Food Trucks Are Here To Stay

They’ve been around for years and there’s no end in sight. Serving as an integral part of the overall mobile food movement, food trucks (mobile vehicles where food and beverage is cooked and sold), are more alive than ever before. With 62% of consumers seeking out new/unique dining experiences and nearly 80% of people willing to try a new food or beverage once—it may be a better time than ever if you’re a business or chef looking to offer an experimental, labor light, social media rich experience to grow your brand. And gone are the days when the end game for a food truck was to land a brick and mortar presence on the side of a busy, hungry street. While still a worthy pursuit, today’s food trucks are leaning into growing consumer appetites for new dining experiences by serving up innovative ways to keep their trucks more relevant than ever. Moving beyond the role of feeding crowds of fair-goers and office workers—we highlight 3 food trucks that embrace all a food truck can be in 2019. But first, let’s dive into the data behind where the industry is headed.

WHAT’S HAPPENING

  • Food trucks reached an estimated $2.7 billion in revenue in 2017, a 24-percent increase from 2014.
    Source: According to a December 2017 report produced by Food Truck Nation under the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation
  • Food truck industry revenues have grown 7.3 percent at an annualized rate from 2012 to 2017.
    Source: IBISWorld

Food Truck Showcase

Farmers and Foragers
Bringing more awareness to your plate.

Once upon a time, a food truck was known as a one-stop indulgent spot, where you may have thought little about where the food came from. You just wanted it to taste really good and be on your way, right? (It’s OK if that’s still the case, too). Founded in 2014, Burlington, Vt.-based Farmers and Foragers brought a new perspective to the table, literally. Partnering with local farms to source the ingredients for a diverse menu of American comfort food—form Goi Ga, a Vietnamese Chicken Salad to Duck Wontons and Crispy Squash Blossoms. Some of the menu even features foraged produce from Vermont’s very own backyard. “When you go to a food truck rally, everything tastes amazing, but you don’t know where the food comes from,” he said. “I think we brought some level of consciousness to that.” This truck proves the care and quality you may typically expect only in a restaurant can be embraced by food on the move as well.

Hot Indian
Building a better, brighter brand.

Founded in 2013, this brightly hued, highly Instagrammable food truck (and now in multiple brick and mortar locations across the Twin Cities including a residence at Midtown Global Market), Hot Indian plays a role in changing the dining experience by providing memorable branding moments at every touch point — enticing consumers to enjoy more than just delicious food like their famous Indurrito: An Indian burrito made with house made roti, a round Indian flatbread. From showing consumers how to give a proper high five to big, bold graphics, Hot Indian has proven its sustainability in the mobile food space by embracing a truly Instagrammable, shareable experience.

Finnegan’s Reverse Food Truck
No food served here.

It may look like an ordinary food truck, but there’s no food served here. The (501(c)3) Minnesota-based brewery Finnegan’s Brewery has been doing good by its community since day one, with 100% of its profits going directly back to serving areas in need. So in true local-oriented fashion, their Reverse Food Truck (RFT) follows suit. Launched with one simple mission—We Don’t Make Food. We Take Food—The donation-based menu positions it as an innovative twist on the classic truck that’s in the business of cooking and serving up food. Through a partnership with The Food Group’s Harvest for the Hungry program, the RFT allows events to activate this giving back program where food is accepted and loaded into the truck to be donated to food shelves in the community. Their website even offers a contact to help others start their own RFT or volunteer with this one. A beautiful blend of entrepreneurship and philanthropy, this mission-based truck stands for a lot more than driving sales.

WHAT’S NEXT?

While there is no single roadmap for mobile food success, it’s clear there is a nearly endless runway for what a food truck can be—and stand for—today. When rooted in a solid business plan and a lens of sustainable thinking — chances of launch, engagement and a shot at longevity are favorable. Regardless of how a truck comes to be, it always starts with a focused business strategy and clear objectives – in order to create  a solution that makes sense for your business and the needs of consumers or in many of these cases, an entire entity or community. Through it all, one cannot underestimate the role of a strong brand at every touch point – from your logo, look and feel, voice and tone, website and social efforts, community outreach and beyond. Working with partners that share and foster a holistic view of your brand experience — that is always key to success.

