Keep Up With Consumers

How to start a mobile food business.


Keep Up With Consumers

You don’t have to have millions to own a franchise. One of the emerging international trends for 2013 is that of food trucks, and what’s great about them is that they’re far less capital intensive than traditional bricks and mortar, and there’s no pressure of being tied into a lease for years on end. And the best part is: If the customers move, you can follow them.

So cast away your memories of the only mobile food trucks being the neighbourhood ice-cream van and boerie rolls at sports events. Learn how to kick-start your very own mobile food business and cash in on a
growing sector.

Getting started

Even before you decide what foods to sell, you’ll want to consider how you want to sell them. This decision is based on evaluating:

  • Your start-up money, budget and potential for returns
  • Your commitment to the business: Part-time, full-time, occasional
  • Fulfilling your creative ideas
  • Your experience running a business
  • The size of the business you want to start
  • Your target market.

Kinds of mobile food platforms

When it comes to the mobile food industry, they come in various forms, capacity, functionality, and of course price tag. They can also appear pretty much anywhere there are people: Train stations, taxi ranks, airports, stadiums, conference centres, beaches, resorts, and even plazas in commercial hubs.

Fundamentally, increasingly busy people are seeking inexpensive breakfast, snack and lunch options on the go, and the mobile food concept is more appealing than ever.  Here are some options:

Food Kiosks

These are essentially booths or food stands that are temporary or mobile, and are used to prepare and sell food. Shopping centres and stadiums are popular locations. They can sell basic fare or more elaborate food. They typically have room for two people and have counter space.

Con: Generally, kiosks aren’t mobile under their own power, and their size limits inventory. As they’re typically found indoors in malls, stadiums, etc, kiosk owners need licensing agreements.

Food Carts and Concession Trailers

Best known as hot-dog and ice-cream carts, they’re one of the most cost-effective ways to start a mobile food business. They can be pulled by hand or towed, and food is typically prepared in advance so it’s pulled from the ice or quickly heated. Carts are also fairly easy to maintain and require less licensing than a food truck.

Con: The type of heating or cooling requirements of your food can be hampered by the cart option. Carts and trailers need to be towed which could limit potential locations.

Food Trucks

It can carry a larger amount of food and more sophisticated equipment. They typically stock sandwiches, kebabs, burgers, and other standard lunch fare. Internationally, trucks are  expanding to include vegetarian and vegan offerings.

Con: Food trucks need more space to park when doing business and when off-duty.  Having more equipment and space means they’re more expensive to buy, lease and maintain. Complying with food and health regulations for food trucks can also drive up costs.

Gourmet Food Trucks

The gourmet food truck takes food quality to a higher level than chips in a paper cup. They’re run by ambitious young chefs who offer cuisine not typically found in food trucks such as crepes, sushi, cupcakes, curry etc. These trucks tend to have specialties and themes, and let their clientele know where they’ll be parked through websites and social media.

Con: Depending on how high-end the ingredients and complex the recipe, gourmet food trucks will likely need a well kitted kitchen and food will need to be prepared on the spot which could cause queues.

Mobile catering Business

These differ in three main ways to food trucks: Catering trucks are hired for specific events, the person hiring the catering can order a specific menu, and food can either be handed out from the truck or set up buffet-style. As a caterer, you’re not risking inventory by bringing too much food, helping keep costs in check. A specified location also means you won’t have to worry if there will be customers.

Con: You need to line up enough work to support your business rather than just show up at an event.

Can you handle the heat?

  • It’s not easy: The food and beverage industry is a tough gig and takes a lot of hard work. A typical day can involve three to four hours of prep before going out to location – chopping veg, rolling dough, all the things that take up time and space in the truck. And you’ll have to make sure your ingredients stay fresh until they’re sold.
  • If you’ve got staff, are they properly trained in food prep and hygiene, portion control, and presentation? Just one bad experience for a customer can be bad news.
  • At the end of the day – either when you’ve run out or the crowds have gone – it’s clean up time for the next day.
  • Most mobile food vendors work ten-hour days, much of which is spent on their feet. Then time is needed to do book-keeping, pay bills and taxes, renew licence agreements, and handle other kinds of fun paperwork responsibilities.

Planning the menu

While almost any kind of food can be served up street-side, the big question is: How practical is it? Consider the following when planning:

  • What can you cook or teach someone?
  • What foods are popular in your area?
  • What ingredients are easy to get?
  • What foods are easy to transport?
  • What can you prepare and serve easily?
  • What foods can customers eat and carry around easily?
  • What foods are cost-effective to sell?
  • What foods are not being sold by 100 other food trucks?
  • What times of day will you operate?
  • Are you going to specialise in one or two foods with variations?

Test your food

Don’t start out with foods you have not thoroughly tested. You need to perfect each recipe to be sure it has the following qualities:

  • It’s easy to make repeatedly in large quantities
  • It tastes consistently good
  • It’s easy to serve
  • It travels well.

Due diligence

Remember, no matter how excited you are to start your mobile food business, like any other business make sure you have covered all your bases with the necessary permits, licences and certificates, and that you’ve conducted thorough market research.

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  • Dishen Govender

    where can i buy a food truck in SA ? i have been searching hi and low with no luck

    • admin

      Good morning Dishen,

      Thank you for your question!

      If you are looking for information on Food Trucks –you can check out the below websites:

      Mother Truckers –http://www.facebook.com/JHBFoodTrucks

      Good luck!