In April, a franchisee will launch Chick-fil-A’s first food truck that will serve customers in the Washington, D.C., area. Currently, there is only one traditional Chick-fil-A restaurant in the nation’s capital.
"If they don’t have a presence in D.C., a food truck can be a good way to introduce themselves," said Sam Oches, managing editor at QSR magazine.
But if a market is already saturated with a company’s restaurants, adding a food truck to the mix may not resonate much with consumers, Oches said.
"How many consumers would say: 'I’d rather go chase a truck than go somewhere down the street?'" he said.
Chick-fil-A’s new food truck follows forays into the mobile food business by several other national chains including Applebee’s [DIN 51.24 -1.06 (-2.03%) ], Jack in the Box [JACK 23.81 0.05 (+0.21%) ], Qdoba and Taco Bell [YUM 70.40 -0.22 (-0.31%) ].
Only 6 percent of quick-service restaurants and 4 percent of fast-casual restaurants operate food trucks, according to a recent National Restaurant Association survey. Instead, these restaurants often consider food trucks to be competition.
Mark Baldwin, Chick-fil-A’s corporate public relations senior consultant, said the company’s operations team is meeting with the franchisee this week to "make sure everything is up to par" with the new truck.
At this time, it's unlikely that Chick-fil-A will make a big push into the food truck business. In fact, Baldwin said the corporate office was unaware of the new food truck until CNBC contacted the company to inquire about it last week.
He added that there are currently no additional plans to create corporately owned food trucks.
While participation in the food-truck trend is low, a Chick-fil-A food truck could cause others to enter the market if it performs well, said Annika Stensson, the NRA’s director of media relations.
"It’s partly depending on the success of the other players in the market," she said. "If you can prove success, others will follow."
But Oches, who thinks the food truck trend has already peaked, is not convinced that national companies can do well within the space.
"If consumers are going to commit their food dollar to a food truck, chances are they’re not going to commit them to a national brand," he said. "They’re going to commit it to an innovative food truck."
Innovation continues to be a key component of many independent food trucks’ success in addition to offering a fun meal without draining a customer’s wallet.
"Food trucks tend to give a high-value experience," Stensson said. "Food trucks tend to give a high level of excitement at a good value."
Going mobile also usually requires lower start-up, operating and labor costs for would-be entrepreneurs, who have encountered more difficulty obtaining financing since the recession began, she added.
"It has been difficult not only for restaurant owners but any business person to get access to capital," she said. "Launching a food truck is typically less expensive than a full brick-and-mortar restaurant."
Despite lower costs, the vast majority of operators have no plans to open up roaming locations. Only 13 percent of quick service-restaurants and 22 percent of fast-casual operations were very or somewhat likely to launch a food truck in the next two years, according to the association's survey.
For those restaurants who do harbor food truck aspirations, climbing gas prices may be of added interest these days. According to AAA, the average price at the pump of regular gas hit $3.911 per gallon on Wednesday — bad news for gas-guzzler food trucks.
"It depends on what cities they’re in and what locations they go," Oches said. "Yes, gas, especially for that big of a vehicle, is going to be a big expense."
— Katie Little, CNBC
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