Ice cream van

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Vintage ice cream truck in Harper Woods, Michigan, United States

An ice cream van (British) or ice cream truck (American) is a commercial vehicle that serves as a mobile retail outlet for ice cream, usually during the summer. Ice cream vans are often seen parked at public events, or near parks, beaches, or other areas where people congregate. Ice cream vans often travel near where children play — outside schools, in residential areas, or in other locations. They usually stop briefly before moving on to the next street.

Hollywood Cone Soft Ice Cream Truck in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

Ice cream vans are often brightly decorated and carry images of ice cream, or some other adornment, such as cartoon characters. They may have painted-on notices, which can serve a commercial purpose ("Stop me and buy one!") or a more serious one ("Don't Skid on a Kid!") - serving as a warning to passing motorists that children may run out into the road at the sight of the van, or appear without warning from behind it. Along the sides, a large sliding window acts as a serving hatch, and this is often covered with small pictures of the available products, with their associated prices. A distinctive feature of ice cream vans is their melodic chimes, and often these take the form of a famous and recognizable tune, usually in the United States "The Mister Softee Jingle", "Turkey in the Straw", "Do Your Ears Hang Low?, "Pop Goes The Weasel", "The Entertainer",[1] "Music Box Dancer", "Home on the Range", "It's a Small World", a tune from the opera Le devin du village more commonly known as the American folk song "Go Tell Aunt Rhody", "The Picnic" (a Japanese children's song usually played with a recording of a woman saying 'hello' at the end of the song on ice cream trucks), or "Camptown Races"; or, in Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom, "Greensleeves", "It's Now Or Never (song)", "Whistle While You Work" in Crewe and Nantwich, "You Are My Sunshine" in Vale Royal, "Teddy Bears' Picnic" in Sheffield, and "Match of the Day" in other places. In some places in the US, ice cream trucks play the song "Ice Cream" by Andre Nickatina (essentially just Turkey in the Straw with bass).

Most ice cream vans tend to sell both pre-manufactured ice pops in wrappers, and soft serve ice cream from a machine, served in a cone, and often with a chocolate flake (in Britain) or a sugary syrup flavoured with, for example, strawberry. Soft serve ice cream is served topped with sprinkles for a slight extra charge. While franchises or chains are rare within the ice cream truck community (most trucks are independently owned/run), some do exist.

In some locations, ice cream van operators have diversified to fill gaps in the market for soft drinks, using their capacity for refrigerated storage to sell chilled cans and bottles.

Early ice cream vans carried simple ice cream, during a time when most families did not own a freezer. As freezers became more commonplace, ice cream vans moved towards selling novelty ice cream items, such as bars and popsicles.[2] Early vans used relatively primitive techniques: their refrigeration was ensured by large blocks of dry ice so the engine was always turned off when the van was stopped for sales. The chimes were operated by a hand driven crank or a take-off from the engine, so they were not heard as often. Modern chimes are always electrically operated and amplified.

In Asia[edit]

Motorcycle with attachment for ice cream vending, in Cambodia.

In Southeast Asian countries including Thailand and Cambodia, ice cream is often sold from modified motorcycles with freezer sidecars. Tunes played range from the theme from Titanic to "The Virginia Company" from Disney's Pocahontas.

Mobile Softee ice cream van at Tsim Sha Tsui Ferry Pier in Hong Kong.

In Hong Kong, ice cream vans operated by Mobile Softee serve soft ice creams and popcicles. As in the United Kingdom, the vans play The Blue Danube to attract customers. As the Hong Kong government no longer issues new mobile hawker licenses, the company is restricted to just 14 vans in all of Hong Kong. There is usually one ice cream van parked outside the Star Ferry terminal on Hong Kong island, and on Haiphong Road in Tsim Sha Tsui. Some organised crime syndicates used them for laundering the proceeds of crime and as a front for drug dealing.

In Australia and New Zealand[edit]

Ford Transit ice cream van in Sydney, Australia.
Ice cream van in Balga, Western Australia.

The original Mr.Whippy company commenced operations in Sydney Australia in October 1962. The vans were an instant hit with the Australian public and soon appeared in most capital cities and larger towns. Approximately 200 U.K. built Commer Karrier vans were imported to Australia in the early 1960s. Precious few of these much loved original vans have survived today.