Additional Sources
https://www.forbes.com/sites/lizzysaxe/2018/12/12/want-to-know-the-future-of-food-trucks-in-2019-read-this-report/#34ed11aa398f

finnegans.org/reverse-food-truck

https://www.themplsegotist.com/news/2019/07/30/branding-stands-front-and-center-in-the-modern-dining-experience/

https://www.restaurant-hospitality.com/food-trends/farm-wheel

Low Alcohol by Volume

One of the latest trends in the bar scene may influence your next summer cocktail or craft beer selection – whether on a patio or in your own backyard. The “Low ABV” category is growing on all fronts, from bartenders experimenting with new recipes, to producers creating near-beers and faux spirits that provide flavor and fun.

BUT, WHY?

You might be wondering… “but why? isn’t that missing the point?” As Millennials and Boomers are trying to stay fit, a recent study by International Wines and Spirits Record found that “52% of US adults who drink alcohol are either trying now or have tried before to reduce their alcohol intake”[1]. This is right in line with the emergence of “Dry January” – the 31-day alcohol-free challenge that has become a tradition for many following the holidays. Indicative of an overall search for moderation with alcohol, restaurants and retail brands have taken note.

WHAT’S HAPPENING

In NYC, the bar scene is rising to the challenge with trendy sober bars, mocktail menus and booze-free pop-up parties. These spaces are set up to look and feel like any other hip bar in the area, offering patrons an “alternative” night out. Most claim not to be a strictly sober space but rather one that promotes being social: talks, meet-ups, music, workshops, and my personal favorite: Juicebox Heroes, a karaoke lounge split into sober and non-sober sections. I have to imagine the experience is rather different from one side to the other!

On a broader scale, bars are putting more effort into their Low ABV program, and many times calling it out as a specific section on the menu. Generally defined as containing less than 1 ounce of high proof spirit, they are often only slightly less expensive as they tout similar high quality and unique ingredients as their alcoholic counterparts.

SO, WHAT NEXT?

Consumers will continue to look for what benefits their beverage choices can provide for them, by way of both wellness and experience. With the low- and no-alcohol beverage category projected to grow roughly 32% by 2022, it’s likely that creativity will continue to be key in shaping this trend – with the addition of items like “CBD-infused lattes” and “mushroom-elixirs”, the bar scene and how we consume mood-altering beverages is going to look very different even a few years from now.[2]

[1]“Low- And No-Alcohol Beverages Are a Growing Trend Worldwide.” Forbes. Pellechia, Thomas. February 20, 2019.
[2]“Sober-ish Summer?” Vanity Fair. Bryant, Kenzie. May 24, 2019.

Series: JTM Scale

This month we continue with the JTM Scale Series – a monthly post dedicated to sharing some of what we’re seeing in the local food and beverage start-up scene. Last time, we covered the beginning of this season of the MN Cup. While we anxiously await the second round of applications, we take a look at how “thinking small” is put into action to get closer to the consumer.

WHAT’S HAPPENING?

Innovation is the primary driver for many of the accelerators, incubators and venture arms that have been created in recent years. Now that these programs have been established, it’s been especially interesting in the past few months to see how they are being brought to life to bring real learnings and change.

Voice of Customer. If you’re familiar with Kickstarter, it’s likely you associate it with start-up brands or perhaps mission-based projects or causes. It is currently being utilized by Mondelez as a tool for testing different methodologies as they refine new product launch plans.[1] In a recent campaign, Kickstarter backers are required to select which product they would prefer to receive in exchange for a pledge, which provides Mondelez with real-time feedback and a less traditional research method. Ultimately, the goal being to launch products on a timeline more reflective of a start-up.

              

Real-Life Food Labs. Food brand themed restaurants are nothing new – and have often been leveraged as a real-life lab for testing new innovative products and partnerships. A unique take on this concept is Edwards Dessert Kitchen, a beautifully designed space in the North Loop of Minneapolis with sophisticated dessert items and a craft cocktail menu curated by Tattersall Distillery. The concept is backed by Schwan’s (Edwards is the name of the frozen pies division), a collaboration between its corporate entity and a very talented pastry chef. With an intentional lack of corporate branding, it’s an opportunity to innovate, create and learn.

