One of the best memories many of us share from our youth is “The Ice Cream Man”
As kids when we heard the sound blocks away we would go into a frenzy seeking money to get a treat.
There were many different types of ice cream trucks but The Good Humor man was the best one!
Ice cream truck drivers lose humor with scarce icy treats
By Rene Wisely
Special to The Detroit News
Justin Stokes buys ice cream from Lynn Rubicz. Rubicz is falling $100 short on her typical daily haul of $300 when school is still in session. (David Guralnick / The Detroit News)
As he heads into the height of ice cream buying season, the mood of Daisy Ice Cream Co. owner Keith Bartholomew should reflect the brand name on his fleet of 18 ice cream trucks: Good Humor.
But a nationwide shortage of Good Humor’s cool treats has taken much of the fun out of his business.
“Do you know how bad you feel when you make a 5-year-old cry by telling them we’re out of SpongeBob?” asked Bartholomew, a 25-year industry veteran based in Madison Heights, referring to the square-shaped, yellow and red ice cream bar based on the cartoon character. “I’ve never seen a shortage like this ever before.”
Good Humor’s shortage is limited to mobile vending units. Toasted Almond and Chocolate Éclair lovers can still find their delights in a grocery freezer case, but the bigger bars made specifically for the ice cream trucks may return in July, said Jeff Graubard, spokesman for Unilever PLC, the London-based conglomerate that owns Good Humor, the Popsicle brand, Ben & Jerry’sand Breyers.
The problem was created by the nation’s early hot spring, which caused an unexpected, higher-than-usual demand for ice cream, just as Unilever was closing its Maryland Good Humor factory and shifting production to other plants, Graubard said.
The shortage also has meant that Daisy has been out of Snow Cones, Screw Balls, King Cones and Candy Center Crunches for weeks, Bartholomew said.
His business is down at least 20 percent — even during his peak season and with an extra two months of sales because of the warm spring temperatures.
“I’m struggling,” he said.
Two of his drivers have quit because they grew tired of saying no to customers, Bartholomew said.
Even Lynn Rubicz, a Daisy subcontractor and one of its top five sellers, is falling $100 short on her typical daily haul of $300 when school is still in session. Most items are priced $1 to $3.
Rubicz combs the tony neighborhoods of Shelby and Washington townships in search of Good Humor fans.
“People are walking away from the trucks without getting anything because their favorites aren’t there,” said Rubicz, an ice cream truck driver of 10 years. “I normally make enough in the summer to last all year, but I don’t know if I will this year.”
Carl Post, who drives his 1969 restored Good Humor truck near Holland, is considering leaving the business. He put his truck up for sale on eBay after running into roadblocks to get inventory.
No one feels the hurt more than David Sadeghi, president of Pars Ice Cream in Detroit. He has the exclusive “master distributor” contract to supply every Metro Detroit ice cream truck driver, distributor and retailer with a free-standing freezer chest. Any time they run out of a product, he gets a phone call and, lately because of the shortage, an earful.
“This is doing substantial harm to my business,” he said. “The ice cream season is too short for this. Every day I lose money.”
It may have long-term implications, too, said Bonnie Knutson, a Michigan State University professor and expert on consumer buying trends.
“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,” Knutson said.
Or they might buy their treats at the local ice cream stand, she said.
“Memories are what people like here,” said Paul Walter, owner of Dairy Deluxe, a soft serve stand in Birmingham. “Time is precious, and they want to create memories with their family, so they come here for an outing.”
Mobile competitors like Captain Kool Ice Cream in Center Line and Meadowbrook Ice Cream Co. in Rochester Hills, which sell Wells’ Blue Bunny and other premium brands, hope the charm of music trucks and the nostalgia they bring keep families running out, waving their dollar bills.
Neither company has benefited from the Good Humor shortage, saying they haven’t noticed an uptick in their mobile business. To capitalize on the shortage, the competitors would have to find a Good Humor route, buy a permit from their new community and budget time to drive a new area without neglecting established customers.
But Captain Kool Ice Cream and Meadowbrook Ice Cream expect to win over customers needing to rent their trucks for special events such as graduation parties and company picnics.
“We’re not out of any flavors like Good Humor is,” said Captain Kool manager Sean Hyland. “Once you taste our product, you’ll love it because the first ingredient listed on Blue Bunny products is milk, and that makes a huge difference in flavor. Not all Good Humors say that anymore.”
Hyland longs for the days of the easier sell — before more novelty ice cream was sold in grocery stores and when the economy was better.
“It’s hard to be in the ice cream truck business these days with gas prices so high,” he said. His company owned 25 trucks before the economy dipped and is now down to 18.
“We only took about three applications to drive trucks for this season, and it’s normally 20 to 30,” Hyland said.
Even without a shortage, business is melting.
Origins: Youngstown, Ohio, candy maker Harry Burt covered ice cream with a smooth chocolate coating and froze it on a stick. He called them “Good Humor Bars,” tapping into the then-prevailing belief that people’s temperament or “humor” affected their sense of taste. Three years later, Burt got the patent rights to ice cream on a stick. He used a fleet of 12 chauffeur-driven trucks with employees in white uniforms.
Expansion: After Burt died, wife Cora Burt took the company public and sold franchises. It expanded into the Midwest and beyond.
Delivery shift: In 1976, Good Humor sold its fleet of trucks so it could concentrate on selling in grocery stores. It still distributed the ice cream to independent street vendors.
From The Detroit News:
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