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Blue-and-gold van with a window for selling food out of the side with chalkboard menus and a red carpet leading up to the window
Hollywood Cone Soft ice cream truck in Toronto, Ontario
Mark one Ford Transit in Scooby Doo-inspired colours with rear windows that can be opened for operator to sell food out of, decorated with illustrations of the various types of frozen puddings it sells
Ice cream van at the Senate Square in Helsinki, Finland

An ice cream van (British) or ice cream truck (North American) is a commercial vehicle that serves as a cold-food specialty food truck or amobile retail outlet for pre-packaged ice cream, usually during the spring and summer. Ice cream vans are often seen parked at public events, or near parks, beaches, or other areas where people congregate. Ice cream vans often travel near where children play — outside schools, in residential areas, or in other locations. They usually stop briefly before moving on to the next street. Along the sides, a large sliding window acts as a serving hatch, and this often displays pictures of the available products and their prices. Most ice cream vans tend to sell both pre-manufactured ice pops in wrappers, and soft serve ice cream from a machine, served in a cone, and often with a chocolate flake (in Britain), a sugary syrup, or toppings such as sprinkles. While franchises or chains are rare within the ice cream truck community (most trucks are independently owned and run), some do exist.

In some locations, ice cream van operators have diversified to fill gaps in the market for soft drinks, using their capacity for refrigerated storage to sell chilled cans and bottles.


Black-and-white photo of children standing next to a truck with an ice lolly painted on the driver's door
Vintage ice cream truck in Harper Woods, Michigan, United States

Early ice cream vans carried simple ice cream, during a time when most families did not own a freezer. As freezers became more commonplace, ice cream vans moved towards selling novelty ice cream items, such as bars and popsicles.[1]

A distinctive feature of ice cream vans is their melodic chimes, and often these take the form of a famous and recognizable tune. Ice cream truck songs in the United States include "The Band Played On", "Camptown Races", "Cuckoo Waltz", "The Entertainer",[2] "Home on the Range", "If You're Happy and You Know It", "La Cucaracha", "Little Brown Jug", "London Bridge Is Falling Down", "The Mister Softee Jingle", "Music Box Dancer", "Picnic" (a Japanese children's song usually played with a voice saying "hello" at the beginning of the song), "Pop Goes The Weasel", "Red Wing", "Sailing, Sailing", "Turkey in the Straw"/"Do Your Ears Hang Low?", "Wiegenlied (Brahms)", and "Yankee Doodle".[3] In Australia and New Zealand, ice cream vans traditionally play "Greensleeves".[4]

In the United Kingdom

Red van decorated with pictures of different types of ice lolly which says "Mr Whippy" on the front of the roof
A Wall's ice cream Ford Transit van parked in Clacton, England
Yellow-and-white van decorated with pictures of Mickey Mouse and illustrations of the types of ice cream it sells; text on the van reads "Super Whippy" while packets of crisps and cans of fizzy drinks are visible in the window
A Ford Transit-based ice cream van in Colchester, England

There are mainly two types of ice cream vans in the United Kingdom: a hard van, which sells scoop ice cream and is only equipped with a freezer and a soft van, which has a freezer and also a soft serve "whippy" machine for serving ice cream cones and screwballs. They are usually converted from factory standard vans with the rear cut away and replaced with a fibre glass body (to reduce the weight).

Because of the British climate, running an ice cream van profitably is not only very difficult outside summer, but is also an unpredictable business. A summer heatwave can provoke a massive upturn in fortunes for a few days, but after the weather has cooled sales drop off dramatically. The need to take advantage of rare and short-lived opportunities can result in the fierce rivalry between ice cream vans in coterminous areas, with the main disputes being over who is entitled to sell ice cream in a particular 'patch'. This has also led to some ice cream van vendors diversifying and selling other products such as crisps, chips, burgers or hot dogs from their vehicles at other times of the year.

In a number of Local Authority areas, particularly in London Boroughs with existing street markets, street trading regulations prohibit ice cream vans from remaining in one static location. The legislation also contains powers to ban ice-cream vans from specific streets. Proposals in the current London Local Authorities Bill would allow only 15 minutes trading per vehicle per street each day.[5] There also exists a nationwide code of practice[6] for the use of chimes, which limits the volume to 80 dB and the duration to twelve seconds, but these are rarely observed nor enforced. Chimes must not be played more often than every three minutes, near hospitals, schools and churches when they are in use.

