Restaurantology Blog

Should food trucks be a part of your ICP?

February 21, 2022 | Trends and Advice | by Grant Gadoci

Companies who sell food, products, software, or services to restaurants often wonder the same thing: does what we sell benefit food truck operators?

When creating your Ideal Customer Profile (ICP), that is to say when specifying the DNA of your ideal restaurant customer, a variety of factors may influence whether or not it makes sense to pursue mobile restaurants. In this post we will work to:

  1. Better define this segment of the industry
  2. Discuss why selling to food trucks may be difficult, and
  3. Highlight instances where adding food trucks to your ICP may make good business sense.

Let’s dig in.

How many food trucks are there?

Food trucks and their counterparts, such as food carts, farmer’s market stands, food kiosks, and mobile restaurants to name a few, are estimated to total over 30,000 units in the United States. From a Total Addressable Market (TAM) perspective, there’s definitely a good reason to consider chasing this segment of the market, one that continues to grow both in popularity and its overall footprint in the industry.

From a business perspective, there are several key factors that make opening a food truck far more attractive than its brick-and-mortar restaurant counterpart, including:

  1. Lower start-up cost(s) – less capital, fewer permits, cheaper licenses
  2. Reduced ongoing cost(s) – less staff wages, purchases, lower rent & utilities
  3. Interesting perks – targeted menu, reduced hours, increased control/flexibility

Collectively, these factors can make it very attractive to test out new business ideas and concepts in smaller, more controlled circumstances, but they can also complicate the selling process for companies who primarily target the restaurant industry.

What makes it difficult to sell to food trucks?

When it comes time to assess whether or not food trucks should be included in your ICP, you’ll want to have a tried-and-true qualification method that helps you quickly validate any existing potential before moving on to the next prospect. For this exercise, we’ll use BANT:

  • Budget
  • Authority
  • Need (Fit)
  • Timeline

Just like with restaurants, food trucks are going to have very strict budgetary constraints. Margins are thin, profits are tight, and budgets are often non-existent. Regardless of the value-add to the business, price is often negotiated to its absolute floor, and therefore the cost of doing business with a food truck can often prohibit companies from building the teams, territories, and strategies that include them. It just costs too much.

Next, similar to mom-and-pop restaurants, finding the owner/operator of a food truck with the authority, interest, and intent to purchase something from you can be difficult, time consuming, and largely a manual operation. Mobile restaurants are often independent, meaning they don’t have multi-unit footprints that increase the overall value of the deal. No single company, or even handful of companies or franchises, currently hold any significant market share concentration that would make it easier to reach a relevant level of penetration in this segment. This can leave you Googling for a single-unit owner’s email address, or reaching out to whoever manages their Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram trying to gauge their interest. This takes time.

As if “they’re small, hard to find, and have tight budgets” weren’t enough to help you draw your conclusion, another more common reality might help speed things up: they just don’t need what you offer. Positioning your product or service as a need-to-have, and not a nice-to-have, is tough. Food trucks can get by with a fraction of what their restaurant counterparts need to run their business. Things that can weigh down the operations of a restaurant — inventory, scheduling, marketing, etc. — can realistically be done manually without too much of a problem. Simply put, they often pride themselves on, and survive by, keeping things simple.

Lastly, the decision-making timeline for food trucks can be difficult to navigate. Many kiosks can run on drastically reduced hours of operation, such as evenings or weekends only, or can be entirely seasonal, like a gelato or shaved ice cart open May through September. Establishing a clear “why buy now” mentality could be a bit of an uphill battle. They will not adopt your sense of urgency.

When does it make sense to add food trucks to your ICP?

If we haven’t already scared you off… now the good part! There are many instances where selling to food trucks makes great business sense. Foodservice distributors offering food and beverage products — think US Foods, Sysco, Ben E. Keith, etc. — are the most obvious and, thus, are the first that jump to mind.

There’s also the adjacent market of people selling non-food products that directly impact food truck operations, selling a variety of things like cookware, sanitizers and disinfectants, fryer oil cleaning pods,  and any of the thousands if not millions of old and new offerings currently trending in the industry. Provided the cost of the product and the size of the sales organization warrant the investment in reaching 30k+ largely independent operators, this could make great sense.

Lastly, a portion of the food truck industry may appreciate the help with web services (companies that specialize in creating restaurant websites like BentoBox, Popmenu, Ordereze), POS and/or online ordering, third-party delivery, social media and PR services, feedback and loyalty providers, and any other tech stack investments that help them improve their online presence while maximizing the efficiency of their business. The 2 crucial things to remember here are that [1] not every food truck will require these services, and [2] you should assess the overall cost before adding them to your ICP.

Conclusions

There are only 2 guarantees when it comes to selling to food trucks: they will need food, and they will need to be compliant with regulations. Anything other than that, whether we like it or not, is an “extra.” They do not have to have a POS. The may choose to be cash-only (no CC processing). They might not need a traditional website.

The one thing that is for sure, though, is that if you have a product or service that can be sold profitably to independent food truck operators, there are literally tens of thousands of possibilities out there. You just need to find them.