Food trucks continued rolling as a trend for both independent and chain restaurants this year, and the National Restaurant Association’s annual show in Chicago included a number of sessions and a half-dozen wheeled examples.
The food truck trend shifted into high gear as customers traded down, reduced restaurant visits and searched for bargains during the economic crisis of 2008, according to Suzy Badaracco, president of Culinary Tides Inc., who spoke in a session called “The Road Ahead for Food Trucks.”
Ray Villaman of the firm MobiMunch explained in another session, called “Food Truck Nuts and Bolts,” that the recession’s pinch on development and operating capital also helped spur the boom, which has seen the number of licensed food trucks in California’s Los Angeles County rise to 4,000.
EARLIER: Hitting the road with food trucks 
Trucks can be purchased for $100,000, or leased from between $3,000 to $4,000 per month, he said. The cost for wrapping a truck in a brand image alone can run from $24,000 to $75,000. However, remodeled used trucks can be acquired for less, Villaman noted.
“Now we’re starting to see multiple-truck concepts with some of them launching their second, third or fourth vehicles,” Villaman said. “We’re way past the idea of it being a fad or whether it’s sustainable.”
He said that indicators signal “an important, permanent awakening toward the viability of food trucks as being legitimate, respected and attractive foodservice models.”
Other advantages of food trucks, Villaman said, include:
• They serve as billboards for the brand
• They appeal to social-network-savvy Millennials and influencers.
• They can serve as test outlets for brick-and-mortar restaurants.
The NRA identified food trucks as a top trend in its “2011 Restaurant Industry Forecast ,” which it released in February. At the time, Hudson Riehle, senior vice president of the NRA’s research and knowledge group, explained: “The industry has always been about points of access, so this will definitely become an important avenue of growth.”