The Staff family of Hervey Bay Queensland have been continuously operating ice cream vans since 1965. Bob Staff commenced working for the original Mr Whippy company in 1965 as a driver and later as a supervisor. The family provided historical information, stories and photos for British author Steve Tillyer's book The Mr. Whippy Story published in 2003. The family are dedicated to preserving these vintage Mr. Whippy vans and continue operate a small fleet of 1960's Commer Karrier Whippy vans. The immaculately presented vans feature their original Italian Carpigiani ice cream machinery.[3]

The Friend family of Adelaide, South Australia were the first to own and operate ice creams vans on the streets of Adelaide.[4]

Ice cream vans (colloquially known as "Mr Whippy vans") are very popular near beaches, parks and at major events in cities and towns. Most of the population buys the ice creams with standard cone or waffle cone.[citation needed] There are a number of businesses that build custom ice cream vans, such as Majors Group, Mobile Van Builders (NZ) and other business in Australia and New Zealand.

The first Mr. Whippy business was adopted in New Zealand in 1964. This was when the Mr. Whippy brand began taking shape and worked towards creating a household name in the nation. At this time, the Mr. Whippy brand was well established in the U.K. and Australia and met rapid success and expansion in New Zealand.

Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, the brand name and business flourished. As the lifestyles of Kiwis changed, Mr. Whippy continued to remain a national icon, representing the popular outdoor lifestyle and family values. The soft serve ice-cream sold in vans was popular among all Kiwis. It was much later that Mr. Whippy also started its fixed sites in New Zealand. It started these sites at malls and shopping centres to test the response of the community.

Both the mobile services as well as the fixed site services have been a great success. Today, there are around 36 Mr. Whippy franchisees operating 58 trucks and trading from Northland to Southland. The mobile services franchise has also planned for a country wide rollout for fixed sites.[citation needed]

Previously, Mr. Whippy was part of NZ Milk Products, which merged into Fonterra in 2001. Prior to this Taylor Freeze owned Mr. Whippy and was also responsible for the 1989 reorganization of the franchising system. Over the past 7 years the business has undergone a major refurbishment into a modern franchise system under current owners Flying Kiwi Holdings 2006 Ltd. Mr Whippy has grown dramatically, and its brand and products ensure it remains a much loved icon in New Zealand.

Home Ice Cream is another famous Australian brand of ice cream. The company is well known for its distribution system having over 100 franchises from Darwin to Melbourne, selling ice cream by the box, unlike other ice-cream vans in Australia.

In Canada[edit]

Ice cream van in Toronto

Ice cream trucks first appeared in Toronto in the mid-1960s. They are a popular fixture and local Torontonian tradition. Most are independently owned and operated. In 2014 there are still numerous trucks operated by the same Toronto vendors of the 60s and 70s -outside City Hall, the Eaton Center, Hospital Row (University Avenue), Convention Center, Lakefront, Royal Ontario Museum, the Beaches and at Mirvish Village at Honest Ed's. The majority of truck operators are of Greek descent. There are presently over 100 ice cream trucks on the road in the Greater Toronto Area delivering on side streets or in stationed positions.

Products featured in the ice cream trucks include traditional soft-serve treats (cones, sundaes, floats, shakes, parfaits, blizzards, cartwheels, banana splits) that are submerged with colourful coatings and toppings; slush-puppies; and novelty frozen treats that are shipped from the U.S. and part of the American ice cream truck culture. Ice cream distributors make ice cream fresh daily with premium quality cream, unlike cheap versions found in chain stores. While food trucks have gained some popularity in recent years, given the television series "Food Truck Wars" on the Food Network, their heyday has long fizzled. They were far more popular in the 1970s and 1980s when many street festival started popping up with little variety. It is common to see vendors at various sporting events, marches, street festivals, in parks and just about anywhere there is a crowd.

Ice cream trucks have changed appearance over the years. Most are Gruman 16' painted white with hand-painted art. In the late 1970s, the artwork first appeared on the truck owned and operated outside Honest Ed's. Today that artwork is a part of the tradition and seen on all trucks. Some recent trucks have been custom fabricated with unique, quirky designs such as the Whirly's Ice Cream Trucks.

In Peru[edit]

Rather than vans or motorcycles, ice cream sellers use an adapted bicycle to travel around the land with their product. Using a trumpet rather than a music player, they attract attention and mark their presence. In beaches some go on foot with a special portable box to carry them.

In the Nordic countries[edit]

In the Nordic countries, the light blue Hjem-IS trucks provide door-to-door sales of bulk, pre-packed ice cream. The company is well known for its distribution system, selling ice cream by the box, unlike ice-cream vans elsewhere in the world.

In the United Kingdom[edit]

A Ford Transit-based ice cream van in Colchester, England.

