The ice cream familes and manufacturers together formed the Ice Cream Federation in the early 1900s, latterly the Ice Cream Alliance


Wafer cone tins by International Wafer Co. (Antonelli's), Colaluca & Rocca, and Valvona's, circa 1920s


The Ice Cream Families History in the UK

There were many families that made ice cream in the early years. For some it was a brief living, while for others it was a way of life. These families were the pioneers of the ice cream industry.

Young children queued eagerly with their money in every season for the mouth-watering creations. Now grandparents themselves, their children and their children's children still buy today – in some cases from family descendants, and in other cases corporate takeovers of famous names that have not maintained the same quality as we know it.

The names of the more famous and industrious ice cream families were magic, and music to the ear, where everyone thought they made the best ice cream.

One should also not forget the biscuit manufacturers (who made the cones, wafers and twists); the famous Antonelli family, whose business started life in Salford in 1912 as the International Wafer Co, still manufacturing today. During the Second World War, the ice cream industry in general suffered a complete ban, due to rationing, and the consequences of internment. This led to the closure of many family businesses - ice cream factories, milk bars, and street vending. The renamed International Biscuit Company Ltd, run by the Antonelli family, diversified into supplying the military with pre-packed biscuits. Also, if it hadn't have been for the generosity of Mr. Domenico Antonelli, many families would have gone under. He supplied them with biscuits to sell to earn a living, sometimes more than their rations allowed.

After the War, the ice cream industry experienced a boom in sales, as people were released from austerity and rushed to buy so-called 'luxury' items once more. As sons returned from the front, and fathers returned from internment, the old family businesses began to re-establish themselves. Many brought in the latest ice-cream technology, new premises, and re-invested in equipment from manufacturers including 'Creamery Package' in the U.S., 'Gusti' from Italy and 'Edoni' in Scotland. Motorised vehicles replaced pony carts and push carts, and long gone were the shouts of the ice cream vendors, to be replaced by musical chimes.

The post-war 'baby boom' and the housing estates that followed, coupled with motorised ice cream vans, led to much larger territories, or 'rounds', for the ice cream sellers. There also followed a renewed influx of Italian immigrants, particularly from Sicily, many of whom ended up working in the lucrative ice cream business at the time. With new selling boundaries being drawn, between the old families, and then the new arrivals, there were often conflicts. As is the way with Italians, these often ended in vendettas. This was the beginning of what became known as the 'Ice Cream Wars'. The competition was fierce.

Some families took on franchises of large national companies, such as Walls 'Mr.Whippy' and Lyons Maid 'Mr.Softee'. The ice cream business fragmented, from families who both made and sold ice cream, to those who specialised only in wholesaling, or individual self-employed ice cream van sellers. The latter could afford to shop around for the cheapest prices. This competition and fragmentation saw the decline of the local ice cream families, and the further rise in power of national companies. Perhaps if the Old Italian ice cream families had consolidated, working together to form a co-operative, instead of in-fighting and under-cutting each other on prices, they might have been a greater force today.

Sadly only a few businesses remain, and the decline is continuing. This is due to several reasons, including a change in buying patterns brought about by home freezers and supermarkets, price competition, and third generation family members moving into external careers. More beureaucratic licensing laws and increased costs have also played their part.

The names once known as the more famous and industrious ice cream families have now changed. Today we experience a very different new trend, where Ice-cream need no longer be synonymous with sinful eating, but social networks are built around Gelato. Italian Gelato Chefs have assisted the nation’s Ice cream pioneers to replicate the Italian tradition of Gelato.  The transition has meant accepting both health trends and unbridled fantasy. The makers of bespoke Gelato have taken into consideration dietary needs, but also create the most authentic and exotic flavours. Gelato is no longer seen as just a summer treat, it helps maintain a long-term healthy diet in the frozen desert industry. Many Families are now setting up Artisan “homemade“  Gelato Fctories in thier local communities, which replicate the once famous Italian Ice cream industry, where gelato is a family way of life rather than just a business. 

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