New York City food trucks, like many of their counterparts in America, have been facing pressure to change their approach to sourcing ingredients and working with local farmers.
Last year, the trucking giant UPS signed on to help local producers by giving them access to its warehouses and distribution centers.
This year, there are signs that the truck companies are moving to become more of a supplier-driven company.
“The trend has definitely accelerated over the past few years,” says Adam Smith, chief strategy officer at the trucked-food-truck industry trade group, the Association of Food and Beverage Companies.
“We’re starting to see that more of the food-trucks are beginning to build out their own supply chain and more are beginning at the regional level.”
The trend has certainly accelerated over and over again, says Adam Wylie, the president of the Association for Local Agriculture.
“Food trucks are starting to look at sourcing from suppliers rather than from the truck,” he says.
“They’re starting at the local level.”
According to Smith, food trucks have been the fastest-growing segment of the U.S. food-services industry, with some estimates placing the number of truck operators in the U, and its territories, at more than 100,000.
They’ve also become a hot commodity in New York and other parts of the country, where they’ve seen rapid growth.
“It’s definitely a market we’re very much in,” says Smith.
“But I think it’s also a market that’s going to be a lot more fragmented than it’s ever been before.”
The trucks have also been getting a lot of attention in recent months, with the New York Times reporting on the increasing prevalence of food-borne illness outbreaks.
In June, a truck with three children was found to be carrying salmonella-contaminated meat and vegetables from a California slaughterhouse.
In September, the Food and Drug Administration banned trucks from entering the country from any region that does not have a national food-safety certificate.
It also took the agency to court in November for not implementing a new food-tracking program for food trucks.
The trucks also face increasing competition from local food stores that are also getting in on the action, with dozens of food companies and local grocery chains now offering truck delivery services.
“There are a lot different food-shipping models now,” says Wylier.
“I don’t think we’ve really seen this many in the food truck industry.”
For many truckers, though, the trend has been to look for more local producers.
That’s led to some experimentation.
“With the food trucks becoming more and more popular, the question is, how do we get that local food?” says Smith, who notes that the number and type of ingredients on truck food has also changed.
“You’re more likely to find organic ingredients, more local and less packaged,” he explains.
“That’s not to say that there are no truck-based suppliers out there, but the trend is a bit different.”
One area where trucks are moving away from sourcing locally is through sourcing ingredients through organic producers.
For instance, many of the truckers Smith spoke with say they’ve used ingredients that are grown and harvested locally.
But there are also local producers who have started sourcing their own ingredients.
“If you look at the organic farmers market, you’ll see a lot organic and non-organic ingredients,” says John Dufour, the owner of Dufours Farm Supply, which operates a truck in Southern California.
“Those trucks are growing a lot because the demand is higher than the supply.
The supply is down.”
As the industry continues to evolve, so too has the truck business.
The number of trucks has grown exponentially in the past decade, with an estimated 8 million trucks on the road in 2015.
But as demand continues to increase, the trucks are increasingly being used to deliver food, with growing competition from trucks like the Amazon Echo and the Chevrolet Sonic.
“As you see more trucks, the demand for trucks has gotten out of control,” says Dufower.
“People are finding themselves not being able to buy trucks anymore.”
He notes that while trucking is a highly profitable industry, the industry is growing at a rate that has not seen the amount of growth in the traditional food-service sector.
“In the past 20 years, food has gotten cheaper and we’ve had the same kind of growth rate in the truck industry,” he tells me.
“And so there’s this disconnect that’s happening between the demand and the supply.”
For those who are trying to get more of their food on trucks, Smith offers a simple advice.
“Don’t stop selling food,” he advises.
“Look at the other side.”