The Ultimate Guide to Picking a Soft Serve Machine
Posted by Shaun Haider on
There are a number of factors that go into picking which soft serve machine is right for your business. Choosing the right machine for your business is very much a filtering process. Picking the right machine starts by knowing what types of machines are available on the market, and then narrowing down the options until you’re left with 1-3 machines and then picking between the best options.
We will discuss EVERYTHING that goes into deciding the right soft serve machine. You will learn about the difference between gravity-fed and pump-fed machines, air-cooled vs water-cooled machines, heat treatment machines, variegate machines, and much, much more.
Benefits of Owning a Soft Serve Machine
Before we dive in, let’s first take a look at what the main benefits of owning a soft serve machine are.
The first main benefit is knowing the fact that with a soft serve machine, comes soft serve ice cream! You’ll be able to add a ton of new product offerings to your menu: a cup (or cone) of soft serve is usually what comes to mind first, but you can also start serving milkshakes, sundaes, and more!
All of these new offerings can add a ton of new revenue to your bottom line. And let’s not forget, ice cream makes people happy! People will literally stop what they’re doing and run to chase an ice cream truck when they hear it jingle.
Ice cream is a big part of a lot of our childhoods–it’s a comfort food–it’s delicious–it’s enjoyed all over the world. Ice cream brings-back and creates-new happy memories for humans every single day. Oh, and also…ice cream sandwiches…need I say more?
Types of Soft Serve Machines
Gravity-Fed Soft Serve Machine vs. Pressurized Pump-Fed Soft Serve Machine
What does this mean?
When you’re in the market for a soft serve machine, you’ll notice machines are often defined as “gravity-fed” or “pump-fed.” When you’re making soft serve, you pour soft serve mix into the hopper located at the top of your machine. All gravity-fed or pump-fed means: is telling you how the machine is taking the mix (from the hopper) and moving it into the freezing cylinder (whilst incorporating air into the mix). The amount of air pumped in a soft serve mix is known as overrun.
Gravity-Fed Soft Serve Machine
A gravity-fed soft serve machine, as its name suggests, uses gravity to bring the mix from the hopper into the freezing cylinder. There is a feeding tube in the hopper used to incorporate air into the soft serve mix in a gravity-fed machine.
A gravity-fed soft serve machine is more beginner friendly than a pump-fed machine because there are less parts and maintenance required. Gravity-fed soft serve machines will often also be cheaper than pump-fed machines. This is primarily because of two reasons: the first being that you will serve lesser capacities than a pump-fed machine. And the second being that you will not be able to control the level of overrun in your mix. A general rule of thumb for gravity-fed machines is that they will produce products with a 30-50% overrun.
Pressurized Pump-Fed Soft Serve Machine
A pressurized pump-fed soft serve machine uses pressurized pumps to force your mix (stored in the hopper) into the freezing cylinder. With a pressurized pump-fed machine, you’ll have more control over the amount of overrun in your finished soft serve product.
Furthermore, pump-fed machines will have higher output capacities than a gravity-fed machine. And once again, you will have more control over the amount of overrun in the mix. Soft serve products with higher overrun will produce more finished product (yield) and profits–because you’re essentially charging for air.
A pump-fed machine will usually come at a pricier cost than its gravity-fed counterpart. It’ll also require more maintenance–as it has more parts.
To keep things simple, we recommend gravity-fed machines for beginners and for first time operators and pump-fed machines for higher volume shops and for making consistent product every time.
Air-Cooled Soft Serve Machine vs. Water-Cooled Soft Serve Machine
What does this mean?
Your soft serve machine requires a cooling system. There are two options to consider: air-cooled or water-cooled. Air-cooled machines will take in cold air from one side, cool the machine, and expel the hot air from the other side. A water-cooled machine has a hose which connects to a waterline, water cools the machine, and the water is either drained out or recycled. There will be no other differences in machine functions other than this.
Why does this matter?
