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

Pitch Slam: Scale Series Finale

We’re wrapping up the summer Scale Series with a recap of this years’ MN Cup Food Ag & Beverage Pitch Slam. The Scale Series has focused on the food and beverage start-up scene, with a look at how entrepreneurs are impacting this innovative industry. And the pitch slam was a perfect place to see it all in action.

PITCH SLAM?

The Food, Ag & Beverage division of the MN Cup held this years’ pitch slam on August 22 and included a full evening of events and awards. Prior to the program itself, more than 20 local MN food and beverage companies set up booths to showcase their brands and provide samples for the attendees (it’s open to the public!). There was a wide range of “start-ups” represented, from Toom, a Lebanese Garlic Dip to GroShed, a pre-fabricated hydroponic gardening system.

The program kicked off with a message around connectivity from Carla Vernon, President of the Natural & Organic unit at General Mills. Working with brands like Annie’s and Epic Provisions, there are so many examples of how the ecosystem of food continues to become more intertwined.

The ten semifinalists showed up ready to pitch. Having seen these companies up close from a “business plan” perspective over the past few months, it was incredible to see how each of the semifinalists brought their story to life in such a compelling way. With just three minutes on the timer, the semifinalists pitched their business to an engaged audience. Sharing their story, the state of their business and progress made to date, and their vision for the future, it was an inspiring evening that truly showcased the innovation happening “in our own backyard”.

JTM Scale Award

This year, our team vetted the semifinalists with rigor to determine who would receive the JTM Scale Award of $25K of in-kind agency services. We knew that winner would be a highly sought-after account here at the agency – our team will likely battle a bit for who gets to work on the business. We were thrilled to award Atlas Provisions as this year’s winner! In the words of the team, the company is “nailing it with a terrific story and great product at the intersection of amplifying consumer trends in snacking”. And, we absolutely love the story that this entrepreneur, Sarah Pritzker, is solving for and her dedication to the entire process. Atlas Provisions is a snacking brand that aims to bring global flavors with a story and a mission to local consumers. The lotus seed pops are high in magnesium and potassium, made with only ingredients you would find in your pantry, and are delicious in our experience of all four flavors!

WINNERS

The event concluded with a number of other awards from enablers like the Department of Agriculture who awarded funds to Hoyo and Planet Princess, as the “Most Ready to Grow”. The “Powered by the Crowd” winner was Atlas Provisions, for additional funding support. And of course, the finale included the announcment of the three semifinalists that are continuing on to the next phase of the MN Cup. A big congratulations to Nutraphagia (the EAT bar), Nexyst360 and Sanos Nutrition!

WHAT’S NEXT

It has been another exciting season to date with the MN Cup and we can’t wait to get work underway with Atlas Provisions. As we get the chance to work closely with the founder, we know that there will be exciting work ahead. As for the broader competition, one of the three semi-finalists will make it to the final round of MN Cup, scheduled to take place on October 14th at the Carlson School of Business.

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.

Sweets + Snacks Expo

We have been on the road a fair amount in 2019 to industry events and trade shows. A new one for us, Sweets and Snacks Expo, took place in Chicago May 21-23 at McCormick Place with an estimated 15,000 people in attendance. Snacking has continued to carve out its own daypart as consumers of all ages (yes, younger generations at a more significant pace) are turning toward a more frequent and convenient eating lifestyle. We saw how this is playing out in the $86 billion market of snack ($51 billion) and confectionary ($35 billion) first-hand.[1]

STAND OUT BOOTHS

A colleague with prior Sweets and Snacks Expo experience dubbed the show “like Trick or Treating for adults”. I have to agree. I also have to admit that in many cases, I’d take the “trick” over the treat if that’s what the booths were intended to deliver. The quality of the booths at this food show stood out more than any I’ve been to when it came to experience and creativity.

       

WHAT’S TRENDING?

