In 2009, the New York Times posted a blog wondering if the end of the food truck trend was "nigh." If the 2011 National Restaurant Association Show, held May 21-24 in Chicago, is any indication, the answer is a resounding "no."
The Food Truck Spot – an area on the exhibition floor devoted entirely to the mobile food movement – made its NRA Show debut last year and more than doubled in size this year, according to Annika Stensson, media relations director at the NRA.
Exhibitors were equipped with resources for those interested in getting into the arena – from franchise information, to mobile kitchen insurance literature to equipment options for smaller spaces.
The Pizza Truck Co. out of Connecticut highlighted its standard equipment, Italian wood-burning oven and flatscreen HDTV.
MobiMunch, a Los Angeles-based company that offers a turnkey mobile option, touted a truck with various technology upgrades, including a digital LCD TV for marketing and menu promotions, and a digital POS solution tailored to the specific needs of the segment and based on the MICROS Simphony POS platform and the Mocapay mobile payment platform.
The MobiMunch display provided a strong case against any suggestion that the segment is a passing phase.
"This idea has been around for so long. It's not a trend, it's just evolved so much that people think it's a trend," said Dennis Suh, senior director of operations at MobiMunch. "The participation (at the show) has grown a lot – we were the only truck here last year and now there are at least six actual trucks. The excitement has also grown. So many people are now seriously considering this option for their business."
The reason why seemed obvious to those exhibiting in the Food Truck Spot. It's convenient, and it offers more freedom to be creative and innovative, according to Steve White, from Mercedes Benz of Chicago. The first food truck he represented sold cupcakes and, not long after, another truck came along and sold cupcake-shaped meatloaf.
"It's incredible, the imagination these people have and can better afford to have," because of the smaller operations and lower start-up costs involved, he said. White echoed Suh's NRA Show observations, saying there was a "ton of enthusiasm from people who couldn't wait to get started."
Leads are also what brought Sam Anderson to the event. The marketing director of Washington, D.C.-based Sauca, which features "global foods" such as Mumbai Butter Chicken and Mexicali Fish Taco, was promoting the company's new franchising option after having only been in business for a year. He said the benefits to having a food truck far outweigh the logistical hurdles that exist in some municipalities.
"People are looking for new options, maybe to expand their catering business or to extend their brick-and-mortar business. Or, people are looking to get into the industry and this is a less expensive way to do so," Anderson said. "It offers creative freedom and a lot of social marketing advantages. And it's fun – you can get face to face with your customers and there is a lot of camaraderie."
Check out some highlights from the 2011 NRA Show Food Truck Spot here.