The Summer of the $5 Ice Cream Cone

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It’s a perfect storm for ice cream lovers: Because of factors including everything from droughts in Russia to rising prices of cattle feed, dairy products, and gas, the ice cream cone that used to run $3 or $4 is now likely to cost $5 or more this summer. And if your favorite flavor is pistachio, you have special reason to grumble.

What does a cyclone in Australia, a drought in Russia, and the amount of milk being drunk by folks in China have to do with your triple scoop of rocky road? Well, ice cream prices don’t rise simply because the ice cream shop owner decides he wants to put a pool in his backyard, and figures to squeeze customers to pay for it.

The Boston Globe offers a more global explanation for the reasons taking your family out for ice cream this summer will probably cost north of $20. Beginning at an ice cream shop in Cambridge, where a single-scoop cone now costs $4.25 (up 40¢ since March) and a double now goes for $5.50, the Globe traces how that ice cream was made—and why it costs so darn much lately.

Starting off, the farmer is charging more for milk. Why? Prices are determined by USDA rules, and because of increasing demand around the world, especially in Asia—14% of milk produced in the U.S. is being exported, up from 4% a decade ago—prices are currently high: $20 per 100 pounds, up from $14 in 2009.

Global demand for sugar has also increased, at the same time that big producers of sugar beets are having bad years, with a cyclone devastating Australia and a drought affecting production in Russia. So sugar prices are up 12% in the last year.

The ingredients required to make popular ice cream flavors have also gotten more expensive, including chocolate and mangos. Pistachio is a disappearing flavor at many ice cream shops because pistachios have spiked above $10 a pound.

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Oh yeah, and while everything needed to make ice cream has grown more costly, so have the means of bringing those ingredients to the place where the ice cream is made and scooped into your cone. Even though gas prices have leveled off, they remain high, and they obviously make transportation more expensive.

Overall, here’s the situation, as quoted in the Globe piece:

“In any economic chain, there are winners and losers,” said Ricky Volpe, economist at the Department of Agriculture. “But there’s no question that consumers are one of the losers. Specifically American consumers.”

Guess this summer, we’ll all have to melt our sorrows away in ice cream. That’s some especially pricey ice cream, mind you, so be sure to savor every lick.

In related news, the start of your day is probably more expensive lately as well, with coffee prices rising to all-time highs. Dairy Queen and Starbucks are among the big chains experimenting with smaller menu offerings—mini Blizzards, tiny cupcakes—to counter the rise in food costs. For a variety of reasons, meanwhile, restaurant prices have risen as well, and even having a barbecue at home looks to be pricier: A new OECD study forecasts that meat prices will be 30% higher in the years to come.

So, before, during, and after you treat yourself to ice cream, you’ll be paying more.