WHAT’S NEXT

As incubators and venture arms become more prolific, the creativity in approach and execution are what will truly create a competitive advantage. The impact of these efforts on speed-to-market and innovation will take time to measure – but it’s exciting to see how “thinking small” is taking on its own meaning within organizations.

[1]“With Dirt Kitchen & CaPao, Mondelez Tests New Launch Strategies.” Nosh. Ortenberg, Carol. July 1, 2019.

Food Halls on the Rise

I distinctly remember excitedly sending a few messages back home from Lisbon in 2015 about a food market that was unlike anything I had seen. This is well before my official “days in the industry”. After wandering the city, I stumbled upon “Time Out Market Lisboa” – a food hall with more than 40 spaces that covered just about every category of local and global cuisine I could imagine. Today (and then, in many cities around the world), it’s a pretty well-known concept. From my personal initial “awe”, I can understand why. But what’s behind this concept that’s growing at a crazy fast speed?

“Time Out Market Lisboa” in Lisbon, Portugal

What is it?

Food halls are a gathering of independent, chef-inspired pop-up restaurants that are often housed in a repurposed urban, post-industrial setting. How’s that for an image? If you have been to one, or a few, you know that this doesn’t really capture the experience at all. Much of what makes a food hall interesting, in my opinion, is the volume of options and the ambience in which you get to make your selection(s).

Why It’s Happening 

There are a number of underlying factors that are driving the rapid expansion of Food Halls globally. From 2010 to 2017, the number increased around 700% and by the end of this year, it’s anticipated the number will double from that.[1] The concept itself is appealing to critical stakeholders: diners, developers and chefs.

Much like trendy food trucks or street food vendors, food halls allow diners to access numerous independent restaurants all in one place, and at a full range of price points. In addition, the ambience works well for solo diners, large groups, or families. Developers are on board in a big way as this concept allows them to repurpose abandoned spaces – plus, they typically draw a crowd and are popular with Gen Z and Millennials.[2] Last, but certainly not least, food halls allow chefs to open an independent concept with some critical built-in benefits: foot traffic (if done right) and lower operating costs.

What’s Next

In our own backyard and across the country, what’s next is more food halls with varying twists! In Minneapolis alone, there are a number of projects underway and many of the “originals” are getting more attention from the buzz alone. The Midtown Global Market has been around since 2006 and offers cuisine from all around the world. Now, there are at least two significant developments underway downtown that will house food halls in our own backyard. In Manhattan, Mercado Little Spain will open as a Spanish-themed food hall with support from renowned chefs and restaurateurs.[2] This rapid growth certainly raises the question around saturation. While food and retail are changing rapidly, the verdict is out as to the longevity of this concept and its ability to meet the ever-changing consumer who demands novelty at every turn.

[1]“The Origins of the Food Hall and Its Booming Popularity.” Hautzinger, Daniel. February 15, 2019.
[2] “What if Food was the New Rock’N’Roll and Food Halls were the New Stages?” Brennan, James. January 3, 2019.

Complexity, Loyalty and Collaboration – all top of mind in 2019

We are entering the season of conferences and tradeshows, with a number of industry events right around the corner. Recently, we attended IFMA’s Chain Operator’s Exchange in New Orleans where we walked away with a few interesting nuggets that span beyond the content that was shared in the presentations and roundtables.

Complexity

If there were a word cloud built that captured the dialogue and content of all the events I’ve attended in the last year, “complexity” would be one of the largest. Complexity in reference to the quickly changing landscape, food safety, labor issues, the consumer journey, access challenges, supply chain transparency; the list goes on. In my opinion, the opportunity lies in the communication and a continued appetite to understand and evolve. One of the ways JT Mega is addressing the challenge is by staying — and ramping up — our involvement in the industry; but just as importantly, sharing the experiences among our own team. While it can be difficult to carve out time when schedules are only getting tighter, the post-JTM15 (our agency share-outs that last 15 minutes) conversations are a reminder of how much is happening right “within” our four walls that can support better navigating complexity. 

If you’re interested in a JTM share-out with your team, let us know! We have a number of events coming up that may be of interest.