It isn’t too surprising that many of the same trends we shared from Natural Products Expo West the past couple of years are making their way into mainstream CPG products. Plant-Based, Adventurous Flavors, and Fats + Fads (think: anti-sugar, and proliferation of Keto-friendly) were all prominent themes throughout the show. It was interesting to see how these themes showed up in both legacy products and newer formats.

         

WHAT’S NEXT

We’ll continue to expect rapid innovation from this category. Not only due to the fact that it’s quickly becoming a dominant daypart but also because it’s inherently a factor required for brands to remain relevant. When new products account for nearly 5% of sales in snacks and over 6% in confectionary as compared to 3% in overall consumer packaged goods, it’s a great place to turn for inspiration in product, format and overall brand experiences.

[1]“Top Trends at Sweets & Snacks 2019.” Watrous, Monica. Food Business News. May 21, 2019.

Series: JTM Scale

Last month we kicked off 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. This is the start of the 15th season of the Minnesota Cup, the largest and most impactful statewide start-up competition in the country. Connecting emerging entrepreneurs with tools, resources and support to further new ventures, there is a lot of momentum going into this year’s competition.

SO, WHAT’S HAPPENING?

At the end of May, the semi-finalists for each of the nine divisions were announced. A total of 88 teams will continue on the path to compete for their share of $500,000 in prize money – not to mention incredible mentorship, connections and in-kind sponsorships along the way.[1] As active participants in the Food, Agriculture and Beverage division, we were excited to meet the entrepreneurs and see elevator pitches from each of the teams this past Thursday, June 6th.

Food/Ag/Beverage

 

The turnout to the event itself was strong – the auditorium at the Carlson School of Management was packed with an engaged audience. A combination of judges, mentors, other entrepreneurs, and general enthusiasts filled the seats which made for a high-energy platform. With just one minute each, the live pitches were a perfect glimpse into the story behind the business and a quick opportunity to “give a face to the name” of the entrepreneur. The semi-finalists in our division represent a wide range of products and solutions and they maximized their 60 seconds. I have to say, I walked away pretty excited about what I saw within the top 10!

WHAT’S NEXT

Over the next 60 days, the semi-finalists will be in the thick of the season – getting paired with local mentors (one of the benefits most highly spoken of by past participants), working on their next round of submission materials and taking part in education seminars offered through the program. The next milestone is August 22, where the the top 10 semi-finalists will compete in a division-wide “Pitch Slam”. During the event, JTM will announce the recipient for this years’ JTM Scale award, $25,000 of advertising expertise and brand development resources in an effort to help propel one of these great brands forward. We’re excited to see how this season shapes up – so far, it’s looking like it will be pretty fierce!

[1]“2019 Semifinalists.” MN Cup. University of Minnesota. May 30, 2019.

 

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.

See What We Saw at SIAL

SIAL 2018 is a 5-day food innovation exhibition that took place last week in Paris, France. The largest international food and beverage innovation show, there were over 7,200 exhibitors from 119 countries around the world. And in a space that spanned the equivalent of more than 100 supermarkets end to end, there were more than 400,000 products shared across the 300,000 stakeholders from the industry.

SIAL 2018 is a 5-day food innovation exhibition that took place last week in Paris, France.

WHY WE WERE THERE

Aside from the sheer scale itself, this show is not to be missed when it comes to understanding food trends at a global scale. We’ve attended a number of North American-based shows like Expo West and Fancy Foods, and we’ve seen that innovation in food and beverage is occurring across nearly every category—rapidly. SIAL provided a unique EU and global viewpoint. It showcased trends that align with what is happening in different markets around the world – a combination of innovation and representation of high-demand consumer products in familiar categories.

SIAL had specific tracks dedicated to sharing these trends in an organized fashion – innovation, culinary, and country/region representation—in an atmosphere that was inspiring and interactive. A “Future Lab” captured what may be the biggest influencers on the industry by the year 2030. And by gathering producers, distributors, brands (both large and small), restaurateurs and ingredient providers, this was truly a show that brought the global food industry together for a productive week.

