Cone or Cup, the Price Is Going Up

I scream, you scream, we all scream over pricey ice cream (search).

As the summer heats up, the cool coned treat will cost more due to rising dairy product costs — and fans of frozen goodness are none too pleased.

"I'm a banana split addict, I used to eat them all the time," said Christina Loznicka of Denver, Colo. "Nowadays if you're talking $3-plus to get an ice cream cone, it's at least $5 for a sundae. With the economy the way it is, it's silly to spend that."

A combination of several factors in the dairy industry is creating higher prices for basic staples such as milk and butter. And even vanilla's cost has shot through the roof over the last several years.

The increased costs of ingredients is "really going to affect ice cream costs by end of summer," said Ron Covitz, owner of Ron's Gourmet Ice Cream (search) in Hyde Park, Mass.

Last summer a cone cost $2.50 at Ron's. This June, it will hit $3.25. But Covitz, who said the price he pays for ice cream mix has increased from $22 to $34 in the past four months, is doing everything he can to keep the cost down for customers.

"The ice cream people are people that work very hard, especially the small guys like myself," he said. "I have one other store and I work very hard to make a living and we respect the fact that our customers work hard to make a living."

Loznicka, 25, said she loves going out for ice cream and considers it a summer staple. She remembers when, as a pre-teen, she worked at an ice cream parlor and cones were $1.40. But times and even ice cream eating habits have changed.

"It's not just going in and getting an ice cream cone like it used to be," she said. "With the toppings and all, once you get to the register it's a bit of sticker shock."

Local ice cream shop owners, who count on patronage rising along with the temperature, are hit especially hard by rising costs. The warm summer months are crucial for them to make it through the cold winter.

Business traditionally "doubles, at least, in the summer months," said Scott Larson, the retail general manager for Whitey's Ice Cream (search), which has 11 shops in Iowa and Illinois. "If you don't have a good summer, you borrow money to get through the winter or you don't survive."

Whitey's still sells cones at the retro cost of $1.50, but Larson said the chain plans to raise prices by the end of the year.

"That's still a pretty cheap cone for the quality you get," said Larson. "We've been trying to hold off, but we will have to raise our prices about 10 percent, and we'll try to get by that way."

Despite the price hike, Covitz said his loyal customers won't stop licking the sweet, cool treats — they'll just downsize.

"They're not going to complain, just maybe get a child's size instead," he said. "They are learning that I'm not being the bad guy and it's the cost to me that's gone up."

But Robert Villarrela, manager of an Amy's Ice Cream (search) in Guadalupe, Texas, said he has witnessed ice cream lovers get icy over the price of their beloved cones.

Several years ago, when he worked for the Swensen's ice cream chain, customers "were livid" when the cone cost went up by a quarter, he said.

"They would say things like, 'That's almost as much as my lunch,'" he said. "We had a couple customers who would walk away."

But Loznicka said the rising price of ice cream won't dampen her summer. She still plans to eat her favorite treat — just not as much of it. And she'll satiate her sweet tooth in other ways.

"There are other things to spend money on," she said. "I've always liked Italian Ice."