It’s important to consider depending on if you will need more than one soft serve machine. If you just need one machine, we recommend going with an air-cooled machine. But, when you start going into two, three, four, five machines (or more) you may consider a water-cooled machine lineup.
Air-Cooled Soft Serve Machines
You may consider an air-cooled soft serve machine when you’re only on the market for a single machine. We recommend you’ll need about 6-feet of free countertop space (or floor space if you have a floor model) for the machine to have enough airflow to run efficiently.
If you have an air-cooled machine sitting in a tight space, the machine won’t cool off easily–as you’re restricting the airflow. Soft serve machines produce A LOT of heat, so you will need to have good airflow around the machine. Another consideration is that since the machine is expelling hot air, it may add costs to your air-conditioning bill. For these reasons, you may consider a water-cooled option.
Air-cooled soft serve machines suck in cold air from one side and expel hot air from the other.
Water-Cooled Soft Serve Machines
A water-cooled machine is recommended for a multiple machine lineup or for tight spaces. A water-cooled machine has attached hoses that connect to a waterline to cool the machine, the water is then either drained or recycled.
Remember, there are no main differences in the primary functions of the machine, most models will be available in either a water-cooled or air-cooled option–meaning you can decide which would work best for you. If you need more than one machine or you don’t have about 6 feet of free countertop (or floor) space, go with a water-cooled machine.
With that being said, always, always, always, (I can’t stress this enough) check with your local city and health codes/regulations/laws to make sure water-cooled soft serve machine set-ups are allowed before buying your machine. Some cities/districts actually prohibit it, so do your due diligence.
Number of Flavours on Your Soft Serve Machine
Now we’re on to the fun stuff. Soft serve machines also vary in the number of flavours they can have. You can pick a soft serve machine with 1 flavour, 2 flavours, or even 3 flavours! There are also some other types of machines on the market. This is an important consideration because the number of flavours heavily affects the investment cost of your machine–but, we’ll get more into price later on.
One Flavour Soft Serve Machine
Single flavour machines are great for first-time operators and for businesses looking to add a machine as an additional source of revenue. Most single flavour machine operators choose to serve a vanilla soft serve. Still, you can add a ton to your menu with a one flavour machine.
Two Flavour Soft Serve Machine
Double flavour machines, (aka: twin twist machines), are what usually come to mind when people think of a soft serve machine. A two flavour machine has two hoppers for two separate flavours. However, you’ll be able to serve 3 separate finished products. You can serve each flavour on its own and a twist of the two products combined.
Three Flavour Soft Serve Machine
Yup… they exist. Triple flavour machines contain three hoppers to make three separate flavours. You’ll be able to serve 5 separate finished products.
It may be easier to illustrate as an example: imagine you use vanilla, chocolate, strawberry as your three flavours. Vanilla would go in the middle hopper, and chocolate and strawberry in the left and right hoppers. You will be able to serve each flavour on it’s own (vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry) and also a twist of vanilla-chocolate, and vanilla-strawberry–5 finished products in total from one machine!
Variegate Soft Serve Machine
Variegate soft serve machines dispense a flavoured syrup into your soft serve mix adding colour and flavour. These types of models do exist, but you don’t see them around a lot, so if you’re looking to offer something different, a variegate machine may be a great option.
Heat Treatment Machines
You may see that some machines on the market have a heat treatment capacity. All this means is that your machine will not only have a refrigeration element, but also have a heating element.
This heating element means you can set-up pasteurization cycles for your machine to run on your soft serve mix. This drastically reduces the need for sanitizing your machine, you can just constantly feed fresh mix into the hopper (as long as it’s the same flavour). You can go 30-60 days without sanitizing your machine with heat treatment capacities.
5 Factors to Consider When Buying a Soft Serve Machine
There are 5 main factors to look at when determining the right soft serve machine: price, size, capacity, features, and brand.
Soft serve machines heavily range in price depending on the type of soft serve machine. You already learned about how picking a pump-fed machine can add to the cost and also how the number of flavours can add to the cost. There’s a couple other factors too: product output (capacity), size, and the brand or manufacturer of the machine.