WHAT’S NEXT

We came back with a lot to share – including what we saw on the show floor, the seminars we attended hosted by leading research firms, trends and innovations, and the many conversations with industry stakeholders around the world. Over the upcoming issues of Thought for Food, we will be sharing our thoughts and experiences with you.

 

Photo credit: SIAL Paris

Start-Ups: Getting Local

With an $18 billion shift since 2011 from big food companies to small food entrepreneurs in the food and beverage industry, consumers continue to put their money where their mouth is when it comes to diversifying the products in their shopping cart and in their home.[1] Minneapolis – home to us and many of our clients – has a rich history in the food industry. That makes our backyard a hot spot for emerging trends, continued innovation, new brands, and an ecosystem that continues gaining strength.

WHY IT’S HAPPENING

Minnesota is home to 74,500 farms and the food and beverage industry employs more than 49,000 people, while contributing $4.9 billion to the state’s economy each year. We have more than 700 food companies, and many of them are Fortune 500 companies supported with incredible talent and experience.[2]

Grow North is “a central hub for resources, a mobilizing connector and ecosystem navigator” and an example of a ground-up network that has been established to drive intentional connection between entrepreneurs and organizations, in an effort to support growth in our food and beverage community. Just around the corner, the first ever Food Ag Ideas Week will take place in St. Paul and Minneapolis, a week-long platform centered around topics like sustainable agriculture, food innovation and tech, and food and society.

Minnesota isn’t the first to bring together a broad industry representation to discuss progressive topics in this space. Other innovative food hubs – Colorado, Austin, and more – also see the importance of coming together (big and small, across the industry) as a reflection of the greater social and economic role that food and beverage play in the community.

WHAT WE THINK

It’s energizing and more important than ever to keep our finger on the pulse in our local community. There is so much happening in our own backyard that it can be challenging to determine what events and activities to prioritize. So our team has committed to spending more time out in the community where the action is happening, with both big and small companies. What we’ve found so far is that there is no shortage of passion on all fronts and a united desire to support success.

WHAT’S NEXT

If the trend continues, there will be more fragmentation and even bigger demand, creating a structure that leverages knowledge-sharing and drives innovation among food and agricultural leaders. Tactically, what’s next for us is to head out to some of the many upcoming roundtables, panels and discussions.

We hope to see you at FAI! There are still spots available: Register Here

 

[1] “Millenials are driving an $18 billion food revolution.” Marinova, Polina. Fortune. October 2015.
[2] “Food & Beverage Products Made in Minnesota.” Boehm, Jessica Walker. Livability. October 2016.

Future Farms of America: Listen Up

The future of farming likely looks very different than what you might think. I recently visited a number of farms in western Minnesota where the Redwood County Farm Bureau hosted a tour that exposed us to modern agriculture production – the practices, challenges and opportunities on the horizon for the industry. This outing came on the heels of many other discussions over the past year at events, including Esca Bona and Expo West, focused on “good food movements” and further confirms the systemic changes underway.

WHY IT’S HAPPENING

People will always have to eat. It’s one of the things we love about being in this industry – it’s always changing, but it’s always in demand. However, the population is growing at a rate that requires farmers globally to increase production by 70%1 in coming years to feed the 9.1 billion people expected to be alive in 2050. Simultaneously, income levels are increasing within developing countries which gives consumers a larger voice to demand quality food products that align with their nutrition needs and preferences.

This is forcing a number of farming components to change dramatically and rapidly. The two that stand out from the discussions highlighted on our farm tours? The growers and the technology.

WHAT WE THINK

According to the 2012 agriculture census, growers who are older than 65 outnumber farmers who are younger than 45 for the first time in history.1 The prediction is that farming will continue to consolidate to more mid- and large-scale farms and that the younger farmers will approach the business from a “farm-management” position. Research indicates that Millennial growers are educated (57% have a bachelor degree), tech-focused, and business-savvy.2 They also view farming as a business and a lifestyle – and that as a demographic they are highly purpose-driven.2 This was backed by every farmer who spoke on the tour, who shared that the passion is rooted in much more than the business itself. For younger growers, it is truly a way of life.

