Unilever and Nestle own more than 40 percent of the U.S. ice cream and frozen novelties market, Brockman said.

"Expansion of capacity in the U.S. for Unilever reflects the fact that it clearly feels it has the opportunity to expand its position in the market and to overtake Nestle there," Brockman wrote in an email.

Haslam thanked the company for its investment in Tipton County, where it is the largest employer. The factory was opened in 1996 by Land O'Lakes Inc., which packed Slim-Fast products. Unilever bought Slim-Fast in 2000 and began making ice cream in Covington in 2011.

County Executive Jeff Huffman said the factory jobs help improve the economy in a region that lost a significant amount of manufacturing jobs in recent years, caused by the economic downturn. The unemployment rate in Tipton County is about 9.7 percent, higher than the national rate of 7.3 percent, according to federal government statistics.

Huffman said 60 high school seniors received scholarships as part of a payment-in-lieu of taxes plan, which also created an $8.6 million tax incentive over 10 years for Unilever.

"West Tennessee needs more good news like this," Huffman said.

Along with its ice cream brands, Unilever's portfolio of food, home and personal care products also includes Axe, Country Crock, Dove, Knorr, Hellman's, Ragu, Vaseline, and Wish-Bone.

Copyright 2011 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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