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Food Trucks: A Threat or Expanding the Market?

The Informal Eating Out (IEO) market is what McDonald’s executives like to call the total universe of away-from-home dining options open to consumers. It includes restaurants of all types, of course, and, increasingly, it also includes mobile food trucks in most large markets.

Ready to roll: Boston’s Baddest Burger & Sandwich Co.

So it’s not really surprising that new research conducted by The NPD Group finds that money spent on food-truck meals is money that could have gone to a traditional quick-service restaurant. In fact, half the adults surveyed said they would have gone to a QSR had they not eaten food from a truck or cart. Another 20% say they would have skipped the meal altogether, so in that sense food trucks are expanding the IEO universe while also taking sales from other options.

NPD finds that the most-often-cited reasons for patronizing a food truck or cart is the availability of “interesting” foods. That makes sense to anyone who has enjoyed a Pork Burger at Los Angeles’ Flatiron Truck: A 5-oz. pork patty with bacon-tomato jam, pickled red onions, arugula and Manchego cheese in a brioche bun. Brick-and-mortar restaurants can compete with menu items like that, but not with “convenience,” which is the second-most-mentioned reason for food-truck dining.

The burger with Japanese tomato jam, jalapeno-Jack cheese, fried egg Japanese BBQ sauce and crispy onion strings from Yume Burger in Austin, Texas.

Food trucks’ ability to follow the crowds is double-edged: It heightens convenience but lessens repeat business and loyalty. NPD finds that more than half of adults aware of food trucks in their area say they patronize them once every two to three months or less often.

What do food trucks offer? NPD finds that 71% have hot sandwiches; 61% have Mexican food; 44% menu cold sandwiches; 24% feature soups; and 22% have salads.

The slider lineup at Dallas’s Easy Slider truck.

“For now at least, food trucks need not be viewed as a threat to restaurant demand nationally,” Bonnie Riggs, NPD restaurant industry analyst, said in a statement. “However, in markets with a developed food truck presence, QSR operators may wish to take note of the benefits food trucks offer, such as different and fresh food, especially as a means to build their snack business and/or protect lunch traffic.”

While some of the best trucks have gone brick-and-mortar (such as Grill ’Em All in Alhambra, Calif., and Brunch Box in Portland, Ore.), many chains and burger joints are hitting the road. Among the indies with trucks are Los Angeles’ Rounds and Pie ‘n Burger, BRGR in Pittsburgh, New York City’s GO Burger, Sacramento’s Krush Burger and Baltimore’s Kooper’s Tavern. To help operators better know the mobile competition and to learn what’s being offered out there, BurgerBusiness.com offers a list of “55 Burger Trucks Worth Finding.” Check the menus. They’re all members of the IEO universe.

If your burger-menu food truck is among the many not listed, leave a comment and set us straight.

1 comment to Food Trucks: A Threat or Expanding the Market?

  • Kevin Devine

    This is true. I was at GenCon in Indianapolis this weekend and a lot of the restaurants were saying that their dailies were down from last year and the major difference were the number of food trucks able to park right next to the convention center. Since the convention actually had more people than last year the food trucks had to be taking some of that business.

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