A huge, bright pink truck covered in colorful sprinkles slid down a residential street in Morris County this week, but instead of playing the familiar ice cream truck jingle, it was silent.
The towering truck – measuring 11ft 3in tall – pulled up to a specific address in Stirling and started blaring a Justin Bieber song. A woman came down her steps to collect her pre-ordered, pre-paid vanilla ice cream.
Brynn LaCosta had just scored an ice cream for her two daughters and barely lifted a finger. There was no frantic rush to flag down an ice cream truck, no scrambling for a few bucks, and certainly no sweat dripping down your brow while waiting in line.
“They love it, they’re so excited,” LaCosta said of her daughters, ages 4 and 6. “Every time they see the big pink truck, they always shout ‘ice cream truck! “”
It’s about Scream Truck, a relatively new New Jersey-based ice cream truck company that’s been trying to disrupt the way traditional trucks have operated for generations. With over 12,000 Instagram followers, it operates year-round, with peak season from April to August when it’s open seven days a week.
Unlike traditional ice cream trucks, there’s no slow driving through random neighborhoods trying to get kids and parents out of their homes with songs on a speakerphone. Instead, customers are alerted by text message when the truck will be nearby that day, and they can pre-order their ice cream and a drop-off in advance if they’re interested.
Each municipality in the company’s territory is divided into micro-districts. Customers who register in these surroundings receive text alerts on the days that a truck will be passing through their area, as well as a calendar.
If they would like to be added to the itinerary that day, they can respond with a “Y” indicating that they would like to stop at their home or business. They have a one-hour window to pre-order and receive a text message when the truck is near. On the business side, an itinerary is created and adapted as more and more people order for the day.
Current company routes include: Westfield, Mountainside, Cranford, Clark, Scotch Plains, Fanwood, Summit, Chatham, Millburn, Short Hills, Warren, Bernards Township, Bridgewater, Springfield, Somerville, Raritan, Garwood, Livingston, Berkeley Heights, New Providence and Long Hill Township, according to the website. More routes are added.
A Scream Truck can also be rented by the hour in other municipalities to serve treats at special events.
Eric Murphy launched the company in 2020 after selling two different companies he founded – an experiential marketing agency and an event technology platform – to Condé Nast in 2017. He stayed with his former companies for a few years before entering the mobile candy business.
“I used to joke around in my agency that once I got bored I was just going to start an ice cream business,” said Murphy, 51, of Basking Ridge. “I was half kidding.”
His argument: the traditional ice cream truck, adored by the masses, has never really evolved. (The dynamic intro video on the Scream Truck website reads: “The following video depicts the death of old fashioned ice cream trucks. Viewer discretion is advised.”)
Traditional ice cream trucks have prepackaged SpongeBob pops and other average treats, “usually in a pretty beat-up vehicle,” leading to a substandard experience, Murphy said. The whole operation is also largely inefficient, so Murphy said he wants to modernize it.
He dove into the research phase, then moved on to developing the software platform used by the company and designing the first truck in 2020. The process was delayed for a few months due to COVID-19.
The company announced its debut in a Westfield moms group on Facebook in June. In the first 24 hours, 500 people signed up for the company’s initial routes, Murphy said. The company’s current territory spans selected towns in Essex, Middlesex, Morris, Somerset and the Union.
It does not hold events outside of the cities listed on its website during peak season.
Each truck has two crew members. Its navigation system shows the number of stops, their locations and the specific order. They serve about 12 households per hour, Murphy said.
“It’s really about the efficiency of the routes we create,” he said.
The trucks are parked at the company’s two hubs in Sterling and Springfield. A cleaning crew arrives every day at 6 am for a thorough cleaning. Then the trucks are replenished with ingredients by a different team. The last team operating and driving the trucks arrives at the hub around 12:00 p.m.
Other ice cream truck companies have also tried to innovate in recent years, using apps and social media to connect customers with rolling businesses.
A Mister Softee app allows users to find the nearest truck location. Canadian company The Ice Cream Truck allows customers to track a truck’s location live on its website and receive a text message if it’s in the neighborhood. Other local ice cream companies post their truck locations and hours on Instagram.
On a recent sunny Tuesday with temperatures over 90 degrees, a Scream Truck delivered orders to a few residences, an office where a manager treated her employees, and a group of workers at a wholesale plant nursery.
The two truck workers worked around each other in the spotlessly clean air-conditioned space. Clear containers revealed brightly colored “super nuggets” from a specialty vendor in Los Angeles, along with cereal and other toppings. Cookie dough and cones were sourced from retailers in Brooklyn.
Upstate Farms in New York provides the soft serve ice cream mix while the non-dairy ice cream comes from Mayday Ice Cream in St. Augustine, Florida. The fresh fruit popsicles are from The Hyppo Gourmet Ice Pops, also in Florida.
Prices start at $5 and average around $7. There is no minimum or free shipping.
And people who didn’t pre-order and stumble upon the truck get a free ice cream cone and contact card explaining the company’s business model. (Dogs always get a free “puppy cup” or vanilla ice cream with peanut butter.)
Mia Miller, the company’s chief operating officer, was Murphy’s first hire. The New York PR agency she worked for was closing during COVID, and the Westfield native was looking for a new job. She came across a job ad for Scream Truck.
“Instagram,” Miller, 25, said when asked what brought her to the business. “And fate.”
Since 2020, the company has grown significantly to 40 employees. They have six trucks – with a seventh soon to be completed – and are located in about 20 cities, mostly in the central and northern regions of the state. More than 30,000 households have registered.
Murphy initially started the business with his own funds. It also raised just over $2 million in seed funding late last year, he said. The company posted $1 million in revenue for its first full year in 2021.
This year they are on course to more than double, he said.
Private events, from birthday parties and weddings to corporate team building events, account for about half of the company’s revenue, Murphy said. The company held 2,000 events last year with three trucks. Prices range from $249 to $749.
He said he hopes to continue to grow and create a national brand, including merchandise. It aims to have at least 500 trucks in several states within 10 years. The company is also considering franchise opportunities.
The first five trucks were built by a Kansas City company, but Scream Truck has taken over and now builds its own trucks, starting with the sixth.
But Murphy dismisses the idea that his company is wiping out the traditional ice cream truck. “There’s definitely room for both of us,” he said.
Alison Farrington hired the company for her husband’s 40th birthday party last August. The truck sported a personalized message – “HAPPY 40TH BIRTHDAY DAN!” – with a party face emoji on his LED screen, as he stopped by their home in Clark, blasting music.
The company created a personalized sundae for her husband (chocolate ice cream, chocolate crunchies and hot fondant) based on her preferences, which were relayed ahead of time.
He literally blew the family’s 20 or so guests, who hailed from towns outside of current Scream Truck territory. Farrington, who suffers from a nut allergy, also appreciated the vegan options and the diligence in maintaining a separate nut-free section.
“It was beyond successful,” she said. “I don’t think anyone doesn’t feel like a little kid when they show up.”
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Brianna Kudisch can be contacted at [email protected].