Bryan Caplan  

Ice Cream Demand

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It was 85 degrees in Fairfax last Monday. When I bought an ice cream cone at Ben and Jerry's, I asked the owner how much extra business he was doing that day compared to the typical day in January.

What do you think his answer was? If the number of responses exceeds 20, I'll test them for rational expectations.


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COMMENTS (35 to date)
Phil writes:

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Jacob Kearns writes:

200% greater?

Hei Lun writes:

None. People eat just as much ice cream in the winter.

John Hall writes:

I think there's a reason why Dairy Queen closes in the winter in most parts of the country. It makes perfect sense to me that as the temperature outside increases, demand for ice cream is larger. I think ice cream purchased to eat out is especially affected by temperature compared to ice cream eaten in the home. I would expect that would increase also, but not by the same degree.

Without data on temperatures and ice cream consumption, I really couldn't estimate an effect, but I would guess that on average consumption of ice cream must increase by at least 25%.

PJens writes:

I guess double the normal business.

drtaxsacto writes:

We do not know whether the consumption of ice cream in Virginia is linear when graphed with temperature. One would expect that ice cream consumption would increase somewhat. There is surely a frontier here. But here are some considerations we would need to know about the objective and subjective realities we are trying to test. Four come to mind.

#1 - What kinds of substitutions are possible?
In this town are there slushies and other cold treats available?
Are there other ice cream vendors in town (there is a difference - see also #3)
#2 - How much political correctness is present? (Fairfax has a lot of government types so one would expect a lot of chatter about the high fat content of ice cream compared to more healthy treats.)
#3 - What flavors does this vendor have? I generally do not like Ben and Jerry's so I would not be moved to try their ice cream regardless of the temperature. I am not into politically correct ice cream. Were it Dryers I would expect consumption would go up.
#4 - Does the vendor change his hours when temperatures are up? Many ice cream vendors increase their hours in summer months to sell more ice cream. How much does that change affect ice cream sales?

Tom writes:

I would guess that ice cream sales would be up over 200 percent. Having worked in foodservice, we always tracked thing like weather, events, etc. People also tend to react to changes in weather strongly, perhaps beyond rationality. We see people wearing shorts and flip flops when it is still a bit chilly because they are anticipating warm weather or buying a month's worth of toilet paper before a snow storm.

David writes:

I'm going with business doubled. A significant jump, but it would be a lot more if the other common characteristic of summer (that is, school's closed) were true.

SheetWise writes:

I don't think that on a hot day ice cream vendors sell more ice cream, or coffee vendors sell less coffee. I think there are destinations such as the county fair or beachfront boardwalk that attract certain concessions -- and are only populated during certain periods.

If ice cream is available as a stand-alone purchase, I would expect that sales would correlate to traffic much more than season or temperature.

dWj writes:

Up 75%.

Dr. T writes:

Since last Monday was a regular weekday and workday, I am guessing that business increased only 25% over a typical Monday in January.

Carl Marks writes:

Down 30%, most Ben and Jerry's have moved into malls, which are a lot less popular when it gets warm. Less foot traffic = less sales

Daniel Lurker writes:

Up 400%.

another bob writes:

i'd bet that business was down 25%. People actually eat more ice cream in the winter. Has to do with craving for higher fat content during the cold, or some such thing.

John S writes:

3 times as much business

Kris writes:

I'd get at least 50% better than a day in January.

Zubon writes:

I'll go with some form of "I don't know" as his answer. He might not have the tools or interest to monitor sales that closely during the day, or perhaps he could not say off-hand how much was sold on a typical day in January. (Or maybe Ben and Jerry's is that good with their data.)

Are they open year-round? Several local ice cream places close during the winter. Also, is there a reason to ask why the comparison to a typical day in January rather than April?

Jane Galt writes:

Since it was a workday, I'm betting up 50%

Up 30%.

Shayne writes:

None. Global warming has melted all the ice cream, just like it's doing with the polar ice caps!

Al Gore

Larry writes:

100%

Horatio writes:

I guess business was 2-3x greater during peak hours.

JimSaco writes:

Here's an economist answer: It depends!

If the Ben & Jerry's was in a shopping mall I'd say down 25%. If a street location, I'd say double.

We need more info.

John Thacker writes:

Additional, perhaps relevant, data point:

Local schools had the week off around here in Fairfax for Spring Break.

Ron writes:

If memory serves me correctly, years ago I read a study that showed ice cream sales were higher in the winter than summer, don't remember the reason given. My answer less than January.

Matt writes:

Sales were down. On a warm January day, my first thought is to things other than ice cream. Plus, ice cream is cold. Why ingest cold when you want to forget the cold?

David writes:

I am going to go for double, especially considering that fairfax was pretty much snowed under for a good part of the winter.

Bob writes:

Based on two data points, up 100% (I only eat ice cream when it's warm, but my wife eats ice cream regardless).

Jonathan writes:

I'll go with unchanged

Erik writes:

Well January was pretty warm this year, but 85 is still pretty hot, I'd say time and a half more business sounds about right (up %150). Of course my gut is telling me his sales are down since that would be the interesting answer to the question, but I don't have a good reason to guess it.

mobile writes:

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Paul writes:

I'm assuming this is in Fairfax, VA so I checked the average temperature in January. It turns out to be roughly 30 degrees fahrenheit, which to me, means that almost nobody is thinking about ice cream in January. So, since the demand is close to nothing in January, I wouldn't be surprised if the demand increased 10-fold. I mean, what is all this 200% crap? If the demand is typically only 5, and then with the temp going to 85, the demand becomes 50. I don't think that is unreasonable.

Geoffrey Brand writes:

I am guessing at least an order of magnitude or more..

At some places I see lines in the summer and yet no customers at times in the winter..

My official guess is 20 times (an increase of 1900 percent)

Ice Cream places probably stay open in the winter for other reasons (keep goodwill with regular customers ect...)

Joshua W. Scott writes:

With no other information (other than my own ice cream experience), I'd guess sales were up 20-30%. There are a couple of unknowns I'd like to account for, though:

- Was this a singular warm day, or the second or third day of a warm spurt? Another commentor mentioned the role of mindset; I'd say people are more likely to consider ice cream when they've had a day or two to enter that mindset.

- Was it raining, and what's the average number of precipitous days in Fairfax in January? I'd say precipitation has a more immediate effect on ice cream sales, whereas temperature based sales fluctuations tend to be normalized over the season.

David writes:

So Bryan, what is the answer? and how does this fit into your rational expectations model?

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