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Food on Wheels, the Next Best Thing to Candied Nuts

My office is in my house in a housing development in Fremont, CA.  As such, I have extremely limited options for lunch in that I have to prepare it myself. It makes me pine for the days when I worked in our Rosemont, IL office and our office complex offered us a handful of places to choose from if we didn’t have the energy or time to go “off campus” to eat.  We hated those places within two months of moving in. We were jealous of those fancy folks in downtown Chicago who had a cornucopia of choices for lunch within a couple of minutes of their offices. The thing is that those fancy folks are sick of their choices too.  Let a new fro-yo shop or candied nuts place start construction and everyone is all a twitter with the development.

It turns out that food trucks ARE that new candied nuts place.

It’s not easy for food trucks. They need to be in a dense urban environment to have the best shot of selling out their inventory every day.  To do that they need parking.  Parking can be restrictive. Many restaurants don’t want them nearby. Police make sure they don’t overstay at their spot.   Only the customers are glad to see them.

My wonderful colleague Bonnie Riggs, NPD’s foodservice industry expert, just did an analysis of mobile device users and their awareness and use of food trucks. Now, I’ve written before about what a sliver of a slice of the foodservice industry food trucks occupy, but there’s no denying that a class of food trucks has emerged that has captured the imagination (and dollars) of consumers in some specific environments.

There’s lots of great stuff in the analysis.  Here’s the thing that grabbed my attention:  the reason food trucks were chosen instead of their prime alternatives. Sure, like always, convenience is the most commonly cited reason; but, and this is the response that most interested me, ”Had different food available” is a close second reason for visiting a food truck.  That’s different.  LIKE THE CANDIED NUTS PLACE!!

And that’s the cool thing about food trucks. They can always be that new place in the neighborhood.  And, because they have a limited selection, they can run a variety of items through over time so they can always have “different food available.”  And, if the neighborhood gets stale, they can move to the next neighborhood.

And it’s not necessarily an urban thing.  I have friends who work in one of those faceless office parks (without foodservice) nearby me in Fremont.  They’re sick of the options around them.  They all go crazy when the lobster roll truck stops at their place.  Do they shoot me an SMS and invite me over?  NO!!  But I’m not bitter.

Food trucks were used instead of a fast food place because:

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About Bob O'Brien

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Bob O’Brien is global senior vice president for market researcher The NPD Group, foodservice sector. He joined NPD’s foodservice division in 1987. He has been responsible for driving foodservice analysis outside the United States, leading the launch of CREST® Japan, China, Australia and the new CREST® Mexico pilot project. Bob speaks frequently to industry and management groups. He can be reached at the NPD Group.

Mr. O'Brien's column on foodservice is syndicated to Blue MauMau by permission of The NPD Group.

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