So you want to start an ice cream and Gelato shop business?

The purpose of this article is to help anyone interested in starting their own ice cream business to get started. I am an artisan ice cream maker with extensive experience of industrial scale ice cream making. While I will discuss both artisanal or traditional and industrial or large scale ice cream manufacture, the main emphasis will be on artisanal production.

 In the UK, Ice cream is a multi-million pound growth industry, generally recession proof and genuinely customer focused. When people buy ice cream it’s always a treat and often a celebration. As a Gelato-Artisan you’ll provide your customers with a product that brings them happiness. But you will need to put in long hours too, it’s common for owners to work until 10pm at night during the busy season, but in return you will unleash your inner creativity,growing your own lifestyle business, where your friends and family can surround you, and make a comfortable income in the process.

If there was an ‘ice cream bible’ it would probably contain the proverb:

“Give someone an ice cream and you’ll make them happy all day” 

“Give them an ice cream shop and you’ll make them happy for life! “

“So you have the desire and energy to create your own ice cream-Gelato business but first you must consider some important aspects, not least your unique selling point”

Some important questions to ask yourself before you start
How ice cream is made
What equipment is needed for production?
What size of machine do I need?
Income expected
What do you do when business is going so well you need to expand?
More information on equipment and getting started

Gelato shop

Some important questions to ask yourself before you start

 coneDo I want to focus on organic products, all natural ice cream, Italian gelato, yogurt or hi-fat premium ice creams?  
cone Will I sell from a high street location, seaside, farm-shop, beauty spot or simply wholesale my produce?
 coneWhat extra equipment will be needed to help  me sell the ice cream such as display freezers, trike, old fashioned barrow, van or delivery truck?
cone What prices will I need to charge in the market place to make a profit and still be competitive, and how much will I need to sell to cover my fixed costs? 
cone Do I know what my mix will cost to make and what percentage of profit will I need to achieve?

How ice cream is made

The short video below provides an overview of how ice cream is made.


There are 3 stages of production:- Firstly, the raw ingredients mainly milk, added milk powder, sugars and fats such as cream, butter or vegetable-fats, must all be heat treated (cooked) and blended through heating to emulsify the fat in the mix. The mix is heated to a temperature of 65-85°C for a specific time to achieved pasteurisation which then kills harmful-bacteria present in the pre-heated ingredients. The heat treatment is usually defined in the Food Regulations that apply in the country of production. Information on the UK regulations is available from this link. During this heating and cooling phase, flavourings can be added to the mix in the pasteuriser, such as cocoa to make chocolate ice cream or nut pastes to make hazelnut and other flavours. Sometimes vanilla pods are also added, although in most cases the vanilla is only added to the mix once cooled. This is almost always the case when industrial scale methods of production are used.

 Secondly, the heated mix must be cooled rapidly, regulations normally specify this must be done within 1.5 hours, to the required temperature, usually 7°C or lower, and most equipment will usually continue this cooling down to 4°C. Once cooled the mix is allowed to age before flavours such as strawberry, mint, vanilla and other fruit pastes are added. Usually smaller quantities of the mix are separated to make many different flavours from this one batch. With the industrial method described below, during the second stage the mix is pumped from the pasteuriser vat through a homogeniser (a high pressure pump with an orifice). This forces the fat globules present to be broken down into smaller regular sized globules and to form a homogenous mix structure. The mix is then pumped through a plate-cooler and into the ageing vat to be further cooled for storage. The advantage gained by homogenisation is a smoother texture for the product and helping to make it more suitable for long-term storage.

Finally the chilled mix is frozen to -6°C to -9°C, very quickly within 5-10 minutes in either a continuous or batch freezer by way of a churning/whipping process. During this freezing cycle the complete mixture is poured or pumped into the freezing chamber of the freezer to be frozen. Inside this chamber the mix, now containing sugars, water,  fats and proteins is partially frozen incorporating air bubbles, resulting in a finished ice cream similar in consistency to a soft-serve ice cream.


The correct quantity of each of these components listed above is very important, to the production of a smooth, dry, creamy, textured product. More detailed information on ice cream mix formulation and calculators for calculating the quantities of ingredients required are available on this site. Too much of any one component in the formula will cause negative effects to the product, these can be ‘sandiness’, ‘iciness’ or fast melt down, and will not help you establish a quality standard with your customers. It is then further hardened for storage, down to a temperature of -18°C to -20°C, prior to its eventual distribution and sale.

Understand how to control the sweetness of ice cream.

