Scarcity in the City: Five Lessons from the Food Truck Phenomenon

The most basic rules of economics involve scarcity and abundance.  Since people can’t have everything they want, they must choose some things and give up others. And sometimes, the objects of desire are not easy to get. This is especially true for Torontonians craving a bite from elusive food trucks, one of the hottest food trends of the year. The general rules for food truck fanatics are as follows:

  • Find the location of the food truck you desire via your favourite app, website or twitter feed, such as @FoodtrucksTO
  • Grab your cash and head to the secret site
  • Join the line of fellow escapees from the downtown office towers
  • Wait for your decadent lobster rolls/cupcakes/tacos/favourite deep-fried concoction

Why do we rush out to wait in a lunch line? At Caplansky’s, hungry diners can get their Gefilte goodies from the bricks and mortar location, but judging from the line ups, they would rather truck it to Thunderin’ Thelma, the restaurant’s mobile offering. Dying to try Toronto’s newest food truck, The Feisty Jack? The UK expats joke on their twitter feed that they “only serve during full moons…”

With a global village of food offerings in every corner of our city, what has made food trucks so successful? Scarcity. It’s the same reason people line up outside on a frozen January evening for a table at a hot restaurant, such as the newly opened, no-reservations Momofuku Noodle Bar.

But scarcity alone doesn’t build a business, or a brand. Here are five lessons marketers can take from the food truck phenomenon:

  • Have an outstanding product: As the old saying goes, if you’re going to play hard to get, you better have the goods to back it up. Otherwise, you will fail faster than you can say McSpaghetti.
  • Be social: Tell your brand story via social channels. Foster two-way communication with consumers by asking them to share feedback, stories, pictures and experiences.
  • Have strong brand clarity: Every brand should know itself, and communicate that vision clearly. If you expect consumers to go out of their way to get your product, they had better be clear on what it is.
  • Stay focused on growth: Many food trucks are expansions of existing businesses. The popular Food Dudes, for example, started as a small catering company now doing brisk business. Toronto’s first seafood-focused truck, Buster’s Sea Cove, is the child of the bustling St. Lawrence Market vendor of the same name.
  • Earned Media > Bought: No one wants to read about how fantastic your product, restaurant, or services are in a glossy print ad. They want an endorsement by an authentic, trusted voice – their friends, family, or favourite columnist.