Do Ice Cream Shops Make Money in The Winter?

Do Ice Cream Shops Make Money In The Winter

Do ice cream shops make money in the winter? Every business has some element of seasonality. However, this is especially the case for ice cream shops. Winter, rain, and just generally cold weather are the enemy of all ice cream shops. It is just a fact of life for any ice cream shop owner. However, the flip side is that whilst sales will decrease in the winter they will dramatically increase in the summer. In this post, I want to go over how much the weather can affect your ice cream shop and what you can do to increase sales during the winter. So, let’s find out – do ice cream shops make money in the winter?

Do Ice Cream Shops Make Money in the Winter?

As a general rule, most ice cream shops see a decrease in profits in the winter months. During the winter months, most ice cream shops will either make a small loss or break even. Therefore, cash flow and preserving profits from the profitable summer months are crucial to an ice cream shop’s success.

This is based on fully staffed ice cream shops. In the situation where ice cream shops have a low payroll due to the owner doing most of the shifts, it is still possible to make a profit in the winter.

Do Ice Cream Shops Make Money In The Winter - winter

My Experience with Winter

Our ice cream shop is based in Southern California, so our Winter is just November- February inclusive. Generally, we see our winter starts after Thanksgiving. We have had great profitable months in October before as well as in March. But for the months of November-February, we tend to make a small loss or break even.

We are fully staffed during the winter (i.e., I don’t carry out shifts myself).

That said, as we have grown and become more popular with time, we have started to make a small profit in some winter months, even when fully staffed. This is mostly due to implementing a better flavor strategy for the winter and having existed for over 6 years.

However, in the past when we did make a profit in the winter it was due to:  

1. Getting hired for some very profitable truck corporate events.

2. Winter heat waves; or

3. the month before we stocked up on ingredients, so our COGS was lower than normal that month.

Is More Ice Cream Sold in The Winter or Summer?

More ice cream is sold in the Summer than in the Winter. As a whole, an ice cream shop’s summer sales will be around twice as much as its Winter sales.

What Month Sells the Most Ice Cream?

As a general rule, August is the month of the year in which the most ice cream is sold. August has consistently been our busiest month for sales. This has not changed since we opened 6 years ago.

On average, December is the month of the year in which the least ice cream is sold. December has consistently been our slowest month for sales in the year. Again, this has changed since we opened six years ago.

In my experience, August sales in our ice cream shop are usually around double what our December sales are. This means you can expect a 50% decrease in sales during the quietest months of the year in your ice cream business.

How Does the Weather Affect Ice Cream Businesses?

Below is a table that shows how the weather can impact your ice cream business. In it, I go through the different types of weather and what you can expect the impact on your sales to be.

Weather TypesIce Cream Sales (From Lowest to Highest)
SnowI haven’t experienced the impact of snow sales in my ice cream shop; however, you can expect that snow will be one of the worst impacts on your ice cream sales.
Rainy weatherAs a general rule, the rain will result in very low ales for an ice cream shop.
Cold & gloomy weatherSlow ice cream sales (but not as bad as sales in rainy weather).
Cold & sunny weatherBetter sales than cold and gloomy or rainy weather, but still slower than in warm and sunny weather.
Extreme heat waveInterestingly once it gets extremely hot (over 100 degrees Fahrenheit) sales are slower than when it is comfortably warm/hot weather (70 degrees Fahrenheit – 90s degrees Fahrenheit). This is because during an extreme heat wave people avoid leaving their house as it is too hot – even for ice cream. However, this changes when it cools in the evening. Evening sales usually become extremely high in a heatwave.
Warm-hot weather and sunny (70 degrees Fahrenheit to 90s degrees Fahrenheit)As a general rule, warm-hot and sunny weather is the best weather for ice cream sales. This is because people want to cool down with ice cream and also associate warm sunny weather with a “let’s go buy an ice cream” mentality.

The Weather – It Is All Relative

One thing to bear in mind when looking at the impact of weather on ice cream sales is that everything is relative.

So, for example, a “heat wave” of 70 degrees Fahrenheit in December may have a more positive impact on sales than 80-degree Fahrenheit weather in August. This is because people have gotten used to colder weather in December so a heat wave just in the 70s can feel very warm. The surprising heat in the winter can make people want to go and get ice cream.

Also, if your area has been going through a drought and then you have a rainy day – this will result in a much slower day than if it is the tenth raining day in a row. In my experience, the first few days of rain are always the worst for sales, after that people get used to it and ice cream sales pick up.

Acclimatization plays a big role in the impact of weather on ice cream sales. Sudden short periods of change in weather will always have the biggest impact on sales, in my experience.

Do Ice Cream Sales Increase In The Winter?

As a general rule, ice cream sales do not increase in the Winter. Ice cream sales tend to decrease in the Winter months – by as much as 50%.

What Do Ice Cream Trucks Do In The Winter?

As a general rule, street vending sales really slow down for ice cream trucks in the Winter months.

Ice cream trucks, therefore, have the following options for the Winter months:

Does Not Go Out

The truck does not get taken out throughout the Winter months.

The issue with this route is that the truck will still make a loss during the Winter as there will still be fixed costs that need to be paid during the Winter. For example, insurance, commissary costs as well as annual permits and licenses. Also, you may have to let staff go, and then must re-hire a team in Spring time.

