Ms. Jankowski pointed to Chipotle's test concept, Shop House,
and Spanish chain 100 Montaditos, which now has a small U.S.
presence (with hopes of opening another 4,000 American units in the
next five years), as larger players that are leading the way for
this new style of "global street food." "Food trucks have changed
the conversation about the way international casual food has been
able to become part of our regular dining experience," she
Phil Lempert, a food-industry expert who runs Supermarket Guru,
said that part of the appeal of food trucks for consumers is that
often the operators are cooking their own culture's food, thereby
making the fare more authentic. And food trucks and their cuisine
are important to millennials, a demographic that likes to
experiment with new tastes. In the Technomic 2011 Food Trucks
Innovation report, 42% of consumers surveyed ages 18 to 30 said
they visit food trucks at least once a week; 38% of consumers ages
31 to 40 answered the same way.
Of course, food trucks are not solely responsible for the
interest in ethnic street -food, but they've helped create the
supply to satisfy the demand that the popularity of food and travel
programs has helped generate, said Kevin Higar, director-research
and consulting at Technomic.
For now, so-called international food is largely untapped by
most fast-food chains (Jack in the Box is one exception), but there
are two areas of potential growth for food-truck operators looking
to expand their own franchises: brick-and-mortar establishments and
a move into supermarkets.
After leaving the fast-casual chain he founded, Spicy Pickle,
Kevin Morrison in May 2010 started a food truck in Denver called
Pinche Tacos. The truck sold what he called "Mexican street food,"
and was a precursor to the permanent Pinche Tacos that opened five
months later. "It was a very inexpensive way of getting into the
business to kind of test out the market to see what kind of
feedback I got before I went brick-and-mortar."
Still, Mr. Lempert wonders why anyone would want to go
brick-and-mortar after launching a food truck, in part because of
the economy and in part because the profit margins tend to be
smaller than they are for food trucks. "Why open up a place and
scrape by vs. doing something bigger?" he asked.
To him, that "something bigger" lies in grocery stores,
particularly if purveyors of ethnic food bring their meals to the
prepared-foods section of a store, or if a grocery chain were to
hire them as social-media experts. "If you take a look at what
[food-truck operators] been able to do with Twitter and Facebook
from a marketing standpoint -- having people follow them around and
everything else -- it's brilliant."