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Even the ice cream man can’t hide from inflation

Price increases melt margins for local businesses

Gustavo Echeverry of Roxbury and his daughters Ailynn, 7, and Arianna, 4, have their frozen purchases from Boston’s Best Frosty Ice Cream truck.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

Frank Sacchetti Sr. still remembers when his family sold ice cream cones for a dime back in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s. A sundae was a quarter. A banana float would set you back a grand total of 35 cents.

Those days are definitively over.

In the past year, ice cream and fuel costs have doubled for Boston’s Best Frosty Ice Cream, a fleet of six ice cream trucks that Sacchetti, 68, and his son Frank Sacchetti Jr., 39, own. The Brighton residents have increased their prices by about 20 to 30 percent this summer to keep up. A $4 regular cone last year costs $5 this summer.

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“We’ve been able to roll with the price increases and the increased overhead. So far our margins have been able to accommodate it, but there’s always a question of whether that’s going to hold true in the future,” said Sacchetti Jr. as he stood next to his father on the sidewalk running along Pleasure Bay on a sunny Sunday afternoon.

The ice cream business, like many others, is reeling under the strain of inflation, eating away at profit margins and forcing business owners to hike prices.

Nationally, ice cream prices were up almost 10 percent and the products used to produce it were up 9 percent in May over a year before, the St. Louis Federal Reserve reports. That’s just above the 8.6 percent general inflation rate over that period, a 40-year high, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

At Pleasure Bay, however, a line of a half dozen people at the Frosty Ice Cream truck showed that the increased prices haven’t yet cooled demand for the frozen treat.

But it’s something the Sacchettis are worried about.

“Once we hit July Fourth, people had their fun the past three or four months, and now they’re looking at their pocketbook saying, ‘Everything’s costing us more, at some point we’re going to have to trim back on things,’ ” Sacchetti Sr. said.

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The company hasn’t seen a drop in sales yet due to the price increases, Sacchetti Jr. added.

“But there’s always that worry,” Sacchetti Jr. said. “I’m always thinking about whether we’re going to hit a ceiling.”

Northeastern students Ellie McMurtrie, 22, and Sarah Beckhaus, 21, weren’t deterred as they stood in line Sunday at Pleasure Bay.

“I knew it would be high,” McMurtrie said. “You can charge a lot somewhere like this.”

Across Boston, Sarah Mabel-Skillin spent early Sunday afternoon crafting another batch of coffee-flavored ice cream in her store’s cramped basement.

Mabel-Skillin, 40, co-owns The Ice Creamsmith, a Dorchester icon founded by Mabel-Skillin’s parents in 1976, with her husband.

Mabel-Skillin is used to price fluctuations, she explained as she pulled a bottle of vanilla extract off a shelf near the ice cream maker. The bottle is worth about $400 due to cyclones damaging much of the crop in Madagascar earlier this year, she said.

However, she’s never seen costs rise across the board as they have in the past year.

Total costs have risen about 15 to 30 percent since the pandemic began, she said. The real headache is paper cups and bowls. Her old supplier simply couldn’t get any.

“I feel like I spent 80 percent of my time last year just trying to figure out how to get cups,” she said. The Ice Creamsmith has a new supplier, but per-bowl costs have gone from about 2 cents to as much as 10 to 15 cents.

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Mabel-Skillin’s labor costs are way up too, and so are delivery charges.

“We were last year, and still are, paying a lot more for things we can’t do without having,” she said. “The combination of the increase in prices and the inconsistency of availability leave us scrambling.”

Anticipating rising costs, Mabel-Skillin and her husband decided to raise prices by 5 percent this year. Since taking over the business from Mabel-Skillin’s parents in 2014, the couple have never raised prices more than 3 percent. A small cone, a pretty hearty serving at The Ice Creamsmith, went from $5.10 after tax last year to $5.50 this year, she said.

Now, Mabel-Skillin has her “fingers crossed” that it was enough of a hike to turn a profit.

Watching from the beach wall as children and adults smiled as they took their vanilla soft serves covered in rainbow sprinkles or chocolate, Sacchetti Sr. is hopeful as his son takes the reins. It’s hard to be a pessimist in the ice cream business.

People, he said, “always have a few dollars in their pockets for some ice cream.”



Alexander Thompson can be reached at alexander.thompson@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @AlMThompson