You will find new soft serve machines ranging from $10,000 to over $50,000 depending on the above factors. Generally speaking, a single flavour machine will be around $15,000, and a twin flavour + twist machine will be around $25,000 from a reputable brand.
Yes, soft serve machines are expensive–but like most things in life, you get what you pay for. If you want to cut-costs on a cheap machine, it may only last you for a few months before something goes wrong. And don’t forget, the price you pay, unless the machine is for personal use, is a straight-up investment cost. Your soft serve machine is not an “expense,” it’s a source of revenue for years to come!
A reputable soft serve machine is built to last, and serve you for 10+ years. Many operators pay off the investment cost within a year, but that is more dependent on your traffic, how busy you are, and how much ice cream you can sell.
Since price is so dependent on the other attributes of your machine (size, output, brand, etc.) I wasn’t sure to include price as the first factor on this list or the last factor. I decided to list it as the first factor because usually people tend to already have a budget in mind when on the market for a soft serve machine. And when things boil down: price is usually the most important consideration for operators and businesses. If you're on a budget, you may opt to buy a used machine.
The size of your machine is a small but important factor to consider. Machines are available in two options. You can pick a vertical model that stands on the floor or a countertop model that sits on the counter.
Another consideration of size: is the size of your hopper. Your hopper size is the “tank” in which you pour your mix into. Your hopper size directly ties into other factors like capacity.
The capacity of your soft serve machine is referring to product output, meaning the amount of finished product the machine is capable of producing in an hour.
You can tell how this might be important depending on the type of business. If you’re in a high-volume establishment like an ice cream parlor, you will need a machine to produce high-volume capacities. Oppositely, if you’re running a cafe, and only intend to use the machine as an additional source of revenue, you would not need such a high-volume machine.
I would generally recommend gravity-fed soft serve machines for beginners and first-time operators, but we’ve sold many first-time operators pump-fed machines simply because their expected volume was too high for a gravity-fed machine.
How capacity is usually measured is in the amount of cones (or servings) the machine is capable of producing per hour or the total production capacity per hour in weight. For instance, you may find your machine is capable of producing 180 cones per hour or roughly 20 kg of finished product per hour. There are different models available all with varying capacities–it all depends on your expected volume.
Capacity is a major determining factor when deciding if you should go with a gravity-fed or pump-fed machine. A pump-fed machine will always be capable of producing higher outputs than its gravity-fed counterpart.
Features is where a lot of brands try and stand out with their soft serve machines. There’s all sorts of soft serve machine features that brands are innovating to make their machine stand out. Brand is the last factor that we’ll get into, but for reasons other than features.
The main feature that will differentiate between each brand is the control panel. Essentially, your control panel is the computer chip in your machine that you interact with daily. Some are simple, some are more complex with more features and cycles. You are using your machine’s control panel to start mix cycles, cleaning cycles, adjust consistency, or put the machine on stand-by mode.
You’ll also find machines with other features like mix-in hopper agitators (periodically mixes soft serve mix in your hopper) or variegate soft serve machines that we covered earlier. There are even machines that can measure and pour the right amount of water, then mix your powder soft serve mix right in the hopper. You’ll find brands innovating their models with all sorts of unique features.
Last but not least, we have the brand. The brand you pick is arguably the most important decision you’ll make when buying a soft serve machine. Brand is everything, for a few reasons: reputation, support/service, and parts and warranty.
Some of these soft serve machine manufacturers have been around for over 50 years, in some cases over 75. When you pick a reputable brand for your machine, you know they’ve got a track-record for producing reliable and durable soft serve equipment.
Support or servicing of your machine is an extremely important consideration that not many people think about.
Well, what happens if your machine acts up? When you buy a machine from a reputable brand, you’re also paying for their customer support and extensive network of service technicians.
How many times have you been to McDonalds and the soft serve machine was down? The internet literally makes jokes about their machines never working because of how common it is. Point being, the support and service network for your machine is very important. If you have a machine that no one's ever seen before, and it goes down… Who are you gonna call?
