The familiar jingle emanating from the ice cream truck might seem like little more than a tease this summer. Ask for a Chocolate Éclair, Toasted Almond, Snow Cone, or many other frozen treats at an ice cream truck, and there’s a good chance you’ll be told they’re sold out.
The early summer Good Humor shortage is putting some customers—and ice cream truck operators—in foul moods. “Do you know how bad you feel when you make a 5-year-old cry by telling them we’re out of SpongeBob?” Keith Bartholomew said to the Detroit News. Bartholemew has been in the ice cream truck business for more than two decades, and is in charge of a fleet of 18 ice cream trucks. “I’ve never seen a shortage like this ever before,” he said.
The shortage couldn’t come at a worse time—just as school is ending, the weather is heating up, and consumers are most likely to seek relief from that summertime staple, ice cream from the ice cream truck. Hot weather, in fact, is part of the reason why there’s a shortage right now.
An unseasonably warm spring caused an early spike in demand for ice cream, and the ice cream factories can’t catch up, reports the Wall Street Journal:
The long, hot spring has caused demand for ice-cream bars to far outstrip what Good Humor’s owner, Unilever PLC, had predicted—just as one of the main Good Humor factories, in Hagerstown, Md., is preparing to close for good.
This has led ice cream truck operators such as Bartholomew to be sold out of classics such as Chocolate Eclairs, Toasted Almond bars, Snow Cones, King Cones, and Screw Balls. Distributors have offered generic versions of these treats, but so far truck operators and customers alike aren’t biting. When you’re paying a premium for ice cream from the ice cream truck, the consensus seems to be that you want the premium product, not some cheap imitation. Tired of subpar sales days—and having to bum out customers by saying they’re sold out—two of Bartholomew’s drivers have already quit, and several other drivers say that they’re considering ditching the job as well.
In a worst-case scenario for the ice cream truck business, the shortages may serve as a reminder to consumers of just how cheap and easy it is to get ice cream at the supermarket. (There’s no shortage of ice cream by the carton, nor the versions of popsicles and ice cream bars that wind up in grocery stores.) Bonnie Knutson, a business professor and expert on consumer behavior at Michigan State told the Detroit News:
“If you get consumers out of the habit of buying the ice cream from the truck, it’s going to take a major push to bring them back to make this impulse buy when they can just as easily go to their freezer and eat it at their convenience.”
Even after the shortage is over, when the sound of the ice cream truck floats through the neighborhood, some sneaky (read: brilliant) parents out there may just keep on getting out of having to buy ice cream for their kids by simply saying, “Sorry honey, remember, they don’t have Spongebob.”