Every Friday night in the summer, where I live in Burlington, VT, it is Food Truck Friday. Some twenty trucks gather in a too-small parking area behind some cafes, and a madhouse ensues. This is happening in every city in the country. Granted, it’s a social scene as much as a food experience, but why are people so enthusiastic about it? Why are they willing to wait in very long lines and pay fairly high prices for a small delicacy served to them by a sweaty, bearded, and tattooed proprietor – and then have no place to sit down to eat? Because, it is unquestionably, and empirically authentic. You know this guy, or this gal (less the beard), is the real deal. Why else would they be hunched over in a tiny, humid kitchen with about the same floor space as an intern’s cubicle, making change for wadded up twenties, and frantically trying to keep from setting the whole operation on fire? Answer: they are foodies of the first order, and they have a gift for creating amazing, original food – else why subject themselves to this?
People want real. They want trust. They want a story. They no longer want factories directed by the suits following formulas. That’s why McDonald’s has a lot more problems than just simplifying their menu (though this will undoubtedly help). Big food manufacturers from Hormel to General Mills are rapidly buying up small brands with a story like Applegate Farms and Annie’s, hoping to catch a little bit of this real food mojo.
How can you food truck your brand?
- Find what’s small. Pete & Gerry’s Organic Eggs sells their brand up and down the East Cost. They are a reasonably large brand by this measure. But all of their partner farmers (the independent farms that contract to raise the hens) are small, family farms with maybe one or two free-range organic barns each. That’s the story Pete & Gerry’s shares with consumers because they can relate to that scale, and they trust that each farmer is as committed to their craft as the guy in the food truck.
- Tell your story. Show them your story on your packaging and in your ads. Be yourself. Let them see the real you, warts and all (which can’t be as bad as that tarot card tattoo that the food truck sushi burrito chick had on her forearm last Friday). King Arthur Flour has been selling their flour for 225 years and they make sure you know that. You don’t need to have been around that long to tell your story, however. KAF also makes sure that you know that this is the story of bakers. Not people who bake from occasional necessity (birthday cakes), but people who bake for joy. They are not all professionals either. The experiments are part of the learning and the joy. That creates a shared connection with the people who care most about the quality of their flour, and who go through the biggest quantity of flour as well.
- Simplify – Food trucks define simplicity for people as they can see the entire operation from start to finish right before their eyes. The menu is simple too, maybe 5 items. People like simple. They trust simple. It makes decisions easier, and who doesn’t need that? Does your brand list 17 different product benefits from “gluten free” to “fair for life” on your label? These are all nice things perhaps, but they get in the way of the essential truth about you and your product. Heady Topper, the wildly popular Double IPA from Vermont, has just three things on their label, the brewer name and location, the varietal name, and a drawing that captures the essence of this whimsical, yet intricate, craft ale. Your brain can take it all in in an instant, and you don’t need to have ever heard of the beer before to have a pretty good idea of what it is all about. Once you taste it, then you can read more about their story and this brew on the back of the can, when you’re actually receptive to the information, and not before.