Loyalty

In addition to a complex landscape, it’s common understanding that consumers have more options and are becoming more selective when it comes to food choices. This increases the importance of measuring, understanding, and influencing guest loyalty for the sake of repeat purchase and growth. Datassential provided insights on some recent findings around what drives loyalty with restaurants.1 Relatively few chains achieved a net promoter score (NPS) of greater than 59%, but the bigger learning was in uncovering which qualities had the greatest correlation with true loyalty. It isn’t affordability or new LTOs – rather, attributes more ingrained in the culture of a restaurant. If you really want to impact loyalty, Unique Experience, Craveable Items, and Great Staff are the drivers. 1 These aren’t quick triggers by any means, but are in line with what we are seeing in the industry as a whole — brands have to offer more than the product; embodying a culture and experience that align with consumers personally matters more.

Collaboration

Over my short 2+ years in this industry, I have been continually reminded and pleasantly surprised by the “in-it-together” mentality that is inherent in the food and beverage world. It seems that the conscious focus on collaboration — how to do things better, together — is openly a priority. Continuing to raise the bar in this industry is a collective goal and it makes it an exciting time to be part of it.

Final Note

This “season” of events is off to a solid start and it will be interesting to see what emerges in both themes and trends for 2019. We look forward to sharing what stands out to us and would love to hear what you think is a little different about this year. (Or…to hear what you’d like to hear more about…).

1 “Keys to Brand Affinity.” Datassential. IFMA COEX. February 2019.

Small Risk, Sweet Reward

Today’s consumers are pulled in many directions and often need that little something to get them through the day. There’s a reason Starbucks offers happy hour prices on their most indulgent drinks, and why Panera offers a baked good to add to your lunch for 99¢. Whether we recognize it or not, many of us have grown used to the idea of small (often unplanned) indulgences on a daily basis.

What are we talking about?

“Small indulgences: Stressed-out consumers want to indulge in affordable luxuries and seek ways to reward themselves” ­—Faith Popcorn, BrainReserve

This idea of small indulgences is by no means new. Faith Popcorn, of strategic marketing consultancy BrainReserve, identified “small indulgences” as an emerging megatrend back in 1991, and it’s hung around and evolved ever since. As people focus on health and wellness on an increasing scale, small indulgences — particularly as they relate to food — become more appealing, as they help balance indulgence and control. Starting around 2015, this trend started to plow its way into the food space1 with the rise of things like of mini-appetizers on Pinterest and cup-sized desserts for weddings. “By offering bite-sized takes on cakes and other saliva-inducing foods, brands are letting consumers have their cake, and eat it too — without guilt,”2 says digital firm Trend Hunter.

What we think:

This trend isn’t going away any time soon. There’s a lack of guilt when the indulgence is small and, quite frankly, we all feel we’ve earned that one small treat after a long day of work or adhering to a new diet. And if you ask us, there’s something incredibly satisfying about a mini-splurge. You feel special about the impulse purchase of that $5 cookie because it is hand-crafted and made that morning from a local baker.

How we see it manifesting in society:

There’s already been an increase of artisan-crafted snacks and sweets at farmer’s markets, boutiques, and all over Instagram. Large food manufacturers will continue to develop smaller, artisan-like brands that can deliver on the quality (and lower price) that consumers seek. This trend already stretches far beyond food to things like Self-Care Sunday, chair massages, pet toys or just a half-hour to yourself. We believe we’ll continue to see this become the norm in many areas of life.

[1] “Tiny Foods Are Taking Over the Internet.” InStyle. July 2016.
[2] “Small Indulgence: Miniature treats and sweets help consumers control consumption.” Trend Hunter.

AI + Food

Do you know what you’re having for dinner tonight? Do you know where you’d like to go out to lunch for that birthday celebration coming up in February? How about what new and exciting menu item you might venture out on a limb to try at a restaurant next summer? I honestly can’t answer a single one of these questions and of course, that’s not really the point. What matters is that our hyper-personal flavor preferences are changing at a rapid rate and food manufacturers could benefit from understanding not just what they are today, but to have some indicators of what they might be in the future. That is just one of many – slightly unexpected – ways that artificial intelligence (AI) may come into play in the industry.

WHAT’S HAPPENING

We recently heard from Jason Cohen, the founder of Gastrograph AI, about how artificial intelligence can not only uncover, but also predict consumer preferences when it comes to flavor, aroma, and texture.1 An AI platform driven by consumer data, it analyzes individual’s sensitivities and biases to different flavors and informs how those flavors may need to be tweaked based on age, ethnicity and gender of a target audience.

