Food Trucks: A Key Incubator for CPG Innovation

Leave it to Americans to combine our love for food and our love of trucks into a hip culinary movement. Food trucks are freaking in. And my wacky generation especially, is all over it. The appeal of these mobile restaurant platforms is that they only offer a few specific things, which allows them to do those things really, really well. This also allows for a lot of innovation, fusion, and experimentation, which as we will see, serves as an indirect incubator, which in turn has a big impact on the CPG industry.

Food trucks have been around a long time in various formats, such as ice cream trucks and those general mobile food kiosks employers order for worksites, but the gourmet food truck is a recent phenomenon that is challenging how we eat. My first experience with a food truck was years ago in Austin, where I was amazed that I could enjoy empanadas while still suffering and standing in the heat. Presently I eat at food trucks whenever I can, because I know I can get a truly authentic or unique meal in a fast, convenient way. For those interested in the charm of food trucks, I highly suggest the 2014 film, “Chef.”

According to a 2013 report from the International Dairy Deli Bakery Association about emerging cheese trends, gourmet grilled cheese food trucks are a key factor in exposing consumers to different cheese varieties they might have not previously known about or been willing to purchase in stores. Being able to sample foods and ingredients you might often overlook can have a dramatic impact on what is in future shopping baskets. For example, sampling “the Tradicion” from Chicago’s very own gourmet grilled cheese food truck, “Cheesie’s,” may definitely incline impressed consumers to seek out the Chihuahua cheese in this specific dish.

Evidence for the impact of food trucks on the CPG industry can also be seen in ongoing rise of gourmet ethnic foods. A perfect example of this is the now popular Vietnamese noodle soup, “pho.” Years ago, many of us not living in certain places on the West Coast would not be familiar with this dish, let alone know how to pronounce it (like ‘fuh’). Now, large brands like Annie Chun’s and Pacific Foods are making this popular street dish available at our local grocery stores. Food trucks play a large part in distributing and promoting cuisines such as this, especially in places where traditional Vietnamese or other ethnic restaurants do not yet exist.

Many recent flavor combinations in CPG products owe some of their influence to food trucks, which are a prime place to experience ‘fusion’ foods, a creative blend of different cuisines. Fusion dishes found in food trucks such as kimchi tacos, tempura shrimp, or bacon-wrapped rice cakes challenge our palates and offer opportunities for CPG brands to innovative their flavor or ingredient profiles.

I myself often make fine quesadillas at home, which I know would absolutely kill it in a food truck format. “Jared’s Quiller Quesadillas” would have only have a few things on the menu; 1) Jared’s original “Garlic Sriracha Four-Cheese Quesadilla,” and 2) the brand new “Garlic A-1 Sauce Four-Cheese Quesadilla.” (The secret is my next level innovation and what I use to marinate the tortillas. A third BBQ Ranch flavor is currently in the works and is rumored to unveil sometime this year. If I ever had any time to launch a startup, this idea could perhaps even be successful. Regardless, my point here is that unorthodox flavor combinations could potentially provide new avenues of CPG innovation.

Food trucks are a leading incubator for flavoring and culinary trends in general. A smart brand would pay close attention to what is going on in this arena to get ideas for innovating their own products. For those unfamiliar with food trucks, I highly suggest attending an event around these fine mobile food dispensaries. Chicago has the “Chicago Food Truck Fest,” which occurs this year on June 27th and 28th . I went to this specific fest a few years back and had a blast, but I was boring and only got chips and guacamole. This year I plan on getting the weirdest food combos I can find, sample some different beers, and write a somewhat sarcastically-toned blog on it. Nowadays people don’t really have time to go to a restaurant, or god forbid, make their own food. So keep on (food) truckin’!