Is The Food Truck Industry Missing the Boat?

If ever there was a business concept whose time has arrived when it comes to franchising, it’s the food truck. So I can’t help but wonder why so many of the most successful food truck owners out there today are not jumping at the chance to replicate their success in other areas of the country.

For the immediate future, it looks like those of us who are longing for the latest and greatest ethnic and fusion cuisine hitting the streets all over the larger cities like New York and Los Angeles are just going to have to go without. That’s until any number of ambitious entrepreneurs and investors grab a board and start surfing what undoubtedly will be the next wave in the tsunami-like growing food truck industry. Come on folks, we know franchising is just a matter of time, but we can’t wait!

Long stigmatized as “roach coaches,” food trucks have only recently become the hip and chic mobile cuisine favorites of so many ardent and loyal followers. Why? The most well-respected food truck owners will tell you the main reason is that the food, its quality and the various selections offered are what ultimately draw the masses. While that is certainly true, many would also agree that the recent popularity and success of food trucks are just as much a direct result of the confluence of two equally important additional factors―a down economy and the advent of social media.

Although food trucks existed well before the turn of the millennium, 2008 has been labeled the unofficial year in which the industry really took off in cities like New York and Los Angeles―a modern “phenomenon” was born. Extremely talented chefs and restaurateurs who were reluctant to spend big money on more traditional storefronts, which can be very risky business endeavors when times are tough, decided to take their talents to the streets. They’d have been fools not to. The time was right.

The benefits of the food truck concept from a strictly entrepreneurial perspective are tremendous. They speak for themselves:

• Relatively low barrier to entry when compared to a storefront. Food trucks can cost as little as $2K to get them up and running. Of course, they can also go for as much as $75K or more, depending on the equipment, space, etc.

• Much less risky investment than a standard brick and mortar store – one of the most profitable ideas

• Extreme mobility to meet demand

• Gives patrons the opportunity to experience food in ways they would otherwise not be able to access or afford

• Very well suited to niche product marketing

• Exploding industry with great social and mainstream media buzz

• Majority of food trucks remain cash-only, making for hassle-free and more profitable exchanges

• Brand new category for food trucks was added into the world-renowned foodie’s guide―the Zagat survey―just this year, which added tremendous cachet to the whole industry

• Trend toward regulating the industry much like any other restaurant category and even granting liquor licenses in some locales is fostering trust and credibility

• And perhaps most importantly, social media can be used to encourage brand loyalty in ways never thought possible, creating a sense of community wherever a food truck goes as loyal customers receive daily updates on location, specials, new flavors and options, new techniques and approaches.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations estimates that 2.5 billion people eat street food every day. And while that’s a huge number, looking at the as yet untapped full potential of the food truck phenomenon, we all know it is one that will grow exponentially in the years to come.