How to control the hardness or scooping properties of ice cream.

What equipment is needed for production?

 In the industrial method the focus is on the wholesale market. Using this method you will need to sell large volumes of product, and your approach to production issues should  reflect this. The amount of investment will be higher than the artisan or traditional method described later. Initial set up cost will typically be a minimum of £50,000 and is normally much higher, around £100,000 - £200,000.

Basic ice-cream production kits

Basic production kits, (see photo above), will consist of at least one pasteuriser linked to an homogeniser along with a cooler and an ageing vat to complete the first stage of the process. The heated mix will be homogenised and cooled prior to pumping to an ageing vat for hygienic storage. This is usually complete in 1-2 hours with a further 2-4 hours of ageing.

Next the chilled mix is frozen using a continuous freezer or a large batch freezer before placing for storage. Continuous freezers contain an air-pump, which forces air into the mix during the freezing phase. This increases the volume of the product but not the weight. Each litre of liquid mix originally weighed around 1 kg, but each finished litre of ice cream now weighs less, the actual weight depending on the amount of air incorporated. This process is called overrun. Most ice cream is sold by volume in litres, and not by weight. This overrun gives you much more finished ice cream than you had liquid mix, at virtually no added cost. Note this feature of the industrial processing method unfortunately restricts the addition of natural flavourings as any small seed or nut will block the air pump. However, this essential feature gives your business a much needed competitive edge in the wholesale market.

Fruits, sauces and nuts usually added via a filler pipe If pieces are to be added to the final product such as fruits, sauces and nuts this is usually added via a filler pipe (see photo) as the ice cream exits the freezer. These pieces can be difficult to add unless you have a fruit–feeder and a ripple-pump. Because these tend to cost 10’s of thousands of pounds, many ice cream makers add pieces manually, however this is not easy to do consistently. Often the ice cream is then blast-frozen. This is a process in which the packaged product passes through a freezing tunnel operating at temperatures of -35°C to -40°C. There the core temperature of the product reaches temperatures of around -20°C in a matter of minutes before being finally placed in a cold store.

Perhaps the simplest method of manufacture is the artisan or traditional method; many artisans would say it also offers better quality finished ice cream. Small batches can be produced easily using just 2 machines. A 3-in-1 machine will process individual recipe batches very quickly, in 10 minutes or so. The first stage is completed in a batch pasteuriser, where the mix is hygienically heated to cook and blend, as previously discussed; it will also cool the mix (second stage), store and hold the mix prior to the final stage of freezing. Modern batch pasteurisers have many pre-set programmes for pasteurisation and ageing the mix in one continuous programme cycle. A high speed emulsifying stirrer acts like a homogeniser during the cooking and blending phase, before cooling, at which point the stirring speed slows down to enable ageing to take place. The advantage of one machine doing two jobs, and completing both stages in the same machine is a considerable cost saving over the industrial method where you need 3-4 machines. This hygienic cooking and maturing phase carried out by the batch pasteuriser will usually take 2-4 hours. It can also age further if left to complete overnight. Because you will not be using an air pump during the final stage you will have the added benefit of being able to add natural flavourings. 

Finally the mix is frozen in a batch freezer where it is transformed into a complete finished ice cream. If extra-large pieces and sauces are desired you can add these as the product is drawn from the machine.

Because the artisan batch freezer has no air-pump  lower levels of overrun will be obtained. This is not a concern if you are going to sell directly to customers but pricing will have to be adjusted accordingly. 

As discussed, all three stages of ice cream manufacture can be combined using a 3-in-1 machine. This equipment has been available since around the 1970’s and now widely used in the industry. It can be used in start-up businesses, farms, 3-in-1 machineshops, parlours, restaurants and just about any setting offering exceptional flexibility, hygiene and flavour creativity, combined with low investment cost. These are very important considerations for a fledgling Gelato business. 

Firstly the ice cream mix ingredients are heated together in the top cylinder which acts as a batch pasteuriser in the usual way until the correct temperature is reached. Secondly you allow the mix to flow to the lower cylinder acting as a batch freezer where the mix now cooling, is quickly frozen to a finished product ready for final extraction. This complete process from first to final stage can take as little as 10 minutes per batch.

Gelato display cabinets are used to enhance the presentation of the product. Cabinets holding 12 pan/containers cost in the region of £6-£8,000 and 24 pan units are £12-14,000 but can go up to £30.000. Blast hardening freezers or shock freezers are very useful but not essential. These units will add to the quality of the product and extend its keep-ability or shelf life under frozen conditions. Prices start from £2,000-£2,500, for a 2-3 pan version, enough for a smaller artisan operation. Storage freezers like chest freezers are adequate for a start-up. Later a walk in cold store may be required.

