Summer means heated competition for local ice cream retailers

Monday, June 23, 2003

Seven-year-old Karson King doesn't care that there's ice cream on his face.

Sitting at an outside table at the Dairy Queen in Jackson, he's oblivious to everything except the heaping spoonfuls of hard chocolate chip sundae that he's rapidly shoving into his mouth, scoop after glorious scoop.

"Karson!" chastises his mother, Sheila King, of Jackson. "You know better than that."

But Karson is helpless.

Such is the power of ice cream.

With summer here, ice cream aficionados like the King family -- who admit hitting the cold stuff two or three times a week -- will again be in search of the perfect scoop. That has area ice cream retailers bracing for the rush.

"The warmer it gets, the busier it gets," said Justin Kottabi, manager of Illustrious Jack's, a frozen custard store in Cape Girardeau. "I can tell you business has already picked up immensely."

That's because Americans, more than any other people, love their ice cream.

$20.7 billion business

The United States leads the world in annual production of ice cream, with 1.6 billion gallons produced in 2001, according to the International Dairy Foods Association. That translates into 23 quarts of ice cream produced per person.

In 2001, U.S. sales of ice cream and frozen desserts reached $20.7 billion. Ice cream is consumed by more than 90 percent of households in the United States.

"People love it," Kottabi said, noting custard is simply premium ice cream that has more butter fat than regular ice cream. "But you can't really worry about the competition. We serve a far superior product, and you have to hope people realize that."

According to the International Dairy Foods Association, vanilla is still the flavor of choice, because the flavor is the most versatile, mixing well with toppings, drinks and bakery desserts.

"Around here, people like parfaits, banana splits and concretes," said Virgil Landewee, who owns the Ice Cream Corner in Scott City with his wife, Carrie.

At the Ice Cream Corner, and in other shops, some of the busiest times are after youth baseball and soccer games. People also head over to load up on ice cream after they've finished swimming at the municipal pool.

"We're in full swing during those times," he said. "It's a good reward for the kids. They play a hard game, whether they won or lost, you've got to treat them. If you take them straight home, you're not doing what you're supposed to be doing."

It's no secret why cold ice cream is most popular in the hot summer months. In 1984, President Ronald Reagan designated July as National Ice Cream Month and the third Sunday of the month -- of course -- as National Ice Cream Day. This year, that's Sunday, July 20.

"People think ice cream with hot weather," Landewee said. "Plus people are out more, traveling. They're not cooped up, like in winter."

Affected by weather

This year's startup has been slower than usual, according to Sarah Thompson, owner of the Jackson Dairy Queen.

"It usually starts picking up around the first of June," she said. "This hasn't been the best year so far because of the weather. But since it hasn't been raining so much, the last week or two have been better."

Thompson's father owned that Dairy Queen for about 45 years, and Thompson is in her 20th year working there.

While most people have to venture out to find an ice cream shop, sometimes ice cream finds you. An ice cream truck -- called Sweet Treats -- can be seen around ball fields and winding through neighborhoods this summer.

Roger Shoulders, who owns the local Dippin' Dots franchise, sells the pebble-sized dots of ice cream at area events like the SEMO District Fair, Jackson Homecomers and Benton Neighbor Days.

"Because it's in beads, we can mix different flavors together," Shoulders said, citing banana split, orange, coffee and blue bubble gum as some favorites.

A comfort food

Shoulders said that ice cream is so popular because it's a comfort food.

"Everybody loves it," he said. "Even the people who are watching their weight can do sherbet. It makes you feel good. It's not just for kids. I still love ice cream."

So does Karson King, the 7-year-old with ice cream on his face. After devouring his sundae, he is handed an ice cream cone to share with his big sister, Kasey.

Instead, he rubs his sunburned nose in it so she won't want any.

"He knows he's supposed to share," his father says. "But when it comes to ice cream, he doesn't know the meaning of the word."

smoyers@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 137

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