One of the best desserts to have on a hot summer day, or any time, is ice cream.
There’s no shortage of different flavors to try.
Whether you’re an ice cream cone person or an ice cream bowl person, it’s hard not to love ice cream.
A problem you’ll often run into when buying ice cream is that it usually comes at an expensive price.
Considering it’s just frozen dairy or dairy substitute ingredients, you may wonder why it’s so expensive.
Why Is Ice Cream So Expensive? (10 Reasons)
The average retail cost of ice cream is around $4.77 for a half-gallon container.
However, you can also find ice cream that costs $25 or more.
The trend of prices overall has also been increasing.
Some factors like ingredients, handcrafted ice cream, and the size of the ice cream in question all contribute to the price.
Let’s look at these factors in more detail.
A crucial ingredient in ice cream is butterfat.
Essentially, it’s very difficult to have ice cream without butterfat.
While there are non-dairy alternatives out there, when it comes to dairy ice cream, butterfat is a must.
The problem with butterfat is that can sometimes be very expensive.
Butterfat is the fat that comes from cream.
It’s collected and put into ice cream.
Not only does butterfat add to the flavor of ice cream, but it also helps with its texture and consistency.
Butterfat is expensive because it comes from dairy cows.
Recently, dairy farms have been undergoing a lot of increased costs.
Whether it’s increased feed and water costs or vet bills, cows are expensive to raise and keep alive.
There are always possible diseases floating around that could make a cow ill.
If a cow becomes ill, then the virus could end up in its milk.
That means it could end up in your butterfat and ice cream.
As such, farmers spend a lot of time keeping their cows in the best of health.
Another problem with butterfat is that it’s used in several different industries.
Some use butterfat to make butter.
Others use it in other food products.
Some even use it in certain cosmetic products.
Because it’s in such high demand, if something affects the butterfat supply, then it’s going to become very expensive.
That’s because there are tons of people trying to get their hands on the small supply that exists.
When ice cream companies have to spend a lot of money on butterfat, it increases their costs.
To offset those costs, they charge higher prices for their ice cream.
2. Low Overrun Amounts
Another important factor in setting the price of ice cream is its overrun amount.
The overrun refers to how much air is in the ice cream.
Cheaper brands will use a lot of air or a lot of overrun.
It’s cheaper because the more air that’s inside the ice cream, the fewer ingredients they need.
They’re able to fill their pints or cartons by just inflating the ice cream with a lot of air.
Expensive pints and cartons of ice cream have lower overrun amounts.
They use less air.
That means most of their ice cream comes from the actual physical ingredients used to make it.
Since they have to fill the pint and carton up with ice cream, it means they’re going to use more of those ingredients.
That ends up making their production costs quite high.
Of course, all ice cream needs some overrun in it.
That’s what gives ice cream its fluffy nature.
Without it, it wouldn’t really be ice cream.
However, the amount that goes into the ice cream largely determines its price.
Since air is free, companies that pour a lot of overrun into their ice cream have lower production costs.
Ice cream is expensive when companies use low amounts of overrun.
3. Rare Ingredients
There are a few staple flavors of ice cream.
Chocolate and vanilla are usually the main two that people gravitate towards.
However, there are also more advanced flavors that have become more mainstream.
Flavors like mint chocolate chip, butter pecan, strawberry, and even coffee are more popular than ever.
Some ice cream brands specialize in making ice cream recipes with rare ingredients.
One such example is an ice cream that contains sweet potato and coconut milk.
Sweet potato is not a common ice cream ingredient or flavor at all.
That’s more of an ingredient used for savory dishes.
Another example is certain ice cream recipes that contain certain brands of cereal.
For example, some brands might come out with an ice cream that uses Lucky Charms as part of its recipe.
There are also ice cream flavors that lean towards the spicy.
For example, one recipe is a cheesecake that contains graham crackers but also has bits of candied jalapenos in it.
Clearly, there are some strange concoctions out there.
These flavors of ice cream tend to be expensive because of how rare they are.
You usually have to go to an ice cream store to find these rare flavors.
Since they’re not in high supply, but demand is pretty high to try them, the price increases.
It also costs those companies a bit more money to make that sort of ice cream.
They’re usually not buying the ingredients in bulk, so they have to pay high retail costs for them.
Since rare ingredients make ice cream’s production costs higher, the company has to pay more money to make them.
To offset those costs, they charge more money for those particular flavors of ice cream.
4. Seasonal Ingredients
Some ice cream companies also use seasonal ingredients in their recipes.
You can find these sorts of ice cream companies both in grocery stores and in restaurants.
The flavors usually contain certain fruits like kiwi, banana, blueberries, and mango.
Fruits, in particular, only grow for a certain season before the harvest ends.
They rely on hot temperatures to grow.
Once that season passes, the tree or plant no longer produces its fruit.
While they may still be available in other parts of the world, ice cream companies will have to import those ingredients.
That makes their ice cream more expensive because it adds the cost of importation to the production process.
That’s why you might notice that certain types of ice cream on the shelf of a grocery store are expensive some of the time, but cheaper at other times.
They price their ice cream based on whether their ingredients are in season or not.
Restaurants play a slightly different game.
While they might have a slightly cheaper price when their ingredients are in season, they also use that for marketing.
For example, they might advertise that they’re using fresh bananas to make banana ice cream.
They’ll then put a higher price tag on it because it’s rare for them to offer that.
