Is the Soft Serve Ice Cream Business for You?

Are you considering going into the soft serve ice cream business? 

It’s a funny thing about recessions. More people decide to go into business for themselves during a recession than at any other time, and the soft-serve ice cream business is one of them.

The National Association for the Self-Employed (NASE) refers to this phenomenon as “countercyclical” activity. “When employees lose their jobs during economic downturns, people still have to find a way to feed their family,” says Keith Hall, president, and CEO of the NASE. “They didn’t plan to become self-employed; it just happened. However, for many, they are glad they did.”

One reason for this sweet attraction to the soft serve ice cream business is the profit margin.

Soft serve ice cream mix is 60% air. A child-size portion, which typically sells for $2 to $3, costs only $0.14 to make. An adult-size portion, which sells for $4 to $5, costs $0.30 to make. But before you jump in, here are a few essential things you need to know about the soft-serve ice cream business:

What does soft serve mean?

Soft serve refers to any frozen dessert served from a soft-serve machine. The machine continuously mixes and churns the frozen dessert, so it is soft when served.

What’s the difference between soft serve ice cream and frozen yogurt?

Ice cream has a cream and milk base. Yogurt has a yogurt base. 

What’s the temperature of soft serve ice cream?

The temperature of soft-serve ice cream is about 20 degrees Fahrenheit, whereas scooped ice cream is about 10 degrees Fahrenheit. Furthermore, soft serve melts much faster because it contains so much air.

Are soft serve machines expensive?

They tend to be, yes. They cost about $5,000 each. However, purchasing a used machine at a significant discount may be possible. But keep in mind soft-serve ice cream systems are surprisingly complicated and require considerable maintenance. Over time, many of the parts must be replaced. If you’re just “testing the waters” to see if you want to sell soft-serve ice cream, selecting a used machine may be best. Otherwise, a new device will be less costly in the long run.

What kind of maintenance is required of a soft serve ice cream machine?

Proper cleaning and maintenance are crucial for keeping the machine running well, preserving the taste of the product, and protecting the health of customers. You see, these machines can become contaminated quickly. The soft-serve mixture in the machine is a welcome environment for microorganisms. Plus, when the machine is dormant, or not being used for extended periods, bacteria can develop and build up.

Are these machines hard to clean?

Even though several manufacturers make these machines, all can take time to clean. This is because many parts must be removed and cleaned with the correct cleaning solution. And cleaning is crucial. As mentioned, germs and bacteria can build up in the mixture, affecting the product’s taste and potentially becoming a health hazard.

Fortunately, the job can be made much easier – and faster – using the hydra-rinse system powered by the naturally derived LEXX® Liquid Sanitizer & Cleaner Concentrate. This is a patented, one-step cleaner/sanitizer engineered to clean multiple surfaces, including food contact surfaces, such as those in soft-serve machines.

What type of cleaning solutions are needed to clean the machines?

Avoid traditional cleaning solutions. They can leave a harsh residue that can negatively impact the soft-serve product. A desirable alternative is an automated cleaning system developed by Hydra-Rinse and a citric-acid sanitizer/cleaning solution by  ProNatural’s LEXX cleaner/sanitizer. The ingredients are naturally derived, effective and EPA-registered. Plus, it leaves no after-taste and has a negligible impact on the user and environment.

Finally, is soft serve ice cream a profitable year-round business?

Yes! While the peak business months are typically May through September in the northern and eastern part of the country, many soft-serve outlets report brisk and profitable business throughout the year.

Lee Chen is President and COO of ProNatural Brands, LLC, manufacturers of natural, sustainable, and effective citrus-based cleaning solutions. To contact us, click here:  Contact – Pronatural (


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