Back in 2012, the U.S. food truck industry for the first time blew past the $1 billion revenue mark (it in fact reached $1.5 billion that year), making it one of the fastest-growing sectors of the national food and restaurant market. Still, food trucks are often seen as the enemy of local restaurants. Just as cab drivers have taken to protesting Uber and other ride-hailing services, brick-and-mortar restaurant groups have rallied in cities across the nation to ban or limit food trucks.
But what do food trucks actually mean for urban economies? What impact do they have on local restaurants, food industries, and our choices as consumers?
A recent study from Elliot Anenberg of the Washington, D.C. Federal Reserve System and Edward Kung of UCLA takes a detailed look at the economy and geography of food trucks in our nation’s cities. To get at this, the study uses unique data on food trucks from the U.S. Census Bureau and a dataset of daily Washington, D.C. food truck locations, as well as social media data from Twitter and Google Trends. The study is particularly interested in the connection between food trucks and new digital technologies—especially social media—and how food trucks make use of them. Here are its five big takeaways.
1. Twitter is a big factor in food truck location.
Food-seeking flocking behaviour.
2. The connection between food trucks and digital technology is greater in big, dense cities.
Network effect, more nodes, and more importantly, more connections. Check out Valdis Krebs.
3. When it comes to location, variety matters a lot.
We, birds, humans, weasels, get bored eating the same stuff. And to maintain health we need to eat different stuff. Variety matters. Duh.
4. Food truck location is spiky.
Even normal economics understands this power law effect.
5. Food trucks cause households to spend more money on eating out.
See 3 and 2.
Complexity fans will have spotted the lack of underpinning theory in the otherwise excellent CityLab piece. So I provided it, in bold italics. You’re welcome.