/ Food & Drink, Health

Ice cream vans driven away due to lack of lolly

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?


Last time I heard an ice cream van was a couple of weeks ago. They probably struggle to get down my road due to all the learner drivings practising emergency stops, turn in the road using front and reverse gears etc I could hear/see them once or twice a week during May/June/July. As my daughter is now older (20) we don’t tend to buy from the van anymore.

I can relate to that, William. I once counted five learners practising their manoeuvres on the otherwise quiet road leading to the cul-de-sac where I live.

Though I eat ice cream on holiday I would not think of buying from a van touring the estate. I once got ice creams for guys who where fitting uPVC windows for me. Some years ago an ice-cream van parked outside my house and played his chimes – loud and distorted – for several minutes, so the driver was given a copy of the regulations and left me in peace after that. I still see ice cream vans on the main roads but they have given ‘my’ estate a miss. I had not even realised.

Learners have to practice somewhere and how else does one turn in the road?

I agree that it seems odd to have ice cream vans right outside schools, if we’re trying to encourage children to eat healthily, but surely the odd treat is OK?

Perhaps I’m only biased in this because there was nothing more exciting when I was little than having a Witches’ Hat from the ice cream van that parked outside my primary school on Fridays. A Witches’ Hat, for those who have missed out on this joy, was a small ice cream cone with a little rocket-shaped ice lolly stuck in the top. Amazing!

A 99 will always be ice cream of choice, if I ever buy from a van again. I have no idea of the cost these days, so will probably stick a tub of half price Ben & Jerry’s or Haagen Daaz, whenever their on offer again.

Good point william – I seem to remember in my very distant youth, 99s actually cost 99p. No idea how much they cost these days, I’d estimate about two quid. Time for them to be renamed, perhaps.

My memory is flake-y, but I think 99s were around before 1971, when decimal currency was introduced. 🙂

About £2 for large 99 here in the Lake District.
For those who complain about the prices being charged – the owners have to tender for the use of the static sites and one owner told me that shows or events etc charge very high “rents” so they have to increase their prices to compensate.

Haven’t seen one in ages but they used to drive me round the bend on the estate where I previously lived. During the summer it was constant, as soon as one had gone out of earshot another would turn up, all of them with their “chimes” turned up to full volume. I don’t miss them.

par ailleurs says:
28 September 2012

Surely it’s the cultural change that is doing for them. As someone else said, ice cream is a great treat for anyone-me included. What we don’t need though is a van turning up every single day in the same residential streets. If they were going to get any business then the vans would need to be selling to the same people every day. That’s not going to happen any more most of the time so bye-bye ice cream vans. They’re fine at the seaside or in tourist spots but not in ordinary residential roads.
I have to say that I won’t miss the one that calls in the street opposite most days. His chimes are excruciatingly out of tune and really offend my poor old ears. And by the way, you’re right wavechange. I can remember the incredible treat of a 99 at the seaside in the 1950s so where did that name come from?

A few weeks ago I was getting really fed up with the noise of the ice cream van going round the town. We live in a fairly elevated position and can hear the strains of “Greensleeves” or the Third Man theme or “Boys & Girls Come Out to Play . . . ” for about an hour every afternoon. Like some demented mechanical Pied Piper, the van visits our patch where it stops and plays its crude five-note melodies at ear-splitting volume [how could you work in such a vehicle without ear defenders?] tempting the local youngsters out for a cone of a whipped-up froth with an emaciated stick of flaky chocolate in it. Then suddenly it was no more. Days passed without the sibilant airs of the mobile megaphone until the penny dropped. The children were back at school and the lazy vendor had merely stationed his dilapidated Dormobile of delectable desserts just down the road from the school gates – thankfully outside hearing range, and because it’s stationary there is a maximum time limit on the musical accompaniment.

I must admit I am surprised they survive – most people’s fridge/freezers probably contain a better [and more toothsome] choice of super sundaes than the fake Neapolitan driver with the dirty scoops and mucky apron, however evocative of a ride on the gentle gondola his sentimental ballads might appear.

Here are the rules for operators of ice cream vans and other vendors of perishable commodities for human consumption. Defra did a consultation earlier this year, so the rules may change, but these ones make a lot of sense.


Last night in my garden I heard the familiar, faintly eerie tinkle of an ice-cream van tune drifting through the air. I have no idea where it is in the area, but I assume it means they’re still active in my area, at least!

Gerard Phelan says:
4 October 2012

Last Saturday I had an ice-cream from a mobile ice cream van at 9 pm – that’s right AT NIGHT. Some enterprising grown up friends sorted the problem of providing food for their wedding anniversary party, by arranging for a local mobile fish and chip van and an ice cream van to park next to the village hall housing the party. When the food was ready and we could bear to tear ourselves away from the dance band, we first started with the fish and chips and followed that by the ice cream.
Perhaps the other ice cream vans need to market their services in a similar way?

No clues as to what I bought a couple of hours ago, for my daughter, sister and myself. And from right on the doorstep ( of my sisters house ). A large 99 plus flake was £3 , I didn’t go for the Fatboy version for £4.

Apparently he stops right outside their house every week.

sharon says:
2 March 2013

I have an ice cream van ” Loopy Loo ” i bought it last yr after loosing my T room and sweet shop.
The excitement on children’s and adults faces lifted my spirit again…..they actually loved my ice treats …..I sell to regulars on the estates 99 for £1.30 and with that they get a choice of sauce and sprinkles 🙂 they dont mind me coming round regular as the cost is worth it just to see the sitting quite for 10mins …. we are a dying trade with all the big vendors paying thousands to go onsite I cannot afford the prices! so I poodle round and yes I play my tune ” here we go Loopy Loo” they come running and no exactly where i stop every time…then they cue eagerly waiting to be served 🙂 they all no my name as i have it written on my T shirt and apron ” Sharon’s Little Ice Dream Van” . Our insurances we need are expensive rules and regs are strict,but I will keep going as long as the weather is kind :/ I will trade…..I feel proud when I drive my van wagon drivers and farmers all wave makes me feel happy inside…