What size of  machine do I need?

 A 3-in-1 machine with a production capacity of 10-30 kg/h will enable most start-up businesses to get up and running, but larger equipment may be needed, if you wish to sell as a  wholesaler or have an existing customer base. Larger ice cream equipment will allow you to freeze multiple pans of each flavour in the same batch cycle together with faster production. The size of equipment you need will depend not just on the amount of product you need to produce, but on the available workshop space, storage area and if a 3-phase electricity supply is available at your premises, and not least your budget.

Income expected

Ice cream making has the potential to generate a good income and in this section I will give an indication of the net income that might be made based on using 3 L of ice cream liquid mix to make scoops or cones. This volume of mix will make 4.5 L (35-40% air) of ice cream or 6 L (100% air). To simplify this task I will work with the 4.5 L mix.

One L of ice cream mix (including flavour) costs approximately £1.50-£1.90.

The cost of 4.5 L (35-45% overrun) is £4.50-£5.70.

The wholesale price of 4.5 L is approximately £16, so the net income is £16.00 -£4.50 = £11.50 net.

The income increases markedly if scoops are sold. The 4.5 litre pan of ice cream will produce approximately 43 scoops of 70-85g.

Retailing a single scoop at £1.50 net (£1.80 gross) gives £60.00 net. Subtracting the cost of 43 cones at 5p (£2.15) the net income is £60 -£4.50- £2.15


So for every litre of mix at £1.50 you have generated a net income of £17.81. That’s approximately 1200% or a 12 fold increase!

The above figures are based on the ingredient cost only and are not profit. No account has been made for ‘fixed costs’ such as (premises, utilities etc) or ‘variable costs’ (staff, electric, packaging etc.). You will need to calculate these into your actual business plan’ cash flow forecasts to calculate profit.

To calculate profit, utility costs, wages, packaging and distribution will have to be added. Calculators are available to enable pricing required to generate a particular profit level and can be found on this site.

Your business is going so well that you need to expand

Success can result in you no longer being able to keep up with your production requirements in the time available.  You can increase your capacity by upgrading to a larger machine; or by simply adding another batch pasteuriser; or a further 3-in-1 machine to work alongside the equipment you already have.

Additional storage freezers, blast freezers, a walk-in cold store may also be required. Artisan producers believe that best results are achieved by making ice cream fresh every day. But you may prefer to make and store your ice cream in a freezer and build up stocks  prior to display and sale. This will be a necessity if you wholesale. 

More information on equipment and getting started

The technical specifications of the equipment discussed above and special price packages can be downloaded at Valenti’s website.

Some example equipment prices taken from Valenti’s list (01/04/2012): 

3-in-1 machines

Icetech TP3

£24,800 (10-30 kg/h)

Bravo Trittico Startronic 305

£25,300 (20-30 kg/h)

Icetech TP4

£28,800 (15-45 kg/h)

Bravo Trittico Startronic 610

£30,900 (40-60 kg/h)

Icetech TP5

£31,800 (20-60 kg/h)


Batch Pasteuriser

60 litres Bravo Pastotronic 60


60 litre ‘Icetech easy 60


60 litre ‘Icetech PST 60’*


60+60 litre Icetech easy 60 x 60


* this unit has a high-speed stirrer

Batch Freezers

Vertical model Gel 5

£12, 600 (12-40 kg/h)

(Icetech easy 3*

£16,800 (10-30 kg/h)

Bravo Startronic 305*

£21,150 (25-38 kg/h)

Icetech MT3*

£19,200 (10-30 kg/h)

*horizontal batch freezer

Display cabinets for Napoli dishes

Bravo Rotonda 12 dish


Bravo Rotonda 24 dish


La Squadra Elena 12 dish


Elena 16 dish


La Squadra Bella 24 dish


La Squadra 24 dish Adriana



Blast freezers


£5,350 (6 dish)


£10,300 (6 dish)

La Squadra

£4100 ( dish)

Note! The prices quoted here include delivery, installation, training and technical support and were valid at the 1 April 2012. Current prices may differ and can be obtained from the author.

“Good Luck with your ice cream making”

How to cite this article

Williams, L. (2012). [On-line]. Available from: . Accessed: 20 April, 2024.