Since food trucks appeared on the restaurant scene, their perceivable threat to brick-and-mortar restaurants has been widely debated, and a recent survey conducted by The NPD Group, a global information company, finds that consumers replace a quick service restaurant (QSR) visit with a food truck visit. The NPD foodservice market research survey, which addressed the awareness and practice of obtaining foods and beverages from food trucks, asked respondents where they would have obtained their meal or snack if not from the food truck, and about half of the consumers surveyed said they would have ordered from a fast food restaurant. Another 20% of respondents said they would have skipped the meal altogether, implying their visit to the food truck was spontaneous or unplanned.
The top reasons consumers gave for using food trucks related to availability of “interesting” foods and convenience, which are the traditional strengths of QSR outlets, according to NPD. Since the top foods typically offered by food trucks are hot sandwiches, Mexican foods, cold sandwiches, and soups, Mexican and sandwich QSR places may view food trucks as more direct competition than other restaurant categories. Dayparts are another way in which food trucks compete with QSR outlets since the trucks are primarily used for lunch and snacking, which is likely due to the specific location and the food/beverage/snack items offered, finds NPD.
Although quick service restaurants have more reason than full service operators to be concerned about the prevalence and location of food trucks, another finding of the survey is that while some consumers are regular users, many make purchases from food trucks only very occasionally. Over half of those aware of food trucks in their area say they purchase from them once every two to three months or less often. Further, ordinances and permits vary from city to city, with many municipalities placing considerable restrictions on location and food offerings. In certain parts of the country, the weather and season also limit food truck availability outside of the spring/summer months.
“For now at least, food trucks need not be viewed as a threat to restaurant demand nationally,” said Bonnie Riggs, NPD Restaurant Industry Analyst. “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.”