Food Trucks and Technology: A Brand Testing Duo

August 28, 2012

Brands can test new products with food trucks that use technology as a way to engage food trendsetters.

Ethnic inspired soup flavors such as Coconut Curry with Chicken and Shitake Mushrooms and Moroccan Style Chicken with Chickpeas are new to the Campbell's brand, and how did the long standing company come to developing these new flavors? They used food trucks as a testing ground in hip foodie communities.

As food trucks continue to take the spotlight in the food world, tweeting their way around cities, bringing creative foods hosted by restaurants, chefs, retailers, and entrepreneurs, Campbell's may be a great model for food brands looking to keep up with hot food trends.

Take for example university campuses. Packaged Facts recently released a report, Gen Y Collegiate Eating, that not only investigates the flavor preferences and eating habits of college students, but also suggests that the food preferences formed at this particular stage in life may set the stage for food expectations and ultimately shopping habits for the rest of their lives. In addition, The Wall Street Journal recently reported that nearly 100 colleges have their own university operated food trucks compared to about a dozen five years ago, and many of these universities are allowing outside food trucks access to operate on campus as well. This suggests a prime opportunity among these Millennials for brands to test and develop products that if they work, have potential for longevity.

But let's not limit this opportunity to this demographic. In fact, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN estimates that street food is eaten by 2.5 billion people every day! In 2011, Zagat's newest addition even added food truck reviews to the popular restaurant guide.

The marketing and success of the food truck phenomenon is largely attributed to social media marketing. Tweet it, and they will come could have been a fitting mantra for this movement. If there are two things we know about modern food consumers, they like food trucks, and they use social media. Hence, the importance of incorporating technology.

Use modern technology to engage people in your target location as to showcase your brand's product testing truck. Make your event exciting by using a flat panel display that does something like visually feature a unique nutritional aspect of your products. Or create a musical and upbeat presentation, or make it humorous like setting up a video monitor that shows digitally modified versions of people walking by (like a funhouse mirror) to get their attention and chuckles. But most importantly, use tools such as Twitter, Facebook and FourSquare to announce your location, hours, and new products showcase.

One of the most valuable tools a food truck offers is a one-to-one experience with the consumer. How about mounting iPads (or similar devices) on the side of the truck to both entertain and elicit feedback from these trend setters? Ask questions about the type of foods and tastes they like, and what they want to have you offer in the future. Then, as a reward for sharing their feedback, offer them the opportunity to record a video comment to add to your truck's social media on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. Every food truck devotee, especially Millenials, wants to share their food knowledge and insight. Everyone wants to be the next food star!

Think beyond focus groups, get creative, and your brand can not only gather important feedback to predict the success of a new product, but also the food truck event itself can make a powerful impression on a large number of consumers by involving them in the process of developing hit products.