Tips for starting a successful ice cream truck business

Most people have encountered an ice cream truck or cart at some point in their lives. The classic jingle is often associated with childhood, summertime, and cool relief on a hot day. Have you ever thought of operating your own ice cream food truck? As a kid, maybe you thought about owning one as a kind of dream.

As an adult, you can make that dream come true. Running an ice cream truck is similar to owning or operating any other food truck business. You need a solid business plan, a vehicle, and specialized inventory. You’ll also need all the proper permitting and licenses.

There are a few unique aspects to running an ice cream truck, which you must know if you plan on running one. Read on to discover what it takes to run a mobile ice cream business (plus a few other important tips).

How much do ice cream trucks make a day?

A study conducted in 2019 by Food Truck Empire answered this question. Most mobile ice cream vendors bring in an average of $200 to $300 in gross sales per day during the summer. Keep in mind that this is peak season, so you won’t make this much throughout the colder months if you’re in a place that has all four seasons. Based on this estimate, if you worked 20 days per month on average (during a peak season), that would be about $5,000 in gross profit. 

Of course, that doesn’t include things like expenses, which could take up to $2,500 out of your revenue. That leaves you half of what you made. Now, imagine if you operated full time during peak season. With these figures, you’re looking at a gross profit of approximately $10,000. To make the most of an ice cream food truck’s daily estimated income, consider the following:

  • Seasonality
  • Hours of operation
  • Type of ice cream
  • Your driving route

Seasonality

Colder seasons generate less of a profit for ice cream trucks. Warmer seasons, like the three to four months of summery weather, generate the highest gross profit. If you run an ice cream business in southern climates, you’re guaranteed a longer peak season (as well as more competition).

Holiday weekends during the summer may also serve as a high time for generating revenue. If you park at a lake or near a popular park on a holiday weekend, you’re likely to see a jump in profit for that day.

Hours of operation

If you don’t operate full time (which is anywhere from 40 to 60 hours a week), you’re cutting directly into your profit. And if you don’t operate when customers expect your food, you’re missing out on revenue opportunities. 

Depending on where you operate, weekends are an absolute must for ice cream trucks. If you want weekends off, this may not be a business venture for you. For summertime hours, you may get mornings to prep, but expect afternoons to late evenings as prime time to sell ice cream. This can range based on where you sell and who you sell to, such as children and families versus drinking, barhopping adults.

Choosing the right products

What you sell is just as important as when and where you sell. If you plan to specialize in certain types of ice cream, do your research. Figure out where you’ll source inventory. Or determine what ingredients you need to make the ice cream you churn on your own.

Most ice cream food truck owners specialize in a certain type of ice cream. Your business plan can outline what this specialty is. And if you’ve done your research, you should be filling a gap based on what your competitors aren’t selling. For example, if you’re the only gelato truck in town, you’re guaranteed more business.

Selling what every other established ice cream vendor sells is a sure way to sink your profits. Figure out your inventory expenses ahead of time to determine if your specialty ice cream is worth selling. Also, make sure you price your goods accordingly to generate a profit.

Planning your route

Where you drive your ice cream truck makes a huge difference in your profit potential. You need to know the best areas to sell that are big, potential sources of income, such as areas with a lot of schools and playgrounds. Of course, some cities restrict where you can sell, so research ordinances ahead of time.

Check with the local established competition to avoid losing business to well-known favorites. Plus, you can always find out new areas to scope out based on where your competitors don’t operate.

Ice cream truck in operation

Can you make ice cream in a food truck?

You can make ice cream in a food truck (if the truck is big enough). Depending on the type of ice cream you make, you can make it on the go. Specialty ice creams with many added ingredients are better made in a full-sized kitchen. Types of ice cream, like gelato, require special mixers which may take up too much space in your truck.

Ideally, you’ll sell ice cream that’s made ahead of time. Your best bet is to invest in solid freezers and other refrigeration equipment. In other words, consider an ice cream food truck a refrigerator or icebox on wheels. Even though you can make certain types of slow-churn or soft-serve ice cream on the go, it would be a mess, potentially, and not worth the work. Plus, unless your angle is to sell the fresh ice cream, you may want to purchase stock from a creamery or dairy farm.

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