June 3, 2015

5 Things Food Trucks Can Teach us About Innovation Success

All across the country, trendy food trucks are driving into big cities and setting up shop in our hearts. What can we learn from these fast and agile entrepreneurs?

Our research revealed five valuable (and tasty) insights that can be applied to almost any type of business.


1.  Adapt… Then Move On. In many parts of the county, food trucks are a seasonal treat featuring dishes made with constantly changing local ingredients. Take, for example, Mei Mei Street Kitchen in Boston. Mei Mei is dedicated to working with locally sourced producers and suppliers—and has to factor in weather patterns and growing seasons as a result. The owners have responded to this challenge by establishing a menu that is updated almost daily.

Lesson: Find a low-risk way to experiment and establish ways to “fail fast and fail cheap.”


2. Start With What You Know. Many food trucks are born out of passion for simple dishes like sandwiches and tacos. Starting with a solid base and adding in a little experimentation can produce incredible flavors and profitable results. Just look at Hey PB&J, a food truck in Denver that serves up delicious riffs on the traditional peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Hey PB&J’s menu includes everything from a Cookies and Cream Sandwich, made with vanilla cream cheese, Nutella and Oreo cookies, to the Thai PB&J, made with spicy peanut butter, orange marmalade, coconut, fresh basil and crushed peanuts. The menu offers expertly concepted and wildly different options all based on a simple lunchtime dish.

Lesson: Innovation doesn’t have to be complicated to be great—a fresh take on the familiar can be just as groundbreaking as entirely new products.

FoodTruckGraphics_article_livetext-053.  Make It Personal. Although not as expensive as opening a traditional restaurant, a food truck requires an initial investment of $5,000 to $10,000 and countless hours. This means that the company’s success (or failure) is financially and emotionally personal for many owners. Roy Choi, often credited with starting the food truck craze and author of L.A. Son: My Life, My City, My Food, started his successful food truck business, Kogi, after losing a job and running low on funds. For Choi, his personal situation gave him the incentive and focus he needed to overcome the many challenges of owning a small business.

Lesson: Make it personal and pour yourself into your work—innovation success rarely comes to the apathetic.

4. Behold the Power of Partnerships.
Because of strong competition with brick-and-mortar restaurants, many food truck businesses see more consistent sales when two or more trucks offering complementary foods pair up. At The Little Fleet food truck court in Traverse City, Michigan, diners can find four to six food trucks parked side by side on any given day. This cooperative relationship offers an unmatched competitive advantage in terms of diversity of menu items and customer crossover compared to traditional restaurants.

Lesson: Seek strategic partnerships with clients, agencies and vendors that build a synergy that others can’t compete with.


Choose Your Team Carefully. On average, the kitchen area in a food truck is about 14 X 8 ft., and after you account for equipment and storage, cooks are often working in a space about the size of a Toyota Corolla. That means food truck owners look to hire cooks who not only understand timely food prep and customer service, but who also work well together as a team. After a 12-hour day spent bumping elbows over a hot stove, positive energy and complementary personalities are often what maintain team productivity.

Lesson: Think long and hard about who is the best fit for the team—and carefully match talent to the challenge at hand.

Have a favorite food truck experience or other examples of what food trucks can teach us about innovation? Leave your thoughts in the comments or shoot me an email at to talk more.

5 Things Food Trucks Can Teach us About Innovation Success from Seed Strategy

Eric Scheer is a Creative Director at Seed Strategy where he specializes in melding solid strategic thinking with powerful design. His “Big Lessons from Small Businesses” series explores what large companies can learn from small ones, informed by his 18 years of experience that include owning a start-up and working for several large agencies.

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