Today's summer solstice could lead not only to a higher sun in the sky but also to higher prices for ice cream and four other popular summer treats. Families might just run from ice cream trucks instead of chasing their melodious jingles.
Jim Conway, vice president of Mister Softee, one of the country's largest and oldest franchises of trucks that sell soft ice cream, said prices for the company's dairy ingredients have increased 20 percent since April.
"There's been an increase in prices in all the general dairy commodities, not just milk and cream but butterfat also," Conway said.
Ricky Volpe, research economist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said it's not just ice cream that is pricier. Overall, the cost of groceries could increase 3.5 to 4.5 percent this year.
"There's no retail food item for which I can say prices will not go up in 2011 relative to 2010," Volpe said.
Volpe said that's mainly because the weakened dollar has made U.S. food exports more attractive to other countries, which has increased international demand and consequently decreased some food supplies in the U.S., leading to higher prices here.
Prices for the following top five summer staples will increase:
1. Ice cream
While Conway said most of the owners of Mister Softee's 700 trucks have absorbed the increase in dairy costs, franchises set their own prices to cover their increasing costs.
"You can't expect mom, dad and two kids to come regularly to your truck if your prices are out of hand," Conway said.
To the dismay of the lactose-tolerant and advocates of June as National Dairy Month, dairy products are predicted to increase 5 to 6 percent in 2011 compared with 2010, according to the USDA Food Consumer Price Index.
"Dairy is a production-intensive industry, and it's one of those commodity groups in which every factor will have increased in price," Volpe said.
The increased price of corn that stems from the demand for corn ethanol fuel, for example, has affected dairy prices. Corn is a primary component of cow feed.
Conway said higher fuel prices and cold weather in the spring hurt Mister Frostee's business, with higher costs and fewer customers on the street pining for ice cream.
Extremely hot weather in the summer can also negatively affect demand, because many customers stay indoors in their air-conditioned homes, Conway said.
Mister Softee trucks, found in 18 states along the East Coast, sell ice cream from $2 to $3 per cone. Conway said except for the small percentage of Mister Softee trucks in tourist areas, the vast majority of franchises rely on regular customers.