They only offer that particular flavor when banana is in season.
It’s rare in the sense that they don’t offer it very often.
That means it ends up becoming a limited-edition flavor.
Limited edition products tend to be more expensive because their supply is artificially low.
It’s kept low to make the experience of eating or buying that product more special.
A lot of restaurants might call their ice cream artisan.
Ice cream is expensive when it contains seasonal ingredients.
5. Dairy Costs
While butterfat is one of the main ingredients in ice cream, it isn’t the only dairy ingredient.
Lots of ice cream recipes call for things like cream and milk.
Because dairy plays such a large role in the production of ice cream, it also makes sense that it makes ice cream expensive.
Normally, dairy is a relatively cheap ingredient.
However, the COVID-19 pandemic changed some things.
When the pandemic hit hard, states had to enter lockdowns to keep their citizens safe.
This meant that restaurants had no one to serve.
Since there was a sudden lack of customers, restaurants weren’t buying food and ingredients like they used to.
This put farmers and ranchers in a tight bind.
Dairy farmers found themselves with more cows than they could afford to keep.
They ended up having to cull their herds to survive financially.
Unfortunately, the lockdowns ended faster than anyone had expected.
This meant that the ranchers had probably killed off their herds a bit prematurely.
There was a sudden increase in demand as people returned to their former habits.
Some were even indulging in more ice cream purchases.
Without enough cows to provide the needed dairy, it meant that the dairy industry faced some problems with supply and demand.
There was high demand for products that were in short supply.
As a result, dairy farmers started selling at higher prices.
Since ice cream manufacturers need a lot of dairy products, they ended up having to pay expensive prices to get their ingredients.
That required them to offset those costs with higher prices on their ice cream products.
6. Dairy Substitutes
Another reason ice cream is expensive is that some ice cream contains dairy substitutes.
With plant-based diets becoming more popular, some ice cream makers have embraced the change.
They started producing alternatives to dairy-based ice cream.
Instead, they use ingredients like coconut milk, cashew milk, almond milk, and a variety of other types of milk that are made from plants.
While that usually means a slightly healthier version of ice cream, it also means it’s more expensive.
That’s because non-dairy ice cream still isn’t at the same level of mainstream as dairy ice cream.
Manufacturers have to spend more money to get those particular ingredients and make that particular milk.
They have to replace ingredients that are relatively cheap with more expensive ingredients.
While plants are usually a bit less expensive to grow than cows, you still need a large number of those plants to make enough milk.
Since they’re trying to produce on a massive scale, it means they need a lot of ingredients.
That ends up becoming costly.
They also have to implement changes in the factory to make the milk.
With dairy, they simply get the milk right from the cows.
With non-dairy substitutes, they have to make the milk themselves.
They also then have to replace other dairy products in the ice cream like butterfat and cream.
It ends up making production quite expensive, which is passed on to the consumer in the form of high prices.
7. Recipes Change
Ice cream recipes don’t always stay the same over the years.
Ice cream manufacturers spend time poring over their recipes to find ways to make them better.
When a new ingredient or process gets introduced, their recipe might change.
Some stores, in particular, might switch out the ice cream flavors they have for sale from time to time.
They might invent a new one, or they might just run certain flavors for limited periods.
Changing recipes always adds some cost to a business.
It requires them to shift inventories, change certain aspects of the factory, or even hire more workers.
It also doesn’t help that certain recipes require one method of cooking while other recipes require another.
For example, you’re likely not going to use the same process to make a banana-flavored ice cream that you would use to make a brownie or fudge-flavored ice cream.
The ingredients react differently with each other.
Because it isn’t that efficient of a process, it means the business isn’t as profitable as it could be.
The result is the business needs to put a higher price on its products to make up for it.
Some types of ice cream are also completely handcrafted.
These are usually sold as artisanal ice creams.
It entails a handful of workers who manually add the ingredients to a bowl and mix them together.
The quality of this particular ice cream is usually quite high because they have a lot of oversight.
If something isn’t working, then they immediately know and correct it.
Some of these brands also have their own secret recipes.
They spend a lot of time developing and correcting those recipes until they’ve made the perfect ice cream flavor.
Premium ice cream is often handcrafted and has expensive prices.
9. Ice Cream Shop Costs
Ice cream is also expensive when you buy it from an ice cream shop.
That’s because you’re not just buying the ice cream and its production costs, you’re also helping the business keep its lights on.
For example, an ice cream shop has other things to pay like wages, rent, and utilities.
They have to get enough to cover those costs while also earning a profit.
To do so, they need to charge high prices on their ice cream scoops.
If the ice cream shop is in a popular area, then their rent is also quite high.
That makes the prices of their ice cream even more expensive.
A final reason ice cream is expensive is its size.
A pint of ice cream is going to have the cheapest price.
It’s typically the smallest size of ice cream you can get at the store.
Half-gallon cartons and gallons of ice cream are the most expensive sizes of ice cream.
If the ice cream comes in packages, like popsicles or ice cream cones, then the more the box contains, the more expensive it’s going to be.
That’s because you’re basically paying for higher production costs.
Since it costs the manufacturer more money to fill a gallon as opposed to a pint, they put a higher price tag on it.
Ice cream is a delicious dessert that’s great on its own or used on top of other desserts.
Certain factors like the size of the ice cream, where you buy it, and other factors listed above can make your ice cream quite expensive.
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