Meals on Wheels

NACS Show education session explored the pros and cons of launching a food truck.

October 11, 2019

ATLANTA—A decade ago, the idea of serving gourmet food from a truck or trailer was unheard of, but today, modern food trucks are common in communities of all sizes. And many people are cashing in on the tasty prospects of hitting the road with a food truck.

Food trucks aren’t just for individuals who are turning the engine on the mobile business. Convenience store retailers and companies are using food trucks to serve as test kitchens for new menu items and concepts or to introduce freshly prepared food in a market where people may hesitate to try convenience store food, according to Shane Flynn, managing director of Aramark Northern Europe and the presenter at last Thursday’s session, “Making Money with Food Trucks” at the 2019 NACS Show, held Oct. 1–4 in Atlanta.

Aramark uses food trucks to tap new markets through business events, sports games, festivals and universities.

“We have found that it’s a great way to trial products,” Flynn said. “Rather than making a big investment and infrastructure change, it’s an interesting, relatively low-cost way to try new concepts. If your offerings test well, then you can be more confident in moving the concept into your store.”

More than 4,000 food trucks are serving up everything from comfort food to unique menu items across the U.S., according to a study by IBISWorld, a market research firm. Collectively, food trucks are predicted to bring in $1 billion in annual revenue this year.

It’s easy to see why the industry is booming. Food trucks deliver exactly what customers want: They meet consumers where they are and offer different types of cuisine at affordable prices.

C-store operators also turn to food trucks during times of peak store traffic, to sustain business
during a store refurbishment or to reach new customers.

Flynn shared how Aramark’s experience, the risks and pitfalls of launching a food truck and tips and tricks for making the business work in the convenience store space.

The allure of food on wheels

“There’s a certain kind of theater to food trucks,” Flynn said. “I think it dials up an operator’s credentials in terms of authenticity. If done right, your food truck can almost have an artisan feel.”

Convenience stores that launch a food truck shouldn’t replicate what’s offered in their brick-and-mortar. In fact, retailers might find that their food truck takes on a life of its own. With integrated marketing and promotions, retailers can ensure the food truck becomes an extension of their store brand, as well as a brand that consumers seek out.

“We find people are very open to trying new things in that environment,” Flynn said.

Another approach to the food truck business is to use it as a vehicle for collaboration with local chefs or celebrities. Recently, for example, Aramark launched a Jamie Oliver-branded food truck and uses it for Aramark business events and client requests.

The logistics of operating a food truck

“Despite the small space, this is still a kitchen,” Flynn said. “You need a good, robust supply chain, a simplified menu and the right controls in place to make this work.”

Limited storage space, maintaining food safety and cross-contamination are common risks associated with operating a food truck. You can avoid some of these pitfalls by making sure your menu is simple.

“I can’t stress simplicity enough,” Flynn said, “especially when a food truck business is just starting out.”

With time, Flynn said, food truck operators will learn how to create a menu that is flexible and readily available to customers—which is a great experience to have before bringing the concept inside the convenience store.

For more on launching a food truck to complement c-store offerings, see “Four-Wheeling” in the September issue of NACS Magazine, and watch “Food Truck Future” in Ideas 2 Go 2019 for one retailer’s spin on food trucks.