Food trucks: Possibilities and pitfalls to consider

Food trucks: Possibilities and pitfalls to consider

Rolling out a food truck can offer a foodservice entrepreneur a wide variety of options and, equally, a lot of headaches, attendees at the NRA Show were told Saturday.

Ross Resnick, founder of the food-truck-locating RoamingHunger.com website, offered a variety of tips to succeed in the growing foodservice segment in a panel entitled, “Roll Out the Right Way: Starting a Successful Food Truck Program”

“It’s an industry that is in its infancy,” said Resnick, whose website is one of the most thorough trackers of food truck growth. “It’s a brand-new business.”

Since 2009, the number of trucks listed on the Roaming Hunger website has grown 710 percent, to more than 2,300, Resnick said. And food truck growth is anticipated to grow another 260 percent by 2014, he said.

While pioneering food trucks like Kogi BBQ in Los Angeles succeeded easily a few years ago, the landscape has become much more congested. Food trucks are less unique, Resnick said.

“You can’t be successful on the basis of being a food truck alone,” he said.

The popularity of food trucks has moved beyond the most populous urban centers of Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco to smaller cities. Resnick said his top five cities for food truck growth are: Indianapolis, Ind.; Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minn.; Philadelphia; Raleigh, N.C.; and Tampa, Fla.

Success depends on many factors, he added, but among them are differentiated branding, a reasonably sized menu, a good selection of sales locations, a strong social media presence and patience when it comes to growth.

“These brands are being built very slowly,” Resnick said. Many have found success in teaming with other operators to provide informal food-truck malls and also by joining the growing number of local food truck associations, which can now be found in such cities as Chicago, New York and Philadelphia, and such regions as Southern California and the District of Columbia.

In addition, Resnick said, food trucks need to develop a catering program to expand the meal occasions and revenue-stream stability. With regular catering income, a truck can better survive the rough road of inclement weather and other business drawbacks. “Catering is what’s going to pay your bills,” he said.

Because they already face at least four regulatory hurdles, including health permits, business licensing, parking restrictions and zoning laws, food trucks with alcohol beverage sales have been few and far between.

“If you could figure out the drive-thru daiquiri truck, I think you could do pretty well,” Resnick said with a laugh.

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