In Scotland, ice cream vans have been used to sell smuggled cigarettes[7] and, in the 1980s Glasgow ice cream wars, as front organizations to sell illicit drugs.[8]

Ice cream van manufacturer

Main article: Whitby Morrison

Whitby Morrison, based in Crewe, Cheshire, was founded by Bryan Whitby who filed a UK patent in 1965 for mobile ice cream producing equipment through which soft serve units were powered off the van's drive mechanism. Today, the company is the UK's biggest ice cream van manufacturer, producing around 100 vans a year; its products have been exported to over 60 countries.[9] The company has also been developing a fully electric on-board battery system to power the soft-scoop machines it fits; the first all-electric van was expected to be delivered in the summer of 2019.[needs update][10]

In the United States

A van which says "watch children" on the front
Jack and Jill ice cream truck in Kentlands, Maryland, United States

Apart from ice cream, ice cream trucks may also sell snow cones, Italian ice or water ice, snacks, soft drinks, and candy. Many trucks carry a sign, in the shape of a stop sign, that warns other drivers of children crossing the street to buy food or ice cream. They also play music to attract consumers to their trucks. With the advent of social media networking, many ice cream truck operators are redefining the traditional business model. Not satisfied with the traditional approach of cruising for customers, some operators such as gourmet ice cream sandwich maker Coolhaus[11] are developing followings on social media sites and "announcing" the location of their trucks.

Novelty vehicles

Professionally-built ice cream trucks that sell prepackaged foods are called "novelty trucks". They use commercial cold plate freezers that plug in overnight and when unplugged maintain their temperature for at least 12 hours. Music systems are mechanical, such as melody IC, or more commonly digital soundchips that have no tape or other moving parts. Each "music box" may be able to play one or multiple tunes.[12]

In Scandinavia


Norway has two leading ice-cream van companies; Isbilen (lit. ice-car) by Fråst, and Diplom-isbilen by Diplom-Is. Diplom-Isbilen sell ice cream made by Diplom-Is, and isbilen sell ice cream made by Isbjørn-Is, they also sell fish. The ice cream vans can be heard from afar, and attract customers to the street by playing the iconic tune "Norge rundt", symbolizing their presence all over the country.

See also


  1. ^ "Ice Cream Trucks". Serving Ice Cream. Archived from the original on 26 July 2014. Retrieved 17 October 2011.
  2. ^ Neely, Daniel Tannehill (2005). Soft Serve: Charting the Aural Promise of Ice Cream Truck Music (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 5 February 2009.[page needed]
  3. ^ "Nichols Electroncis > Omni 2 Music Box (32 songs) | Nichols Electronics | Ice Cream Truck Music Box". Archived from the original on 6 January 2023. Retrieved 6 January 2023.
  4. ^ "In lockdown, ice cream trucks roam the suburbs ... just don't play it too loud". The Age. 26 September 2021. Archived from the original on 5 February 2023. Retrieved 5 February 2023.
  5. ^ "London Local Authorities Act 1994 (c. xii)". Ministry of Justice. Archived from the original on 11 June 2008. Retrieved 11 May 2008.
  6. ^ "Code of Practice on Noise from Ice Cream Van Chimes". Archived from the original on 30 October 2012. Retrieved 10 January 2012.
  7. ^ "Ice cream ploy by tobacco sellers". BBC News. 3 May 2001. Archived from the original on 28 July 2020. Retrieved 11 June 2008.
  8. ^ ""Ice-cream wars" verdicts quashed as justice system faulted". The Scotsman. Archived from the original on 21 December 2004. Retrieved 16 January 2015. The events [began] as rival gangs fought for the control of lucrative ice-cream van runs used as a front for distributing stolen goods and heroin ...
  9. ^ Evans, John (23 March 2020). "Behind the scenes at Britain's ice-cream van HQ". Autocar. Archived from the original on 2 February 2021. Retrieved 6 August 2020.
  10. ^ Tapper, James (2 June 2019). "A 99, sprinkles and no diesel: here come the electric ice-cream vans…". Guardian. Archived from the original on 8 November 2020. Retrieved 9 August 2020.
  11. ^ Hall, Jacob (15 July 2014). "Food Trucks Share Social Media Secrets". Entrepreneur. Archived from the original on 28 October 2014. Retrieved 27 October 2014.
  12. ^ "Welcome to Nichols Electronics Company, your source for digital ice cream truck music boxes". Archived from the original on 24 October 2016. Retrieved 25 January 2017.