Can I Make Ice Cream At Home And Sell It?

Can I Make Ice Cream At Home And Sell It

Can I make ice cream at home and sell it? Let’s face it, the cheapest way of starting your own ice cream business…is starting it from your home kitchen. You already have the kitchen, you already pay for the home, you have a freezer, and you have all the equipment. All you need is an ice cream machine, and you are “cooking” (or should I say “freezing”). But can you legally make ice cream and sell it to the public? What exactly are the rules and why are not more people doing it? In this post, I talk about if it is possible to start an ice cream business from your home. What are the relevant rules and what do you exactly need to know?

So, Can I Make Ice Cream at Home and Sell It?

Due to the frozen nature of ice cream, in almost all States in America, it is not possible to make ice cream at home and sell it. Cottage food regulations in the US allow certain non-refrigerated foods to be made in a home kitchen and sold. Due to the frozen nature of ice cream, these “cottage food” regulations do not tend to apply to ice cream.

Here is a link to the Los Angeles Health Department Rules for the cottage food industry to give you an example of the rules. To find the relevant rules in your county or state just search or call your local health department.

Separately, even if your home State will allow you to make ice cream at home it is probably not advisable. Why? To make great ice cream you need a proper batch freezer. These are big and heavy pieces of equipment that require specific power requirements. Home ice cream makers will just not cut it.

What Are My Alternatives Options For Starting My Ice Cream Business at Home?

However, fear not, there are still some lower-cost ways of bringing your ice cream to market even if you cannot make it at home.

I am going to make two assumptions if are searching for the question “Can I Make Ice Cream At Home And Sell It?

  1. You have an idea for a special ice cream you want to bring to market (i.e., you do not just want to resell another ice cream brand); and
  2. You are not ready or able to open an ice cream shop or your own commercial ice cream kitchen.

Getting Someone Else To Make It For You?

Hold on, what about getting someone else to make it for me? This is known as getting a “co-packer”. Unfortunately, larger commercial co-packers will mostly be out of the question for someone starting out in the ice cream business.

Co-packers use very expensive high-capacity ice cream machinery and make ice cream in huge quantities with extremely large minimum order quantity requirements. Therefore, co-packers do not tend to be the right option for someone starting out in the ice cream business.

However, there still are some low-cost options you can start with.

Can I Make Ice Cream At Home And Sell It - commercial kitchen

1. Hire a Space in a Shared Commercial Kitchen

There are plenty of shared commercial kitchens around. These are health department compliant kitchen spaces that you can hire for a period to use.

Depending on the kitchen they can charge on an hourly, weekly, or monthly basis.

Whilst it is a great idea for says a cookie company, to start off in a commercial kitchen space, it isn’t going to work out that well for someone wanting to make ice cream. This is because to make ice cream you need to have a batch freezer. Batch freezers are not pieces of equipment usually found in shared commercial kitchens. This means you will have to buy a batch freezer. These can cost $5,000+.

You will then have to carry the batch-freezer – which is not a light piece of equipment (you will need two people at least to lift them) – every time you go into the commercial kitchen. Even if the commercial kitchen, then allows you to leave the batch freezer there, you take the risk of it being damaged or used by other renters of the kitchen.

What Do I Think of Shared Commercial Kitchens?

Shared commercial kitchens can be a good option to start with. However, be aware of their challenges. It can get super competitive to find time slots to use the kitchen. Also, consider the extra costs and physical challenges if your commercial kitchen does not have a batch freezer.

Finally, ice cream needs frozen storage. Is there large enough frozen storage in the commercial kitchen? How much will they charge for it? Do you need to find frozen storage somewhere else? How will you transport the ice cream from one spot to the other?

This leads me to the second low-cost way of starting an ice cream business.

Can I Make Ice Cream At Home And Sell It - ice cream shop

2. Find an Ice Cream Shop or Kitchen with Spare Capacity

The best low-cost option for getting ice cream made commercially is to find an ice cream kitchen with spare capacity.

A few years ago, I was approached by someone who was just out of college and wanted to start a small ice cream business.

As they were just out of college, they didn’t have the funds to open their own ice cream shop. So, what did they do instead? They reached out to local ice cream shops to ask if they had any space available for her to make her ice creams.

Super smart.

Although our ice cream shop was at full capacity (making our own ice cream) she found an ice cream shop that made their ice cream in the back kitchen and had spare capacity. They said she could make her ice cream base there for free. Then she could pay the ice cream shop for its team to put her ice cream mixture through their machines and package it for her.

How Much Would This Cost?

The proposed $50 per hour to process and fill her ice cream into gallon containers and $75 to package into anything smaller.

It takes a lot longer to fill ice cream into pint cups and small containers than it does big buckets. Any ice cream processing that took less than an hour was still charged at $50/$75.

Also, this was just for one flavor. It takes a while to wash out an ice cream machine and fill it with a new flavor. So, the more flavors you have, the more expensive it will be – maybe start with three flavors to gauge customer feedback and take it from there. The only thing was – the ice cream kitchen didn’t have any spare freezer space so she would have to collect her ice creams and put them into frozen storage within 48 hours.

Please bear in mind, that frozen storage can be quite expensive, and moving ice cream from a kitchen to storage is complicated (ice cream melts). This means finding an ice cream kitchen that also has a spare freezer to store your ice cream (it will likely be at an extra cost) is preferable.

How Can I Find an Ice Cream Shop to Help Me Do This?

The first step is to locate all the ice cream shops in your local area. Second start reaching out to them.