There are mainly two types of ice cream vans in the United Kingdom: a hard van, which sells scoop ice cream and is only equipped with a freezer and a soft van, which has a freezer and also a soft serve "whippy" machine for serving ice cream cones and Screwballs. They are usually converted from factory standard vans with the rear cut away and replaced with a fibre glass body (to reduce the weight). Because of the British climate, running an ice cream van profitably is not only very difficult outside summer, but is also an unpredictable business. A summer heatwave can provoke a massive upturn in fortunes for a few days, but after the weather has returned to a milder character sales drop off dramatically. The need to take advantage of rare and short-lived opportunities can result in fierce rivalry between ice cream vans in coterminous areas, with the main disputes being over who is entitled to sell ice cream in a particular 'patch'. This has also led to some ice cream van vendors diversifying and selling other products such as crisps, chips, burgers or hot dogs from their vehicles at other times of the year.

In a number of Local Authority areas, particularly in London Boroughs with existing street markets, street trading regulations prohibit ice cream vans from remaining in one static location. The legislation also contains powers to ban ice-cream vans from specific streets. Proposals in the current London Local Authorities Bill would allow only 15 minutes trading per vehicle per street each day.[5] There also exists a nationwide code of practice[6] for the use of chimes, which limits the volume to 80 dB and the duration to four seconds, but these are rarely observed nor enforced. Chimes must not be played more often than every three minutes, near hospitals, schools and churches when they are in use.

Also in Scotland, ice cream vans have been used to sell smuggled cigarettes[7] and, in the 1980s Glasgow Ice Cream Wars, as front organizations to sell illicit drugs.

The UK ice cream van industry has historically been a cash only industry; however, in keeping with public retail trends, Markes Ices in Kent claim it was the first to introduce Chip and PIN to all their ice cream vans.

In the United States[edit]

Jack and Jill ice cream truck in Kentlands, Maryland, United States

Apart from ice cream, ice cream trucks may also sell snow cones, Italian ice or water ice, snacks, sodas, and candy. Many trucks carry a sign, in the shape of a stop sign, that warns other drivers of children crossing the street to buy food or ice cream. They also play music to attract consumers to their trucks. With the advent of social media networking, many ice cream truck operators are redefining the traditional business model. Not satisfied with the traditional approach of cruising for customers, some operators such as gourmet ice cream sandwich maker Coolhaus[8] are developing followings on social media sites and "announcing" the location of their trucks.

Novelty ice cream trucks[edit]

Professionally built ice cream trucks that sell prepackaged foods (Novelty Trucks) use commercial cold plate freezers that plug in overnight and when unplugged maintain their temperature for at least 12 hours. Music systems are mechanical, such as pianos, or more commonly digital devices that have no tape or other moving parts. Each "music box" may be able to play one or multiple tunes.[9] The opening on the side that drivers serve from is commonly referred to as a serving window and usually has a serving counter. Awnings can be attached to trucks over the serving window. Safety equipment usually comes in the form of an electric or vacuum swing out sign that may resemble a stop sign or a triangular shape, as well as vinyl lettering or decals that advise others to use caution.

Soft ice cream trucks[edit]

A soft ice cream truck sells soft serve ice cream instead of pre-packaged novelties alone. These trucks are not seen as often in the United States presumably because of the extra costs associated with building such a truck. These trucks vary in their construction and how they power the machines on board. Power sources include an onboard generator, an inverter system or power can be supplied from the vehicle's engine.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Neely, Daniel Tannehill (Spring 2005). "Soft Serve: Charting the aural promise of ice cream truck music". Esopus 4. New York, NY: 28. Archived from the original on 17 December 2007. 
  2. ^ "Ice Cream Trucks". Serving Ice Cream. Retrieved 17 October 2011. 
  3. ^ [1][dead link]
  4. ^ [2][dead link]
  5. ^ "London Local Authorities Act 1994 (c. xii)". Ministry of Justice. Retrieved 11 May 2008. 
  6. ^ "Code of Practice on Noise from Ice Cream Van Chimes". Retrieved 10 January 2012. 
  7. ^ "Ice cream ploy by tobacco sellers". BBC. 3 May 2001. 
  8. ^ Hall, Jacob (15 July 2014). "Food Trucks Share Social Media Secrets". Entrepreneur. Retrieved 27 October 2014. 
  9. ^ "Welcome to Nichols Electronics Company, your source for digital ice cream truck music boxes". Archived from the original on 24 October 2016. Retrieved 25 January 2017. 

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