• 08.27.13

Food Trucks Could Slowly Be Replacing Fast Food

Taco trucks and other street fare are becoming the preferred alternative to grabbing lunch at the quick-serve restaurant up the block, a survey finds. Will the fast food industry adapt?

Food Trucks Could Slowly Be Replacing Fast Food
[Image: Food Truck, Miker via Shutterstock]

Okay, we know: Food trucks are now a thing to be made fun of if you live in a place where they’re ubiquitous. Fewer things scream “fad!” or “everything irritating about foodie culture!” than a well-placed food truck touting artisanal pastries or deconstructed sandwiches that tries to compete with the brick-and-mortar version across the street.


But how do food trucks compete with fast food? According to a new survey on restaurant eating habits, it looks like food trucks (including, but not limited to, those super fancy ones) are stealing customers away from the maximized output, minimized quality, and awful labor models of yore.

The NPD Group, a market research company, has published a national survey based on 400,000 visits to food establishments, asking consumers who ate at food trucks where they would have eaten if the food truck weren’t there. Half answered they would have gone for fast food, while 20% said they would haven’t gotten anything at all. In addition, respondents said they’d prefer to go for something more “interesting” than fast food, also referred to as QSRs (quick-service restaurants) in the survey:

The top reasons consumers gave for using food trucks related to availability of “interesting” foods and convenience, which are the traditional strengths of QSR outlets, according to NPD. Since the top foods typically offered by food trucks are hot sandwiches, Mexican foods, cold sandwiches, and soups, Mexican and sandwich QSR places may view food trucks as more direct competition than other restaurant categories. Dayparts are another way in which food trucks compete with QSR outlets since the trucks are primarily used for lunch and snacking, which is likely due to the specific location and the food/beverage/snack items offered, finds NPD.

It’s interesting to note that Mexican food was one of the most popular kinds of fare served at food trucks, given that Latinos comprise 24% of the food service industry. Does that mean national tastes are finally changing to reflect more of our country’s diversity, and fast food restaurants that stick to old standards are culturally behind?

That remains to be seen. NPD Group maintained that food trucks don’t pose a threat to overall restaurant demand, but encouraged fast food joints to “take note” of certain benefits, like fresher food, that food trucks offered customers. If fast food restaurants want to “protect” their lunch traffic, that is.

About the author

Sydney Brownstone is a Seattle-based former staff writer at Co.Exist. She lives in a Brooklyn apartment with windows that don’t quite open, and covers environment, health, and data.