Last July, Filippo Mancini, a fourth generation ice cream maker, hosted the Belly Banger competition from his shop on Prestwick Beach Esplanade in Ayrshire.
Bettors paid Â£ 7.50 for 12 scoops – ‘whatever flavors you want, a little cookie on top and some cream’. They had 15 minutes to eat them. If they succeeded, they received a certificate and their money was refunded. Mancini, who says a dozen people were successful, plans to relaunch the competition in September.
As the ice cream industry has been going through a rough patch since the start of the pandemic – according to the Ice Cream Alliance, salons and vans lost Â£ 289million in 2020 – creative ideas have helped bring it to fruition the fortune of some.
Earlier this year, the alliance launched its Great British Ice-Cream Staycation campaign to support its members, providing them with marketing tools and running a social media contest to win a year of ice cream, provided by Mancini.
Maggie Rush, co-owner of Graham’s Ices, which operates five pickup trucks in York, “is definitely sharing more photos on Instagram and Facebook this year” because of the campaign. Katy Alston, who owns vans and a Pinks Parlor at Bognor Regis, says it created a community spirit within the industry that “has really been a game-changer.”
âWe all promote each other,â she says. âWe ask people where they’re from and tell them about salons and manufacturers in their area. People do it for us too. We find people who come from Scotland and who normally go to Mancini’s have learned about us from Mancini. That’s wonderful.”
While the big picture, according to the Ice Cream Alliance, is one of loss – 70% of its members said turnover fell significantly in 2020 compared to the previous year – fortunes have gone downhill. This was mixed, with salespeople in tourist destinations seeming to be doing the best.
When the first lockdown was announced, many were at the start of their peak season. Alston says it was “probably the first great weekend we expected – it was Mother’s Day.” With exceptionally good weather, salespeople reported the weirdness of having to sit on their hands. It was, says John Taylor, co-owner of 130-year-old C&M Ices in Harrogate, “a total mental change.”
Many donated freezers full of ice cream that would otherwise have exploded. Alston and his son spent two days dropping ice cream at the doors of teachers and nurses after a social media campaign where people could name others who deserved a treat. Anglesey’s Red Boat Ice Cream Parlor, known for its unusual flavors including baby jelly and seafood, spent six weeks delivering free ice cream to hospitals, hospices and nursing homes in the north from Wales.
The innovation has proven to be effective for some. Many van owners say they started a door-to-door delivery service after the uncertainty over whether to allow it was lifted, with rules differing between local authorities.
At Harrogate, Taylor was cleared to deliver in mid-May, albeit without the air “because it was seen as drawing a crowd”. He adapted: âWe had to use social media and get people to order ice cream like pizza. Â»Entire streets of neighbors placed in joint orders. Some sellers have continued with their delivery services – Red Boat continues despite reopening its lounges.
Sellers describe another mixed picture this summer. âDepending on your location, your story will vary,â says Rush, who has benefited from York’s active tourist activity. She has also had an increase in school bookings – with many school trips out of the way, she has been invited for sea-themed days where kids enjoy 99 flakes.
Taylor is hopeful for the future: âAs long as I can still drive the streets and park in my spot … The rest, he says, is down to the weather.
The pandemic has had some positive effects. In his living room in Bognor, Alston noticed that people appreciated traditional sundaes or floats more than ever. She thinks it’s because “we’re re-evaluating our lives and looking at what really matters.”
The industry, Alston says, realizes it doesn’t have to be seasonal. Her salon will host workshops to teach people how to make ice cream and she plans to host groups to create more fall or Christmas flavors.
Ice cream was a welcome treat when others weren’t on the menu. âIt’s a perfect thing to cheer me up; when are you never unhappy when eating ice cream? Asks Mancini, who confessed to being “pig for ice cream”.
“Even just sitting there watching these people outside my store having ice creamâ¦ the sun is hitting them – it’s adorable, you can’t beat it.”