Technology showed up in some surprising ways along the tour, but most interesting was the impact it is making on effective farming practices. The dairy farm we visited was managed by people but operated by robots. The implementation of robots allowed this farmer to remain in business – without it, the labor costs would have been too much to compete with larger producers. Apart from robots, many farms rely on imaging from drones to inform soil and field analysis. This data can be critical in maximizing production through planting, spraying, monitoring and harvesting.

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 steep challenges ahead that will depend on innovative thinking and a purpose-driven approach.

[1] “Trending 2050: Future of Farming.” McMahon, Karen. Syngenta. Thrive. Spring 2017.
[2] “Millennial are Increasingly Making Key Farming Decisions.” Maulsby, Darcy. Syngenta. Thrive. Winter 2017.

Crickets: They’re What’s for Dinner

“One hundred thousand crickets…in your basement?” With this excerpt from a recent conversation, Eric Palen, a local entrepeneur who is in the business of farming insects as food, raised a lot of questions and even more eyebrows about this growing trend. After the “gross factor” fades, the facts emerge. It turns out we’ve found a new source of protein that’s compelling for… well, a number of surprisingly good reasons.

Nearly 2,000 insect species are already a part of diets across the globe and they’re making their way to North America in a variety of forms. In fact, the global edible insect market is forecasted to grow to $153.9M in North America by 2023 and over $1 billion worldwide.1

GOOD GOD, WHY?

As the world population grows along with a demand on global resources, alternative protein sources are a heightened concern. Insects take less of a toll on these resources while still delivering a compelling nutrition profile.

Insect farming, on average, requires significantly less land, water and feed than other species – especially with the recent adoption of modern agricultural practices like vertical farming in place. To produce 1 kg of beef, 38x more land, 23x more water and 12x more feed are required compared to insects. This results in approximately 1800x the greenhouse gas emissions.

In conversation with Palen, post-growth production of cricket protein is pretty straightforward. To harvest the crickets, he freezes them before washing, boiling and roasting them. From there, they can be consumed in “whole cricket” form or alternatively, ground down into a powder for use in smoothies, chocolate, protein bars or breads.

On the nutrition front, crickets (whether in “whole” or “powder” form) contain comparable levels of protein to beef and higher levels of iron. They are considered a complete protein source – containing all of the essential amino acids, omega 3 and 6 fatty acids, and are high in both calcium and vitamin B12.2 It is easy to see why this food source would be explored further as we begin to think creatively about how to effectively feed a growing world population.

WHAT WE THINK

Environmental and nutritional considerations alone don’t make me want to top a Cobb salad with roasted crickets. That being said, we can’t overlook the logic in why and how insects might be a part of the North American food pyramid moving forward. Already commonplace in many large markets around the world, it may just take some time – and experience – to find out how they fit.

As cricket powder and flour makes its way into mainstream through more familiar formats, like bars and breads, there will be a more approachable delivery to educate consumers on the social, environmental and nutritional benefits of insects as protein. It will be an important link in the food chain to keep an eye on as it brings up real issues of “food and footprint” – and how we responsibly balance impact with real consumer demand.

WHAT’S NEXT

Not unlike most new product launches, crickets and other insects will likely gain adoption through innovators and early adopters. Eating an insect is, admittedly, a highly Instagrammable moment, and we see that venues and restaurants have an opportunity to lead from two primary places: experience and culture. Outside of the “wow-factor”, many insect dishes are traditional to various regions and offer chefs a new product to experiment with in menu development. When it comes to edible insects, powder may increase in quantity more rapidly, but whole form will drive awareness with visual impact. 

Just some Thought for Food™

[1] “Insects as Food.” Warren, Haley. de Sousa, Agnieska. Rekoaa, Roni. Bloomberg. July 2018.
[2] “Little Herds: Feeding the Future with Insects”. Articles and Iconographic(s) provided by Little Herds.

Questions, comments or want to learn more? Let's connect! weshouldtalk@jtmega.com

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