Some supermarket operators have embraced the latest foodservice trend by opening up their parking lots to food trucks, and creating a special weekly event that no doubt has increased in-store traffic and parking lot excitement — more often than not with customers who had never even shopped the store before.
Food trucks and pop-up restaurants have brought new excitement — and new talent — to an industry that typically looked forward to little more than the next dollar menu offering. So, what's next?
With colleges offering courses on how to operate, merchandise, market and advertise food trucks comes a new generation of food professional. A marketer/cook who knows about interesting foods and how to get people to want them enough to follow their truck's whereabouts on Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare and wait breathlessly for their arrival?
So I have to wonder why supermarket executives are just waiting in line for their gourmet ice creams, bison hot dogs, dumplings, waffles and falafel balls alongside everyone else?
There are many lessons to be learned from the food truck phenomenon, some of which we've explored before in this very column, but the one that frustrates me the most is why our supermarket industry is not reaching out to these food truck entrepreneurs and hiring or partnering with them.
Many are using their food trucks or pop-up restaurants as a stairway to opening up their own restaurants or food stores. Getting cash and experience to start their food careers. However, in today's world of social networking and technologies, they are leading the way for all of us to understand how we can, and should, market foods.
I am not suggesting that supermarkets have a fleet of food trucks that roam the neighborhood — what I am saying is that we constantly lament how our industry needs to attract (and keep) new young talent. We fund scholarship programs, hold seminars dedicated to training, and too often have too little to show for the effort. Perhaps our lesson from the food truck phenom is that we need to add excitement.
Go out and talk to these food truck operators and you will quickly feel their passion — they are having fun, feel they are part of what's next and dedicated. With a laptop next to their stove or freezer, they are the ultimate food multitaskers: Cooking, serving, tweeting, engaging and building a loyal following. They work hard. And they work differently.
The prepared food department in a typical supermarket is loaded with fresh, tasty foods displayed under glass or packaged in black plastic plates with dome lids and adorned with stickers crammed with cooking information, nutritionals, price and too often a day-glo sticker shouting “fresh.”
Imagine what could happen if we put this food truck generation in charge.
Phil Lempert is contributing editor of Supermarket News and CEO of The Lempert Report and SupermarketGuru.com.