There is bound to be one that has spare capacity and could do with the extra income. You could pop into the shops directly to ask but it will usually be a team member you will speak to. You will want to get through to the owner. I would recommend reaching out by email – marked for the attention of the owner.

Also, if there are any small independent ice cream chains in your area (e.g., three-five locations) they may have a very small ice cream factory of their own with spare capacity.

Questions To Ask Ice Cream Shop

There are a few questions you want to ask ice cream shops.

If you find an ice cream company with spare capacity, make sure to ask to see the exact process for making ice cream. Make sure to double-check any allergen concerns you may have and double-check there are no health department requirements that need to be fulfilled.

You will also want to know:

  • Frozen storage;
  • How often you can make the ice cream and what time of day you can use the ice cream store?;
  • If they will let you use the batch freezer?;
  • If you need to use your own packaging;
  • What equipment you can and cannot use; and
  • Pricing.

Should I put an agreement in place?

In an ideal world, you will want to have a legal agreement in place between you and the ice cream store. However, you will be dealing with smaller independent ice cream stores which means this may not happen. Worst case scenario – have an email in place that clearly sets out what you agree with the independent ice cream shop.

Can I Make Ice Cream At Home And Sell It - Farmer's Market

How Do I Sell My Ice Cream?

Ok, great. You have found a small ice cream kitchen to make small batches of your ice cream for you.

Now how do you go about getting this awesome ice cream out to the World, gaining feedback, and most important selling it? After all, you don’t have an ice cream shop or truck to sell from nor a grocery store pint contract.

Some Low Capital Ways Of Selling Ice Cream

1. Sell Ice Cream at Farmers’ Markets

If your local health department rules allow scooping ice cream from cool boxes at a Farmers’ Market this would be a fabulous way of testing your ice cream and gaining feedback. If storing ice cream in cool boxes isn’t allowed, the alternative can be storing and serving ice cream from a cart at Farmers’ Markets instead. This route is more expensive than scooping from a coolbox but is still a lower-cost option.

Finally, if scooping is not allowed, sell pre-made pints or tubs (i.e., 100ml tubs) at Farmers’ Markets. Just remember the cost of getting these small tubs made will be more expensive. This is because smaller tubs are more time-consuming to pack and fill.

2. Sell Ice Cream from an Ice Cream Cart

I have investigated adding a cart to my ice cream business before. The main reason I haven’t is that my health department only allows prepacked ice cream from a cart. If you can scoop from a cart, then that could be a great route to selling your ice cream. 

You can learn more about selling from an ice cream cart in my post – How Do I Start My Own Ice Cream Business.

3. Sell Ice Cream Pints to Delis and Independent Shops

Selling my ice cream pints to small independent delis and shops is how I started my first ice cream business in the UK.

Selling to large grocery chains can be very expensive, time-consuming, and risky (you can read more about the challenges of selling ice cream to large grocery chains here – What Are The Challenges In An Ice Cream Business).

However, selling to independent stores/delis can be an inexpensive way of starting your ice cream business and gaining some initial feedback. Independent stores won’t have listing fees, difficult-to-reach buyers, or long ice cream buying timelines and review processes. Selling to independent stores can be a great way of starting and testing an ice cream business.

4. Sell Ice Cream Pints Online

What do I mean by selling pints online? In this scenario, you set up an online store like Shopify, and then take direct orders for your ice cream. You then pack and ship the ice cream in an insulated box with dry ice.

This route is not my number one recommendation for selling ice cream. The logistics of shipping ice cream across a country the size of the USA is a logistical nightmare. Plus, the shipping costs are so high you must pass on often $70+ in shipping to the end customer.

However, it could be the right route for you. This is especially because it can be a lower-cost way of selling nationwide.

One thing to note with this route is you would have to be confident you are able to fulfill any online orders you receive. Say one week you get an influx of pint orders, and you don’t already have the ice cream stock to fulfill these orders. Will you be able to get into the ice cream kitchen you are partnered with (or the commercial kitchen) quickly and get these orders fulfilled?

As you are potentially opening yourself up to the whole of the US you must be confident you can fulfill orders without your own kitchen if you receive a large influx of orders.

Can I Make Ice Cream At Home And Sell It - the final lick

The Final Lick – Can I Make Ice Cream At Home And Sell It?

Can I make ice cream at home and sell it? In short, no. Most health departments will not allow a cottage health permit to make ice cream at home.

However, there are other options. You can:

  • Find a commercial kitchen; or
  • Partner with a local ice cream shop that has excess capacity

Whilst both can have their own challenges, I think the best option, to begin with, is to find an ice cream shop with excess capacity. Not only will they have all the equipment you already need, but it is also a win-win for you and the ice cream shop. You also don’t have to deal with finding a timeslot or sharing a kitchen with hundreds of other people.

As for begging to sell your ice cre, finding local farmers’ markets or independent delis and stores are a great way of testing out your ice cream. It also lets you build up a following which you can use to pitch to larger buyers.

Chilled Startup - Ice Cream Solves Everything

Time To Learn Some More

Want to learn more on your path to ice cream entrepreneur success. Then check out some of my other articles.

Chilled Startup Team

Since 2012, the Chilled Startup team has been in the ice cream business. From creating retail store ice cream concepts from scratch to ice cream trucks to selling ice cream pints wholesale to grocery store outlets to private and public events. We have even set up vegan and plant-based ice cream concepts. The ice cream business is one we understand inside and out.

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