Posted on February 19 2019
What began as a single food truck in a lonely alley has now blossomed into a $906 million business. According to an IBISWorld report, the food truck industry alone is projected to hit $1.1 billion in 2022. Now, culinary entrepreneurs are taking the mobile food concept to new heights – creating families of mobile, virtual and brick and mortar businesses all aimed at meeting their customers where they are and birthing an entire mobile food movement while they’re at it.
The rise of the food truck industry has major cities across the US rethinking public spaces, creating new culinary communities and transforming the mobile food industry, yet an IBISWorld research report shows a slowing down in the industry. Where growth was at 7.3% up to 2017, it is now expected to stay at about 3% through 2022 due to increased competition and enforced municipal regulations.
This has not stopped entrepreneurs from investing in food trucks and expanding their businesses. Here are the latest trends for the mobile food industry in 2019.
Food no longer needs to be served from the truck: Truck operators are now providing service beyond their trucks to expand profit margins. Setting up operations in food halls, catering special events and partnering with larger brands have all become popular ways for businesses to stay ahead of the curve.
Food halls are the trendier version of the more franchise-driven food court, and are growing in popularity as small and large retailers sell products alongside artisanal food vendors in unique spaces. Famous establishments like Ponce City Market in Atlanta, La Centrale Food Hall in Miami and Great Northern Food Hall in New York are some of the most widely known food halls, where locals and tourists alike can find delicious food options based on their individual tastes. They also provide a viable business opportunity for food truck owners who still don’t have the capital to open a full restaurant or don’t want to, and/or those who want to try new food concepts in a stable location with lower rent costs.
Partnerships are in focus for many food truck operators. More and more food truck owners are teaming up with large companies to provide catered service at brand launches, special events, movie sets and more. The expansion of catering services has led to food trucks making an estimated 30% of their revenue from catering private events such as weddings, birthdays and private parties and is helping food trucks stay in business year-round.
Food Halls are on the rise in 2019: While many food truck owners are expanding their mobile operations, there are still others who have held onto their dreams of owning a brick-and-mortar establishment. More and more, owners with years of branding under their belts are converting their mobile businesses into brick and mortars – and they are keeping their food trucks.
Many restaurant owners are enhancing their brick-and-mortar operations by adding food trucks, further capitalizing on different market segments by providing different menu options at lower price points. Many use their vehicles to focus on private events, offering restaurant-quality products in remote locations— meeting customers where they are.
Culinary experts are experimenting and expanding menu horizons: The mobile food industry has come a long way since the old days of street cart vendors selling dirty water hot dogs. Unbound by the walls of a brick and mortar, culinary experts of diverse backgrounds are using their talents to create original and cultural dishes at $10-$15 a pop on average, driving the expansion of the mobile food industry.
According to report 2018 Mobile Food Trends survey by Off the Grid, 34 % of people surveyed say that having a mobile food business allows them to regularly experiment with new and interesting menu items.
Another trend that has risen among well-established franchises and brands is concept testing, a means by which businesses use food trucks to test new business concepts and products before bringing them to market. According to the New York Food Truck Association, companies like Wholefoods, Olive Garden and Outback Steakhouse have used food trucks as test kitchens to try new food products and serving concepts, and in some cases, without putting their names or logos on the trucks (most likely to get unbiased feedback).
Trucks are a part of something bigger… community building: The rise of the so-called food truck revolution has made its impact on urban development, inspiring cities to re-imagine public spaces. From empty lots, alleyways and vacant buildings to parks, waterfronts and plazas, many cities have created “shared mobile food experiences,” numerous opportunities for food truck owners and local retailers to engage with customers.
These types of partnerships foster a win-win situation for everyone involved. Strategic public events with mobile food vendors create a type of environment that adds vibrancy to urban areas in development and helps to strengthen a sense of community. These partnerships help create safe spaces for potential customers to interact with local retailers and increase visible social activity – and economic value— in areas that may be lacking.
Farm to food truck is the new farm to table:Farm to food truck isn’t exactly a new concept to the industry, as it is an adaptation of the “farm to table” concept, but it is one that has recently taken off within the mobile food industry.
Stemming from the idea that the less time and fewer hands it takes to source food from a farm and onto a truck— the fresher and more sustainable it is for the environment; one can greatly impact the health and wealth of their community.
Many food truck entrepreneurs have who have joined this crusade have also created composting programs to ensure their business stays green in all aspects.
Culinary schools and programs across the nation are keeping up with how the mobile food industry is evolving and getting on the food truck bandwagon by offering students classes and fully immersive programs geared toward managing and owning food truck operations.
For many students, who upon graduation may have little to no funds to invest in a brick-and-mortar establishment, starting a food truck business or using one to test a business concept provides a more promising way to get one’s foot in the door. With most programs, students learn about all aspects of the mobile food business, from food trucks to private catering. Many culinary schools even own their own food trucks to help students learn in real time.
Maybe its time for more food truck businesses to offer internships.