Food trucks have transformed from a novelty into an essential part of the culinary landscape worldwide. What once began as convenient food-on-the-go primarily for busy workers has evolved into a gastronomic subculture, captivating foodies and casual diners alike. In this post on food truck trends, you'll get a snapshot of the industry in 2023 along with some tips on how to keep the good times rolling.
The popularity of food trucks is trending upward
Food trucks are an integral part of today’s foodservice scene. Originating from chuckwagons that provided hearty meals to American pioneers, they’ve transformed into culinary laboratories offering gourmet grub to devoted fans. This burgeoning segment continues to evolve, with new trends transforming the industry.
According to industry researcher Technomic, 40% of consumers say they visit food trucks more than they did two years ago. What’s luring customers to visit more often?
- Convenience of location (42% led by consumers 35 and older)
- More food trucks have opened near me (37% led by consumers 35 and older)
- Better value for money (32% led by consumers 18-34)
- Good social opportunity (31% led by consumers 18-34)
- Better-quality food and beverages (29% led by consumers 18-34)
Of course, that leaves 60% of consumers who aren’t visiting more than they did two years. Why? According to Technomic, the top five reasons are:
- I am dining out less in general (39% led by consumers 35+)
- No locations/not available near me (32%)
- Smaller budget for dining out (30%)
- Too expensive (21%)
- Too hard to keep track of locations/days/hours of operation (18% led by consumers 18-34)
These point to the importance of regular locations and hours (and communicating them), as well as price sensitivity brought on by inflation.
Food trucks: The importance of offering something unique
Thirty-six percent of all consumers like food trucks because they want to try new and unique dishes. This is especially true of 18–34-year-olds. And food trucks don’t disappoint.
Today global cuisines thrive in the confines of these mobile kitchens. Whether you’re seeking Vietnamese Banh Mi, Nashville Hot Chicken, or Belgian Waffles, there’s likely a food truck nearby serving it. This vast array of flavors provides an exciting and convenient culinary adventure, catering to a wide range of taste buds.
However, while food truck fans are visiting more often, 44% of consumers have never gone to a food truck. And 21% visit one less than every six months. This represents a huge opportunity for growth, especially among consumers 35 and older.
Recommendation: 18–35-year-olds are more likely to have seen an advertisement that made them more aware of food trucks in their area. Consider offering special deals for first-time customers to entice 35+ consumers to visit your location. Facebook, which serves an older demographic, may be your best bet to reach this audience vs. other social media.
What’s driving purchases at food trucks?
Given the public’s appetite for unique food experiences, it’s no surprise that quality of food is the top driver for food truck purchases. But that enthusiasm is followed closely by a strong desire for food safety and cleanliness.
Top Five Food Truck Purchase Drivers
- Food quality (85%)
- Order accuracy (82%)
- Food safety and sanitation (80%)
- Cleanliness of visible kitchen/food prep area (79%)
- Fresh, made-to-order food (79%)
Recommendation: The idea of food being served out of trucks may strike some potential customers as unhygienic. Keep your kitchen extra clean so patrons feel comfortable ordering from you.
Frozen foods can help protect margins and reduce labor
Like the rest of the foodservice industry, food trucks have been hurt by the rising cost of food and labor. Use a wide variety of frozen potatoes, vegetables, avocados, fruits, and grains products that can reduce prep and simplify kitchen operations—even in trucks famous for limited freezer space.
Digital ordering is rising at food trucks
While the vast majority of customers order in-person at food trucks—including 84% of consumers 35+—younger generations are more likely to use digital ordering platforms.
Top Five Ways People Order From Food Trucks
- In-person (80% of all customers, 84% of consumers 35+)
- By phone (20% of all customers, 27% of 18-34 year-olds)
- Food truck app/website for pick up (19% of all customers, 24% of 18-34-year-olds)
- Food truck app/website for delivery (18% of all customers, 27% of 18-34-year-olds)
- Third-party app/website for pick up (17% of all customers, 27% of 18-34 year-olds)
After ordering, 60% of food truck customers take their food elsewhere to eat.
Recommendation: Make sure your food and packaging are built for portability.
Finally, 54% of consumers say they’re more likely to visit a traditional restaurant vs. a food truck in cold weather.
Recommendation: Consider covered/heated seating in the fall and winter. Food Halls may be another alternative for the winter months and solve the issue of consumers knowing where to find you.
Keep the good times rolling, food truck operators
The food truck business is no longer a niche market. It’s a dynamic, rapidly evolving sector that quickly adapts to consumer needs, technological advancements, and market trends. The convenience, diversity, and adaptability of food trucks, coupled with their ability to provide high-quality, innovative food, make them an essential part of the modern street food scene.
As food truck trends develop and new ones emerge, the industry’s future looks promising, flavorful, and full of opportunities.
Technomic, Inc., Emerging Channels Report, 2023
Content courtesy of Simplot Foods