Parts & Warranty
A reputable soft serve machine company is keeping full lines of spare parts in stock for all their models. Like all equipment, soft serve machines will require some maintenance. Remember, these machines are built to last for over a decade, if you find yourself in a situation, that after some time, something needs to be fixed, you will definitely value easy access to these parts.
You can buy a cheap soft serve machine for half the cost, and suppose you find a support technician who can service it, the next question is then: where do you get replacement parts? You see, cheap machines (often Chinese machines) are half the cost for a reason: they use different parts. If something goes wrong, you can’t just easily replace the part like you can from a reputable brand.
When dealing with unreputable brands and Chinese machines, service technicians usually won’t have a clue what's wrong with your machine if it’s not working. Oftentimes, you’ll find yourself having to replace the entire machine when something goes wrong (even if it’s just one part that’s affected).
A reputable brand will also offer warranty on all major components of the machine. Warranty gives you that extra peace of mind and protects your investment cost in case something ever happens (damage in transit, manufacturer’s defects, etc.).
Ok, so we’ve now discussed everything to look for and consider when buying a soft serve machine, and also have discussed the different types of soft serve machines. It’s time to get into where you actually buy a soft serve machine and who the leading manufacturers are in the soft serve machine industry.
Buying A Soft Serve Machine
This is what we do at Fun Foods! We are proud to have helped so many businesses across Canada and the World: “Start Serving Joy” to their customers with our quality ice cream equipment, ingredients, and guidance.
We carry soft serve machines from all the major players in the industry. We also carry some of the more reputable but lesser known brands that have more budget-friendly soft serve machines.
We carry brand new soft serve machines from: Taylor, GelMatic, Carpigiani, ElectroFreeze, DonPer, Spaceman, and Stoelting.
We believe that the “right” soft serve machine will look differently depending on the operator. For that reason, we don’t try to sell you on one brand. We make recommendations based on: what kind of product you want to produce, your budget, and your expected volume. If you still need help deciding on a machine, feel free to chat with us and we can make you suggestions based on the above criteria.
Remember, the soft serve machine buying process starts by taking a look at what’s available on the market, narrowing down the choices, and then picking the best option for your needs.
There are many perks of buying your equipment through Fun Foods such as: paying via credit card, options from multiple brands, free shipping in Canada, financing options, and we also created a unique, one-of-a-kind soft serve machine program specially designed for first-time operators.
Fun Foods Canada - Shop Soft Serve Machines
Other Types of Frozen Dessert Machines
This is the ultimate guide to picking a soft serve machine, but in case you’re interested. Here’s the equipment you’d need for the production of other types of frozen desserts.
Scoop Ice Cream (Hard Ice Cream)
Production of hard-packed or scoop ice cream requires the use of a batch freezer and a blast/chill freezer.
Milkshake & Frozen Beverage Programs
If you’re strictly looking to serve shakes in your business, the equipment required would be a frozen beverage or shake machine. You can still serve milkshakes with a soft serve machine, this machine would serve ONLY shakes or frozen beverages.
Slushie or Granita Program
If you’re looking to offer slushies or granita in your business, the equipment required would be a frozen granita machine.
“Puck” Based Frozen Yogurt Machine
A “puck” or “pod” based machine uses a “puck” to make your mix. Think like a Keurig machine for coffee, you insert a k-cup and it brews the coffee. A yogurt machine would take a “puck” of yogurt and dispense it into frozen yogurt.
You now know everything to look for when on the market for a soft serve machine. We’re proud to have helped so many businesses across the world get started on their ice cream journey. This is what we do here at Fun Foods and we are so grateful to work with so many amazing businesses and entrepreneurs everyday.
If you’re still having trouble deciding on what soft serve machine would be right for your business, don’t hesitate to reach out to a team member who can suggest to you our top recommendations catered to your business requirements or vision.
Also, check out the Ultimate Guide to Picking Soft Serve Mix here!
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