Successful Food Trucks Offer Valuable Lesson For Micro Markets As Convenience Food Revolution Unfolds

June 13, 2012
Many people in our industry think micro markets are the most exciting thing happening today. From my vantage point, I’m inclined to agree, but only to a degree.

Many people in our industry think micro markets are the most exciting thing happening today. From my vantage point, I’m inclined to agree, but only to a degree. The most important change that micro markets are bringing to automatic merchandising is they are getting vending operators back in the convenience food business, a business that has changed a lot since it was a big part of our industry.

Micro markets are bringing food back to our industry, and that means big change.

For years, we have reported how the decline in big locations has hammered the once prosperous food business. Vend food used to be such a big business that there was a whole cottage industry of commissaries that focused on food for refrigerated machines. Most of those commissaries have disappeared. The decline wasn’t entirely caused by worksite downsizing. Frozen machines came on the scene, minimizing food waste, and the frozen food manufacturers made big improvements in their products.

Enough old news!

Micro markets are bringing the food business back, making the break room a meal destination once again. Operators claim 30 to 40 percent of micro market sales are food.

This is great news. But operators have to recognize the food business has changed more than any product segment in the last few years, even coffee. The “three kings” of change are quality, variety and convenience. That’s why automatic merchandising has a better future than ever.

In a December blog, I observed that micro markets and food trucks are the two developments meeting the consumers’ need for good meal values when and where they want them. I also noted that between these two venues, the vending industry has taken the lead with the micro markets while restaurants and entrepreneurs have done so with food trucks.

Contributing editor Allen Weintraub has noted that operators cannot succeed with micro markets if they attempt to merchandise them they way they do vending machines.

This all hit me especially hard yesterday when I came across an article in Food Management, a magazine for onsite foodservice, on what onsite foodservice players are doing to succeed with food trucks. Food trucks, being new, are succeeding and failing at a rapid rate. This article pointed out what distinguishes many of the winners.

Successful food trucks are using mobile social media to involve customers in developing their menus, and the menus are anything but standard.

The article, titled “Menus On The Move” (  focuses mainly on how school foodservice operations use food trucks. But the lessons apply to any convenience foodservice venue. The trucks solicit feedback from customers and respond with new and exciting offerings. Menu favorites to date include Hawaiian burgers, buttermilk biscuits, hash brown nachos, apricot chili marinated lamb tacos with mango slaw, cocoa rice treat balls with Oreo, and much more.

Read this article and the application to micro markets will hit you like a ton of bricks. Micro markets, like food trucks, give customers the chance to be involved in their own food choices. Successful micro market operators will make it happen.