Special Issues » Made in Michigan

Hudsonville ice cream: A 90-year Michigan tradition

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For a company that's successfully operated during three different centuries, Hudsonville has more than established a name for itself. With such a muggy, hot summer already beating down across metro Detroit, getting down on some delicious, local ice cream is a perfect way to fight the heat. So we caught up with CJ Ellens, who leads sales and marketing for the company.

Metro Times: So it's the 90th anniversary this year?

CJ Ellens: It's the 120th year of the creamery; we've made ice cream for 90 years. 1895 is the year Hudsonville started. So it was a co-op, everything from products like milk, cream, and butter. And then they started churning, as a co-op, the ice cream in 1926.

MT: Are you planning anything to mark the occasion?

Ellens: In terms of that, we've been doing that for 90 years — what we're really excited about is we launched a new website in the last two weeks, which is kind of a testament to where we've come from over those 90 years. And it's a look at where we're going for the next 90. So we're celebrating by finding ways to make our ice cream continually better, and to get in touch for our consumer base for what they're looking for in ice cream and desserts.

MT: What are some of the new, innovative technologies that you've been able to utilize that allow to you to different things with ice cream? What sort of things can you do differently?

Ellens: We can trace everything back to when it was made to the exact time and date. It also has allowed us to do great things like our new "Summer Celebration," which is a new Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island flavor. That's a vanilla ice cream with raspberry and blueberry sherbert throughout, and you get really cool, fun, vibrant colors within our ice cream. It's also allowed us to look at different form factors, not only in the 56-ounce carton that we have, to looking at what the size will be for the future. We launched a new line this year called our Hudsonville Naturals, with 100 percent cane sugar and no added colors or sweeteners.

MT: You guys have made a recent effort to establish more of a presence in Detroit. Can you talk about that?

Ellens: Detroit, being from Michigan, is a place that I really, really love because, especially in the last couple of years, you've seen the energy of the entrepreneurial spirit come back there. We're kind of looking for, as we continue to progress as a brand, how can we become a part of that. One of the ways that we've done that is we've had a group of interns that are doing these things called Random Acts of Ice Cream, which [are] large events and small events — such as stopping at the local fire station, stopping at the local schools, and just showing appreciation for people taking care of each other. That's definitely something for people to keep their eyes peeled for with us in the next couple of years, as we work with local food entrepreneurs in the area on how we might incorporate their products into our ice cream.

MT: Anything else you'd like to add?

Ellens: I think there's a couple things: We are the No. 1 ice cream sold statewide in Michigan. We are one of the few Michigan-made ice creams. Through that, we've got a partnership with Pure Michigan where we've created unique flavors. We're [also] the official ice cream of the Detroit Tigers and the Grand Hotel. What we're working toward overall, if you take a large theme, is to bring the great taste of artisan ice cream to more people, but at a better value than traditionally has been the case. We're not necessarily looking to use our processes to make some of those really expensive craft ice creams that are $8-$12 a pint — [ours are] available at a much more reasonable price and have even better quality than what they can deliver. We want to make sure that we can bring that premium ice cream experience to everyone. So that's the unique position we have. We're relying on great innovators and influencers in Detroit to help us do that.

345 E. 48th St., Ste. 200, Holland; 616-546-4005; for more info, visit hudsonvilleicecream.com.

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