AI is making its way into the food industry in a number of ways. While this industry is not always on the forefront when it comes to technology, the solutions coming forward address areas of tension like labor, supply chain, food safety, and food production.2

WHAT WE THINK

AI has the potential to aid manufacturers and retailers in not only understanding but predicting human behavior when it comes to their flavor preferences. Resources like Gastrograph AI could have real, immediate impact on business decisions like new product development and launch plans.1

The reality is that AI doesn’t take the human out of the equation, though. In fact, in ways, it puts more onus on decision-makers to effectively understand and use it to positively impact business.

WHAT’S NEXT

This is just the start. We know that consumers expect more from the food industry when it comes to transparency and personalization. Couple that with significant gaps when it comes to food management (both production and waste) and it’s clear why testing and adoption of these technologies is increasing. We’ll keep our finger on the pulse as success stories and learnings come forward.

[1] “52 Things We Learned & Experienced at Foodscape 2.” Datassential. Datassential: Issue 57. September 2018.
[2] “6 Examples of Artificial Intelligence in the Food Industry.” Garver, Krista. Food Industry Executive. April 2018.

Global Insights to Share

On our recent trip to Paris for SIAL 2018, the largest international food and beverage innovation show, we had the chance to sit in on a few very compelling seminars. A global study of consumers’ behaviors, attitudes and expectations regarding their food were the focus of “Food 360”, a breakout led by Kantar TNS and conducted exclusively for SIAL.1

WHAT’S HAPPENING?

Led by Kantar TNS, one of the world’s largest research agencies with experts in over 80 countries, the 2018 multi-country market report represents a wide range of geographies: the UK and the USA, Russia, China, Middle Eastern countries, Southeast Asian countries and a range of countries in the EU.1

With the intention of understanding what most motivates consumers around the globe when it comes to food choices, three key factors emerged: Taste, Truth, and Meaning.1 Right off the bat, those sound “right on”, don’t they? Interestingly enough, how those words translate varies by region. This illustrates how important it is to really dig in to understand the ever-changing nuances in what matters to consumers and how they define those when it comes to food products.

HOW DOES IT TRANSLATE?

Taste: As defined by the quality of food products – flavor does matter! In fact, it is #1 across the globe when it comes to consumers’ expectations and behavior. But taste encompasses more than just flavor – it spans a broader definition that implies a holistic experience with taste. In this study, different regions prioritized the below factors when defining “taste”:

  • Varying Meals and Flavors
  • Balanced Diet
  • Good Quality Foods

Truth: Transparency. This is clearly articulated in different ways based on the region and the variation may be based on consumer and food supply sophistication. Regardless, it’s clear that consumers want more sightline into the food products they choose. When it comes to “truth”, different regions prioritized these factors:

  • Origin (including Ingredients List!)
  • Farming / Breeding Conditions
  • Food Safety

Terra Creta Olive Oil (42 varieties identified)
Terra Creta Olive Oil (42 varieties identified)

Meaning: Food choices that align with personal values is becoming more important. As with personal values, the range of what encompasses values broadens at the global scale. The topics / issues remain in the same realm but the actions to support (or negate) them requires a closer finger on the pulse of the people and culture. As defined by different geographies, the factors that align with “meaning” are:

  • Biodegradable / Less Packaging
  • Farmers + Breeders Compensation
  • Animal Well-Being

WHAT WE THINK

The intuitiveness and familiarity of the results shared do not diminish their importance. In fact, it further supports the significance that food choices play in a consumers’ life and that these choices are becoming not only more integrated but also more personal. While Taste, Truth and Meaning are rather familiar based on trends in this industry, they are not simple “factors” and should encourage us all to stay curious about how consumers think and feel about choices when it comes to food products.

WHAT’S NEXT

Spending a day in the life of a farmer sheds light on the incredibly complex and dynamic business we know as agriculture. The next generation has new, steep challenges ahead that will lean on innovative thinking and a purpose-driven approach.

[1] “Food 360: 2018.” Kantar TNS. Kantar TNS: SIAL, Paris. October 2018.

