The poor old ice cream van is dying out. Its catchy jingles and flake-topped Mr Whippies are apparently melting into mere memories. At least that’s what the latest figures suggest.
When was the last time you saw an ice cream van roaming the streets near you? I can confidently reply with the answer ‘yesterday’. Yet, my experience in London possibly doesn’t reflect the rest of the country.
According to ice cream company Joe Delucci, there are only 500 mobile vans selling 99s and ice lollies in the UK. That figure was hard to believe at first, but the key word in that sentence is ‘mobile’. There are a total of 5,000 ice cream vans in Britain, but most are static vans next to beaches or parks.
Still, that’s down from a whopping 25,000 vans in the 1970s. So what’s driving this meltdown of the ice cream industry? Are we giving them a frosty reception when they arrive on our doorsteps, or are there other reasons?
A sprinkling of ice cream vans
The weather doesn’t help much – we haven’t had the hottest of summers, where most of us would prefer a hot soup to a frozen treat. However, Joe Delucci puts the blame on a kaleidoscope of factors.
The finger is pointed at everything from high petrol prices, to competition from supermarkets offering fancy frozen treats. As many as 1,000 vans were taken of the roads this summer due to kids staying inside gawping at the incredible achievements of our Olympians.
Some councils are banning Mr Whippies, Yummies and Softees from estates, either due to childhood obesity concerns and noise pollution. Harrow council in north London has banned ice cream vans outside schools, and Peterborough city council has revoked a van’s licence for playing Teddy Bears’ Picnic for more than four seconds after complaints.
I have to say I personally find it uncomfortable seeing an ice cream van outside the school next to my flat. It doesn’t seem right to tempt kids with sweet treats as soon as the bell rings.
Of course, my ice cream seller is only protecting his trade, and a school is where his captive audience will be. Even though Duncan Bannatyne, of Dragon’s Den fame, had his first taste of success with a fleet of ice cream vans, it doesn’t seem like the easiest way to make money.
Ice cream or chippy van?
In the New Forest, we’ve gone one better – a fish and chip van comes once a week selling freshly caught fish cooked in deep-fat fryers in the van itself. It even has its own chimes, just like an ice cream van.
Still, ice cream has a nostalgic value – Fossilboy told us he could map the different stages of his life by the ice creams he craved. It would be a shame to see the back of ice cream vans – they’ve been around since the horse-drawn vans of the 19th Century. So, when was the last time you spotted (or heard) one?