The big boys are getting into the food truck business. In an effort to entice students to spend their food dollars on campus, the giants of managed food service; Aramark, Compass and Levy are hopping on the food truck trend. Because off campus dining eats away at their potential profit, the higher education food service providers are always looking for ways to compete with “the street”. Food Trucks, given their innovative and free spirited make up, have been popular with the Gen Y – 20 something crowd. That is a relationship that has perked the interest of managed food services.
According to an August Wall Street Journal article, Aramark is adding nine university run food trucks this fall and Bon Appetit is rolling out five. The corporations are anxiously watching this experiment because, by their very nature the food trucks and the Millennial’s tend to embody an anti establishment attitude. Their fear is that one sniff of a corporate hand in the food truck mix could have the idealistic students running for their favorite off campus indie taco shop.
And fearful they should be, as history is full of examples of the corporate world’s long arm reach compromising independent movements and products for the sake of profit. One need only look to the rock n’ roll movement of the 60’s and the resulting scorched earth approach the record label’s used to suck the life out of the greatest music of all time. “Rock is dead” screamed Roger Daltrey as the 70’s gave way to corporate commercial rock. Heck the car companies are still making money off of Zepplin.
Not to panic, there may be a compromise here for the food service management companies and the food truck industry. Aramark and Compass have big check books, each producing over 16 billion a year in sales. Their ability to fund innovation may just usher in a new chapter for the food truck industry; one that produces more efficient and compact trucks and a more fluid supply chain, not to mention the inevitable health code improvements which have dog eared the food truck industry since its reincarnation in 2008.
However, on the flip side these same companies have to avoid plugging the flow of creativity and food ingenuity. That’s often hard to avoid in an ivory tower of accountants. As long as the corporate execs realize their limitations and are open to outside innovation this could work. They would do well by bringing in partners, those with close ties to the independent food truck movement to keep their concepts, brands and menus fresh and compelling. Otherwise, the new corporate food trucks are going to morph into stale, generic stadium vendors selling dippin’ dots, bad hot dogs and nachos. The net affect being a watered down version of a very cool movement within the food industry. For Lester Bang’s sake isn’t there enough Muzak rock in our elevators already?