A Holiday We Can All Agree On

I scream. You scream. We all scream for ice cream! Particularly on the third Sunday of July, which President Ronald Reagan declared National Ice Cream Day. It may sound silly, but here is one holiday that everyone can support and feel happy about.

Like most valuable creations, ice cream has a rich history. Its start goes back to ancient China when King Tang of Shang had 94 icemen make a dish of buffalo milk, flour, and camphor. The Chinese later changed the recipe to be a mix of milk and rice, which they then packed in snow.

Today there are over 1,000 different ice cream flavors, and the freezer has replaced snow as a storage vehicle. It’s not just the flavor we select but also whether to go premium, solidly center, or budget-friendly private-label. For 20-something ice cream consumers, “premium” is typically their preference, often purchased at an ice cream shop. Women over 45 prefer to buy ice cream at supermarkets—perhaps convenience, price, and one-stop-shopping are at play.

Given that there is no shortage of holidays to celebrate, what was behind Reagan’s decision to declare National Ice Cream Day? Simple. He wanted to commemorate a shared experience that 90 percent of the U.S. population enjoys, from the young to the old.

Given that the holiday is upon us, it seems like a good time to improve our ice cream knowledge base. An odd history tidbit is Mussolini banned the sale of ice cream in Italy during World War II because it was considered “too American.” We, on the other hand, have doubled down in saluting the frozen treat, adding National Ice Cream Cone Day (September 22) and National Chocolate Ice Cream Day (June 7).

It is also interesting to note our flavor preferences. A 2020 poll of 20,000 Americans found chocolate placed first (17 percent), followed by vanilla (15 percent), followed by a 3-way tie for third (strawberry, mint chocolate chip, and butter pecan at 8 percent each). My takeaway? Be open-minded and enjoy them all. It’s the baseball equivalent of “showing range.”

Americans over age 55 eat the most ice cream, averaging 56 times annually. This seems low and an unnecessary denial of a simple pleasure. The under-55 age group consumes significantly less, with an average of 41 times per year.

It is possible lower ice cream consumption relates to concern about its nutritional value. It’s my civic duty to set the record straight. While ice cream can be high in fat and cause weight gain, it is also rich in carbohydrates and protein and a great source of energy. It is said the proteins in ice cream can help repair muscle tissue, facilitating speedier healing. In other words, we can celebrate the day in good conscience.

Still, there is one area to apply the brakes no matter how deep your appreciation. Proceed very cautiously if the entrepreneur in you wants to open up a store. The failure rate is high. Some attribute failure to the typical practice of hiring our youth who don’t really “know” ice cream or business in general. Also, the average order value for a customer is low, minimizing the advantage of ice cream’s low cost of goods sold (reportedly 15 to 20 percent). The business is highly cyclical and will benefit from a premium location with high foot traffic. Never has the old adage “Location, location, location” been more true.

My suggestion? Take a page out of the movie “Miss Congeniality” where after having had a bad day, Sandra Bullock retreats to the bar and asks for “a pint.” When the bartender brings her a pint of Ben and Jerry’s chocolate chip ice cream, she thanks him, saying, “I need to get chip-faced.”

So if you are in the mood to celebrate this July 18, consider a whole family getting chip-faced and render no judgment.