The Values of Food

As consumers have a wider range of choices in the businesses and brands available to them, social causes are beginning to play a more substantial role in their selection process. When 8 out of 10 consumers do not believe that large food companies try their best to be socially responsible or act in the best interests of their customers1, it’s important to uncover what consumers are looking for instead.

WHY IT’S HAPPENING

More than 75% of consumers support philanthropic causes in their personal lives and many are actively contributing time and energy to make a positive impact.1 Additionally, 64% of consumers want food companies to be engaged in a public way regarding their social impact.1 Transparency – in all industries – is increasing with speed of access to information. In turn, consumers realize that they can ask to know more about the businesses they support in their daily lives.

WHAT WE THINK

Personal values are just that – personal. And while consumers are interested in knowing more about what you as a company support, it’s just as important to know “how”. With a complex landscape of priorities around sensitive topics like food access, waste, transparency, ethical sourcing and more, supporting a cause that aligns with your core values matters more than ever. Consumers want to see their dollars in action. In fact, more than 80% say that your public donations are the most convincing effort you can make to prove your support. 1

And what role does this play on a consumer’s “final decision”? When you are aligned, the positive impact makes a difference. In fact, 64% of consumers will continue to purchase from a specific brand or company even when a better product is available, simply because they value what that brand or company stands for. And 25% of those same consumers will not only continue to purchase, but they’ll encourage others to do the same. 1

WHAT’S NEXT

The integration of business, personal values and charitable causes will continue to grow in importance. Younger generations consistently skew their focus on what, why and how this is communicated, with the intention of making better informed decisions. This dynamic presents an opportunity to step back and think about how to push for a more socially integrated business.

 

[1] “Personal Values and Food.” Datassential. Datassential: Food with a Story. Foodscape 2. September 2018.

Personalized Nutrition

A rapidly growing trend, personalized nutrition – unique nutrition plans for an individual – is projected to grow $17 billion over the next 4 years.[1] This is the staggering prediction shared at Datassential’s recent Foodscape event, and it drove much of the content that was shared with the 400+ attendees in Chicago. Hyper-personalization is seen as the next evolution in healthy eating and it has the potential to impact the industry from every angle.

WHY IT’S HAPPENING

Customization is ingrained and expected on many fronts – today’s consumers are used to having products tailored to their needs and desires. Consider fashion, with companies like Stitch Fix providing personal styling and wardrobe items delivered directly to your door. Or grocery, with Amazon Prime reminding you which items are likely on your list based on prior orders. Or even any of the apps that serve us personalized content every day– Spotify, Netflix, Bitmoji, YouTube and more. It’s no longer “creepy” that brands know us so well. On the contrary, it’s expected. And it’s frustrating when they get it wrong.

WHAT WE THINK

It’s no surprise that this trend is making its way to food and beverage. Beyond the obvious extensions like fast casual restaurants that serve customized frozen yogurt / burrito / personal pizza / coffee / salad / you name it, consumers are constantly hunting better choices for their individual life experience. At the same time, over the past year we have seen the growing influence that Gen Z has on all food trends – their spend and influence is growing and, as we explored earlier this year, has the most substantial impact on “what’s next”.

Taking the cross section of “customization” and “Gen Z” a step further, 60% of younger consumers are beginning to use tech for food-related personal purposes. Think fitness trackers, recipe apps, food diaries and more. While the jump might seem steep, early studies show that progressive eaters indicate their interest in personalized apps and recipes. And this is where things start to get really interesting.[2]

As consumers integrate inputs from all parts of their life to provide a full view of wellness, personalized nutrition that incorporates basic biometrics, physical activity, known health issues/tendencies and more will inevitably influence the way people shop at retail and while dining out. What that looks like will evolve over time – but it’s certainly on the horizon.

WHAT’S NEXT

Food plans tailored to an individual’s unique “data” already exist. But only a small portion of the population is engaged with nutrition at that level. We’ll need to keep an eye on how more information shapes consumers’ decision-making criteria – and what role “taste” has in the process.

 

[1] “Personalized Nutrition and Food.” Datassential. Datassential: Food with a Story. Foodscape 2. September 2018.
[2] “52 Things We Learned & Experienced at Foodscape 2.” Datassential. Datassential: Issue 57. September 2018.

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