Donald W. Reynolds National Center For Business Journalism

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More on mobile food trends: food trucks

August 15, 2013

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Photo by Flickr user ricardodiaz11

Another season of the Food Network’s “Great Food Truck Race” debuts on Aug. 18, and while it may not be the Super Bowl in terms of generating water-cooler conversation, it’s a fun reality show and a decent peg for taking a fresh look at food trucks, street food and other trends in mobile edibles.

The market research firm IBIS World reported last year that food truck mania had sort of peaked in 2010, but that the industry still is posting respectable growth.  Still, this opens the door to a small biz story about failed food trucks, or an analysis of how long an individual food truck’s menu/cuisine concept will continue to intrigue customers.  Bloomberg Business Week, in fact, says food trucks are stale and that food scooters are the next wave.  And Entrepreneur has rounded up other mobile food trends.

Still, I think food trucks will be around long enough to squeeze a few more stories into your business pages and websites.  Not everyone likes them, especially the bricks-and-mortar bistros that compete with them; you might take a look at food truck politics vis a vis zoning laws and fees; note that the Indiana city of Noblesville has voted to hike the annual food truck permit fee from $200 to $1,000 to help protect its non-mobile restaurants.  You could talk with economists and planning/zoning consultants about how such fees and other regulations are used to favor (or not) various constituents in the marketplace, and the resulting effect on business creation, jobs, downtown vibrancy, etc.

Food trucks Austin airport
Food trucks gather at Austin airport’s cellphone waiting area. Photo: Sandy L. Stevens, City of Austin Aviation

Here’s something intriguing: A recent USA Today piece about food trucks showing up in airport cell-phone parking lots.  What an interesting juxtaposition of two 21st century trends; this entrepreneurial possibility wouldn’t even have been possible before post-Sept. 11 security measures caused the invention of cell phone lots; talk about making lemons from lemonade.  It ‘s a good example of the “who benefits?” question I like to ask even when adverse circumstances arise; everything is an opportunity for some savvy business person.  Great angle to localize.

Lots of good story angles at the website of the industry journal “Mobile Food News” (who knew?) on topics ranging from regulation to mobile point-of-sale technology (iPads seem to be hot) to the nuts and bolts like truck leasing, insurance and safety.  You can see where this isn’t just a story for retail writers, but for those who cover marketing and advertising, tech, personal finance and even health care – here’s a recent Boston Globe update about food truck health violations; you might check with clinics and hospitals about incidence of food poisoning from mobile eateries vs. bricks-and-mortar.  Advertising and social media use are ripe for an update, as well.  How are food trucks coping with adverse customer reviews and other social media exposure?

Lunchtime’s popular at this food truck in Civic Center Park in San Francisco. Photo by Aaron Anderer

From the small business and personal finance angle, you can talk with banks, Small Business Administration officials, business incubators and restaurant industry specialists about what it takes to purchase, equip and mobilize a food truck – Loans.org says food trucks are “eating up business loans.”  How about a graphic on all of the components of a street-legal truck, and the cost of new & used versions?  Here’s a Forbes article about start-up costs, from late 2012.   Food truck locator apps can help you find local operators to interview.

Crowdfunding for a food truck is another personal finance angle, and check out this Mobile-Cuisine.com list of reasons food trucks fail for background that might help you generate interview questions.  Mobile Cuisine is a good resource if you’re seeking to talk with suppliers and vendors to the industry, as well – I think it’s always interesting to look at what spin-off business a new consumer trend generates.

A lot of useful info at the Institute for Justice’s National Street Vending Initiative website, a project of the institute’s “fight to legalize street vending.” And note that the Roam 2013 Mobile Food Conference is scheduled for Sept. 13-15 in Portland, Oregon – the program, speakers list and other info may give you ideas about sources or topics you can use to refine your local story.

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