A better option for ice cream trucks to survive the Winters is as follows:

Reduced Vending Hours And A Focus on Holiday Events

To reduce street vending to just short weekend hours on nicer Winter days and busier weekends. Then at the same time focus on private events. Remember many people organize holiday parties from November to December, as do corporates in the form of holiday parties.

Have a special rate for holiday events, as well as an amazing selection of holiday seasonal flavors such as pumpkin spice, eggnog, peppermint, etc.

How Do You Sell Ice Cream in The Winter?

As a whole, the following are the four best ways for an ice cream shop to survive the winter.

1. Focus on “Wintery/Seasonal” Flavors

As a general rule, the absolute best way for an ice cream shop to sell ice cream in the Winter is to focus on seasonal winter ice cream flavors. For example, offer pumpkin spice ice cream, snickerdoodle, and eggnog in October – November for Halloween and Thanksgiving.

Then offering flavors like peppermint, apple pie, mint thin, cinnamon, chocolate orange, etc during the Christmas/holiday period.

In addition to seasonal flavors, you can also think about offering seasonal toppings. Examples of seasonal toppings include peppermint marshmallows, crushed candy canes, pumpkin-spiced toppings, and crushed snickerdoodle cookies to name a few examples.

2. Non “Frozen” Extra Offerings

The second-best way to increase sales in an ice cream shop in the winter months is to offer items on the menu that are not as cold as a scoop of ice cream. The reason why ice cream sales go down in colder months is that people don’t want to eat something frozen as they already feel cold.

  • Hot chocolate with (or without) a scoop of ice cream.
  • Affogatos (essentially a cup of coffee with a scoop of vanilla ice cream in).
  • Ice Cream Pies. Ice cream pies can work particularly well around Thanksgiving and Christmas. You will have to think of a way of making a pie base and then fill it with ice cream and then add toppings and sauce on top. Try to focus on ice cream pies made with wintery ice cream flavors and with seasonal toppings. It is also a good idea to have a pre-order system for the pies in the lead-up to Thanksgiving and Christmas. The great thing about these pies is the high-ticket price. Customers may be willing to pay up to $40ish for an artisan-made-to-order pie for Thanksgiving or Christmas.
  • Ice cream sandwiches. Especially in seasonal flavors such as pumpkin spice ice cream sandwiched between snickerdoodle cookies.
  • Hot sauces (e.g., hot fudge, caramel, or chocolate sauce).

3. Shorter Opening Hours

One way to try to boost profits in the Winter months is to have shorter opening hours. A lot of ice cream shops close earlier in the Winter months – often 9 pm rather than 10 pm/11 pm in the Summer months. Some open a little later too. Just make sure to update all your business profiles online (Google, Yelp, your website, etc.) so customers do not try to visit your shop at the wrong hours in the Winter.

This strategy won’t increase sales, but it will reduce payroll and utility costs, therefore, boosting profits.

Make sure to really look at your sales during your first hour after opening and your last hour before closing during the Winter. And do the math as to whether it is worth closing earlier and or later – based on what your staff and utility costs are during that time.

My ice cream shop is open the same hours all year round – as the numbers show that it is still worth being open those hours in the Winter, despite slower sales.

4. Fewer Staff

The final main way ice cream shops can try to increase profits in the Winter months is to reduce staff shifts. It may be the case that during the summer months you need two staff at any one time but in the winter, you only need one. Adjust your staffing needs as necessary.

Do Ice Cream Shops Make Money In The Winter - the final lick

Do Ice Cream Shops Makes Money In The Winter – The Final Lick

Do ice cream shops make money in the winter? Yes, it is possible to have a profitable ice cream shop in the winter. However, be prepared that no matter how popular your ice cream shop is, there will be a difference in sales between the winter and the summer months. The summer will just be busier – it is the nature of the business.

The good news is that ice cream shops that have been around longer and have a strong following will see less of an impact in the winter months. This means ice cream shops will always be hit the hardest by winter for the first 3 to 5 years after opening.

In my experience, our first three winters we saw our sales halve and sometimes drop even more during the winter period after we first opened. Why? Because we hadn’t built up enough of a following yet. However, with time and building up a loyal customer base the impact of this has reduced over time. Yes, the winter is still slower, but it is no longer something we worry about too much.

In the interim, until you get to that point prepare for winter and the cash-flow impact it will have on your business. Make sure you have access to capital to cover your first few winters and set aside summer sales accordingly.

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.

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How Do I Start My Own Ice Cream Business
Ice Cream Shop Profits – How To Run A Profitable Ice Cream Shop
How Much Does It Cost To Start An Ice Cream Truck
How Much Does It Cost To Start An Ice Cream Shop
Ice Cream Shop Accounting – Everything You Need To Know
Can I Make Ice Cream At Home And Sell It
What Are the Different Types of Frozen Desserts?
Is Vegan Ice Cream Profitable
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Everything You Need To Know About Working In An Ice Cream Shop
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How To Open An Ice Cream Shop
How To Start An Ice Cream Truck
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How Do You Become An Ice Cream Distributor
Everything You Need To Know About Ice Cream Delivery Apps
Everything You Need To Know About Gluten-Free Ice Cream and Toppings
What is the Mark-Up on Ice Cream?
What Scoopers Do Ice Cream Shops Use?
What Are the Best Toppings and Sauces for Ice Cream?

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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