SKOWHEGAN — Gifford’s Famous Ice Cream is planning a $1.6 million expansion project that involves adding workers, building an addition onto its factory and pushing its products into other markets in the Northeast and beyond.

The expansion is the largest in the company’s 41-year history in Skowhegan and will double the ice cream maker’s total production.

John “JC” Gifford Jr., vice president for sales, said production this year is expected to top 1.9 million gallons of ice cream. In August, Gifford’s hit an all-time sales record with a 12.4 percent sales increase of its quarts and premium bulk flavors — 10 percent above the industry average.

The expansion at the company’s Hathaway Street plant in Skowhegan will create additional floor space and allow Gifford’s to bring in two more large steam kettles, a new quart filler and a new shrink wrapper for retail packaging. These additions will allow the ice cream maker to run two production lines simultaneously.

“We’ve been growing the past four or five years at double-digit growth, and it continues to grow with more and more of a reach, so there’s more demand for more ice cream,” Gifford said in an interview Wednesday. “The ice cream that’s being pushed just by natural, organic growth and word of mouth results in people demanding the ice cream and wanting it in their stores within New England and up and down the Eastern Seaboard.”

Cory King, executive director of the Skowhegan Area Chamber of Commerce, said he hopes other area businesses take note of the investment Gifford’s is making and realize the potential of Somerset County and Skowhegan in particular.

“Some people say manufacturing is gone in America, and Skowhegan is proof that there are many great things still made by hand and created by knowledgeable, passionate people. This expansion represents all of that,” King said. “Gifford’s has been a huge part of the Skowhegan region for decades, and we are thrilled to share in their successes and celebrate the announcement of this new project with them.”

The company plans to hold a special “ice cream scooping” event Friday instead of a more traditional ground-breaking to mark the beginning of construction for a 3,810-square-foot addition and plant renovations. On hand for the ceremony will be two generations of the Gifford family, U.S. Sen. Susan Collins and a representative from U.S. Sen. Angus King’s office.

“It’s kind of part of the visual surprise,” Betta Stothart at Ethos Marketing said of the “scooping” ceremony. “Let’s just say that they are going to be doing an unconventional take on a groundbreaking, which includes shovels and ice cream.”

Gifford’s makes 90 percent of the base products and the “ripples and ribbons” for its ice cream flavors itself. The expansion will make the company more efficient in how it makes its ice cream, so it can make more faster, JC Gifford said.

King said he is proud of Gifford’s as a family-owned business for reinvesting its belief in the community where it all started four decades ago. He said the expansion “is just another promising step in the evolution of Skowhegan, and a reason why outside businesses should continue to look to expand and grow here.”

Skowhegan Town Manager Christine Almand said Gifford’s pays just under $30,000 in taxes per year, but she would not venture a guess how much the expansion will affect the local tax base once the project is completed.

“The greater story here is the positive impact to the local economy and our community as well as the successes of a local family-grown business,” Almand said. “It has been exciting to watch them expand their market with their award-winning ice cream.”

Jeff Hewett, Skowhegan’s director of economic and community development, said the expansion’s biggest effect will be to help Gifford’s grow and make its existing jobs more secure.

“They have been one of the cornerstones of Skowhegan’s economy for many years and will be for many years to come,” Hewett said.

Gifford’s ice cream is distributed to about 1,000 retail outlets throughout New England and as far south as northern Virginia and east to upstate New York and Indiana. The company sources its fresh milk and cream exclusively from independent family farms.

All of Gifford’s Famous Ice Cream is made using antique 1940s Cherry Burrell freezers to slow-churn the most delicious, creamiest ice cream possible, according to the company, all in the historic yellow clapboard factory in Skowhegan. The company remains privately owned and is operated by fifth-generation Gifford family members.

The company, which employs 37 full-time workers, hopes to add at least two full-time employees by next summer as part of the expansion. Gifford’s also operates five ice cream stands in Maine and makes more than 100 flavors of ice cream.

“The quality of the product is the most important part,” JC Gifford said. “The fact that it’s a true ice cream still — it’s 14 percent butter fat — all we have is the quality of the product.”

Among the top selling flavors are Old Fashioned Vanilla, World’s Best Chocolate, Black Raspberry Chocolate Chip Low Fat Frozen Yogurt, and its signature flavors inspired by Maine tradition: Moose Tracks and Muddy Boots.

Gifford said the company has been winning ice cream flavor awards for the past several years, including grand champion the past five years. This year the winning flavors were Gifford’s vanilla and vanilla bean. In previous years the winning taste was Gifford’s chocolate ice cream.

In 2015 the company celebrated anniversaries at two ice cream stands in Maine. Gifford’s stand in Waterville turned 25 and the one in Skowhegan turned 35.

The Skowhegan factory dates to the 1930s, when it served as a holding station for local farm milk that was shipped to Boston. In 1974 the building was purchased by the Gifford family from Hunt’s Dairy and was run for many years as a milk company.

In 1980, continuing a longstanding family tradition, the Gifford family started making ice cream in a corner of the milk plant. Three years later, the Giffords sold the entire fluid milk business to Oakhurst Dairy and went solely into making premium ice cream.

The contractor for the expansion project is E.W. Littlefield and Sons, based in Hartland. The project’s anticipated completion date is April 2016. The company is considering a second phase to the expansion project that would allow it to add a second state-of-the-art hardening system to the new space.

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]

Twitter:@Doug_Harlow


Comments are not available on this story.

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.