Sunday, August 03, 2008

Food Supply: Ice cream floats sink under food and fuel costs

IT'S a sound that over the decades has set the pulses of millions of children racing. The unmistakeable jingle of an ice cream van inevitably results in pestered parents, a fevered hunt for purses and wallets, followed by a reckless dash into the street.
But a potentially lethal combination of rising food prices, the soaring cost of petrol and a liberal dose of summer showers means the ice cream van could shortly join milk floats on the endangered list.

Many of the biggest names in ice cream making north of the border say they have cut back on the ice cream van business and some are even predicting its extinction.
The typical price of a cone has recently increased by around 10p in a bid to cover costs but as the credit crunch worsens, and with little prospect of decent weather, customers are thin on the ground.

Reno Di Rollo, managing director of Di Rollo of Musselburgh, said: "We used to supply 11 or 12 vans every summer, but now there are only four or five regular vans and they are the ones that do it all year round.

"The good ones are steady enough if they have got a good established run, but it's the ones who just do it for the summer that are disappearing. They think they are going to make a fortune and it's just not true any more."

Di Rollo said big increases in the cost of powdered milk, an essential ingredient of Scottish ice cream, was a factor.

He said: "Skimmed powder was around £1,400 a ton last year and now it's £2,200 a ton. Some of the suppliers were up to £3,000 at one point.

"It's steadied off now but I don't see it coming down again. Also, sugar is fairly dear as well."

The other big ice cream firm in Musselburgh, Luca's, owns a fleet of vans. Director Michael Luca said: "A long time ago there used to be about 35 vans around East Lothian but it's probably less than 10 vans now.

"I have three vans but I'm lucky I have also got the café – it accounts for 60% of my sales now. Without it I would struggle to survive on just the ice cream.

"Ice cream vans are the last dinosaurs of the vans that used to go around the houses, and they are about to become extinct."

Scottish director of industry organisation the Ice Cream Alliance, Andrew Caldwell, said: "It's general talk amongst the traders. Everyone's complaining about prices. All we can do is try to find cheaper suppliers. Everyone has got to buckle down and take the hit."

Peter Crolla, managing director of the Crolla Ice Cream Company Ltd in Glasgow, said the weather was also hitting business. He said: "We had a terrible start to this month and that hit everyone's sales after a difficult summer last year. The last two weeks have been great and that's been a big bonus.

"But we could do with another six weeks of sun and it's looking mixed. Without the weather we will see more people struggling to get by."

Philip Smith, who operates an ice cream van round in the Borders, is one of hundreds of people selling the treats from vans this summer.

He said: "I'm carrying on in the business but my son has given up so I'm getting rid of his van.

"If I wasn't so passionate about ice cream I would give up too, but I've been in it since I was 15 years old and I love the work.

"I could name so many people that have been and gone with their ice cream vans in my immediate vicinity.

"There must be hundreds of people across the country that can't keep it going because they've come so close to the wire.

"There will come a time we will have to draw the line when the bills don't get paid. It's very much a matter of not sinking below that line."

Ice cream floats sink under food and fuel costs
Scotsman, United Kingdom