immediately, with products selling out in days. The rest is history.
DP: Are there any other new product innovations in the works for Hudsonville?
CE: We just released ice cream bars, which is very exciting for us. A new format allows our fans to enjoy quality ice cream in new ways and has challenged our team. Our goal was to create 100% real ice cream rather than fall into the frozen dairy dessert category that many other novelties fall into. Our team has delivered, and our new novelty bars are starting to show up across the Midwest.
DP: Can you talk about the ongoing development of seasonal flavors and limited-time product offerings as part of the company’s portfolio?
CE: While we’re always evaluating how our flavor lineup is meeting customer expectations, after nearly 100 years we have some pretty solid data on what people expect in ice cream. We like to test new and exciting flavors through our limited-edition ice creams that are available in and near Michigan. Our R&D team works on developing our seasonal flavors over a year in advance but are nimble enough to develop limited-time products that could launch in just a few short months.
DP: When the Ellens family bought Hudsonville and relocated from Hudsonville to Holland in the mid-2000s, it led to significant growth for the company. How does your relationship with your suppliers play a role in continued growth for Hudsonville?
CE: Our suppliers are a key part of our success. They act as additional technical and R&D support. They come to us with insights into the industry and our target consumers, which then helps us to develop our new creations. Our suppliers are a key reason we were able to successfully launch the Little Debbie line and keep up with the consumers’ demand for additional flavors.
DP: How do you feel about the state of the ice cream industry among today’s consumers? Are there any trends you are paying particular attention to?
CE: People want indulgence and are demonstrating this by the increased purchases of premium and super-premium ice cream. There will always be a place for better-for-you ice cream and plant-based frozen desserts, but it will never outpace traditional ice cream.
People are also becoming less and less brand loyal in the freezer aisle, which makes unique flavor offerings even more important. Flavor is the most important attribute consumers use when choosing their frozen treats. Unique texture is a trend we are watching closely and plan to explore further with our seasonal offerings.