Self Checkout Markets And Food Trucks: Two Ways To Get Back Into Food And Revive The Business

Dec. 21, 2011
It’s a cliché to say it, but this often-stated maxim bears repeating: it’s not your father’s vending industry any more.
As we prepare for a holiday breather from our day to day activities, everyone in the convenience foodservice business should be thinking ahead to 2012 and the unique challenges and opportunities it brings. In reflecting on the events of this past year, I recognize two developments that bear an interesting commonality to each other: the remarkable growth of self checkout markets (increasingly referred to in our trade as micro markets) and of food trucks.Maybe Im being a Grinch to bring up a serious topic the week of holiday observances, but in reviewing the developments weve reported on this past year, I could not help but notice that both of these trends are driven by the consumers need for good meal values when and where they want them. The traditional vending industry faces an opportunity to grow with these trends or suffer as a result of them.Micro markets and food trucks are small industries within the spectrum of convenience foodservice. But both are growing at an exponential rate. Its hard to believe that these formats will not emerge into well established foodservice venues.The traditional vending industry is playing a major role in one of these formats, micro markets, and next to no role in the other, the food truck. Where vending operators have led the development of micro markets from the very beginning, the food trucks are operated by restaurants and independent entrepreneurs.For vending operators, both of these venues present a way to recover that portion of their business that has been lost over the past two decades: the food business. The decline in heavy manufacturing over the last two decades has decimated food vending.Many vending operators have welcomed the chance to remove the food machines, which in and of themselves are not usually profitable. But that was a short-term benefit. Over the long haul, fewer food machines have drawn fewer customers to the vending bank. Vending operators who have introduced micro markets have observed that the markets, with their massive product offerings, have allowed them to get back into the food business. And in a big way. Those vending operators who were already warehousing and producing food have found themselves at an advantage over those who did not.Food trucks are another opportunity operators need to consider. They are popping up by the thousands. Readers of VendingMarketWatch know that local governments are being pressured, by both the public and the restaurants, to regulate these restaurants on wheels.Last week, VendingMarketWatch reported that a large independent vending operator in the Greater Philadelphia area, Morning Start Services Inc. in Langhorne, Pa., successfully launched a food truck. Many of the products this truck offers are sourced from the companys main warehouse and kitchens.Vending operators have a lot on their plate nowadays, and expanding into a new venture takes a lot of time, investment and planning. But as they review their business plans this year, operators need to consider all growth opportunities and weigh these opportunities against the capabilities of their staffs.Its a clich to say it, but this often-stated maxim bears repeating: its not your fathers vending industry any more.