Jun 7, 2022 - News

How the war in Ukraine shuttered an Austin vegan ice cream shop

Screenshot of a Sweet Ritual/Instagram post
Screenshot via SweetRitual/Instagram

You can add an Austin ice cream shop to the long list of places unexpectedly impacted by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Driving the news: Sweet Ritual, a beloved vegan ice cream maker, announced that it's shutting down.

The big picture: Safflower oil, a crucial ingredient in Sweet Ritual's frozen desserts, is produced and processed in Ukraine — and it grew scarce after the conflict began in February, Sweet Ritual owner Amelia Raley told Axios.

Between the lines: Raley used safflower oil to mimic the texture of dairy ice cream.

  • The shop shut down for more than a month earlier this year because Raley couldn't acquire the ingredient.

What they're saying: "My supplier doesn't know when [the safflower's] coming back, because no one knows what's going on," Raley said.

Zoom out: Russia has plundered grain and other goods from Ukraine, leading to spiking food prices globally.

By the numbers: The safflower shortage was only the latest crisis for Sweet Ritual, which had already been hobbled by the pandemic, labor shortages and supply chain issues.

  • Inflation drove up ingredient prices by at least 30% compared to pre-pandemic times.
  • The cost of coconut milk soared by 97%.

To stay in business, price hikes for items like milkshakes — which were going for about $7 — felt inevitable.

  • "I had to ask myself, 'Can I charge $15 for a milkshake? Will my customers pay for it?' That's what I'd need to keep the caliber of employees I have."

Her plan had been to push through the summer season, but the ceaseless setbacks — topped by personal health issues — led her to get out.

  • "My boyfriend says it's like someone poked me in the eye, punched me in the gut and then shoved me down the stairs — and is now drawing a mustache on [me] at the bottom."

What's next: A summer vacation. She hasn't had one in 10 years.

  • Raley, who has served as a frozen dessert consultant, is weighing several job offers — and deciding whether to remain in town.
  • "Austin's been really good to me, and it's an incredible place to grow as an entrepreneur."
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