One of Montana's oldest and most popular businesses is expanding its facility in Billings to meet growing demand. Increasing population and a growing popularity for ice cream is impacting Wilcoxson's Ice Cream, the manufacturer of a premium ice cream in Montana since 1912. The company is adding onto its plant and store front at 114 North 19th Street in Billings to increase freezer space and to be able to keep all five of their delivery trucks indoors. It's the first time the company, which is headquartered in Livingston, has expanded its Billings plant, with the last expansion occurring in 1967, with the addition of automated equipment. Prior to that, they made all of their ice cream novelties by hand, according to Billings' plant manager, Bryon Beamer. The mix for ice cream is made in Livingston and shipped to the Billings plant, where they add the flavors and box it. They also make a number of the ice cream novelty items at the Billings plant such as ice cream bars, sandwiches, fudge bars, etc. Last year they made three million novelty items in the Billings plant, said Beamer. Last week they made 3700 dozen ice cream bars. Wilcoxson''s products are delivered throughout Montana and much of northern Wyoming. Throughout eastern Montana, from Hardin to Sheridan, Wyoming and points in between, trucks leave each day from the Billings plant to deliver to grocery stores, schools, convenience stores, etc., products that have been the favorite for generations of Montana and Wyoming families. The western part of Montana is served out of the Livingston plant, which is larger than the Billings facility.
They also have a truck that delivers from Great Falls. They also serve Yellowstone National Park, which is where many people from around the world get introduced, for the first time, to Wilcoxson's Ice Cream, with many becoming die-hard fans. Increasingly, Wilcoxson's gets calls from all over the country requesting shipments of what has become their favorite ice cream. "It's expensive to do that," agrees Beamer, but it doesn't seem to make any difference to their customers. One order this week cost $185 to ship. Social media has also helped to expand the company's visibility, said Beamer. Is the ice cream really all that much better? Over a hundred years, thousands of people have concluded as much. It is because of the loyalty of those families and the fact that they have introduced their ice cream and other products - most especially Wilcoxson's fudge bars - on to the next generation that the company has remained in business so long, said Beamer - that, and of course, the high quality of their product. The company uses the highest quality ingredients and Montana products as much as possible, said Beamer. Milk and cream are produced by Montana dairies and purchased through Darigold and sugar is purchased from Western Sugar Cooperative's sugar beet factory in Billings. Few know the secret recipe of Harold Wilcoxson, who started the business. Harold first began business selling fruits and vegetables. He also began a candy business, but the ice cream business came to overwhelm the candy business, and the recipes were sold. Today, they are the nexus of Brockel's Chocolates in Billings, whose candy is every bit as high quality as Wilcoxson's ice cream. In fact, one of Brockel's most popular items is Wilcoxson's ice cream bars dipped in Brockel's chocolate. It doesn't get any better, and such an interesting turn of events given the history of both businesses. Wilcoxson's has a product that could certainly please a broader market, but in order to maintain the same quality the company has chosen to remain small, explained Beamer. Competition is stiff in the ice cream business, especially when it comes to gaining shelf space in giant national retail stores where national competitors buy shelf space, which helps to squeeze out small local producers. "We can't afford to buy shelf space," said Beamer, so in order to maintain sales in the limited space they are granted, they must stock those stores on a daily basis. In some cases they have been dismissed by retailers only to have the retailer ask them back because of customer demand. And for some of their products, despite the barriers imposed by industry practices Wilcoxson's still outsells the national competitors. The company employs eight people in Billings and 12 in Livingston.