Mobile food has come a long way from the hot dog cart I frequented after college. Just recently, a close friend (and confirmed foodie) stayed an extra day in Portland to enjoy the city’s famous food truck scene. My nephew in Denver plans his workday to be first in line at his favorite gourmet food truck. Even the recruiter at the first of many campus visits I am making with my daughter quickly noted the top food trucks on campus. Feeding the trend: Food Network’s The Great Food Truck Race, a new cookbook from Workman Publishing and plenty of stories and photos if you just search “food truck.” And in the aftermath of Sandy, food trucks demonstrated they are truly part of the community by being at the frontline of relief, serving much-appreciated hot food to both volunteers and victims, thanks to initiatives of the New York Mayor’s Office and the New York Food Truck Association.
While food trucks came along with the “recession chic” trend and our growing hunger for local and sustainably produced food, I don’t think the craze has jumped the shark—or is it jumped the taco? Whether by luck or intent, many gourmet food trucks have hit on marketing magic. Here’s my food truck trend takeaway:
- The secret sauce is branding. In a world of carefully researched and scripted “mega brands,” it’s hard to believe that food trucks could even compete—but they do. Many project consistent brand identities on their websites and social platforms that are perceived as truly authentic by an increasingly jaded consumer. The result can lead to fanatical brand followers.
- Flavor with humor. It’s a great equalizer, and food trucks are known for their whimsy, puns and double entendre. Who doesn’t notice names like I Dream of Weenie, Coolhaus, GastroPod, Taceaux Loceaux, Streetza and Big Gay Ice Cream Truck? That, my friends, creates a memorable voice.
- Stir up social. Street food is by nature a social environment as you queue, eat and talk about the food with other eaters. Savvy food trucks have capitalized on social platforms to allow eaters to track and suggest locations, menus and specials. Fans follow their favorite food trucks like they might a rock band!
- Add a dash of niche marketing. Food trucks can afford to be highly specialized to reach a certain target or taste. Take The Dump Truck, which serves dumplings. Period. If you like dumplings, you will be there.
- Garnish with a sense of adventure. Food trucks encourage you to make an experience out of the food. You enjoy the thrill of the hunt, the excitement of “finding it” and the chance to mix with other people who share a common interest. Sounds like experience marketing at its best!
We used to listen for the ringing bells of the Good Humor truck—now we follow Facebook, Twitter, tumblr and flickr to see where we can find Coolhaus’s Balsamic Fig and Mascarpone ice cream. Food trucks have come a long way, and I, for one, can’t wait to see where they take our palates next.