Tags Posts tagged with "Menu"

Menu

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Today’s article covers one of the most unused sources for building long term customer loyalty for food trucks but should be one of the most obvious: kids’ meals.

After all, around 45 percent of American families include children, who are typically picky eaters. In most cases, parents with kids have limited dining options. They can eat fast food or you can go to one of a handful of local restaurants. It’s not a great choice for the consumer. Why not help them out by providing a kid’s meal on your food truck?

Kids’ meals found at local diners or fast food restaurants are typically unhealthy, and uninspired. Hot dogs, macaroni and cheese (not the scratch made kind), and chicken nuggets are generally the available options. What if your food truck offered an imaginative kids’ menu that is as flavorful and inspired as your regular menu?

Kids’ Meals Need To Look Good

You will definitely want your serving style to be attractive to the parents as well as the child. If you do it right, this is the type of thing that parents tell their friends about, upload images to Instagram, and come back for.

Use smaller servings and fresh, colorful ingredients. This is where those beautiful purple potatoes, that bright orange cauliflower, and the red and white striped beets absolutely shine. Use small cookie cutters to turn steamed sweet potato slices into fun shapes.

Make Nutrition and Flavor A Priority

Don’t settle for less quality on your kids’ menu just because kids are eating it. If you do your take on chicken nuggets be sure they are made by you or your staff with a unique breading and truck made dipping sauces. Create scaled down versions of your most popular menu items and then brainstorm how to make them look fun when the kids dig in.

Don’t leave the foods bland, either. A little seasoning plus the appropriate herbs are just as delicious to a six year old as a thirty year old hipster.

Toys Are Optional

kids' mealsDepending on the amount of space you have on your truck, you may consider whether or not to give small toys away with the kids’ meals. It is really up to you. It is nice to have a kid’s menu that can be colored that is presented with a crayon or two but anything else is probably not going to make a big difference in your food truck’s marketing success.

If you do decide to provide toys get good ones. If you can find a local toy manufacture, consider having a small version of your truck created. I can’t tell you how much the kids love the mini food truck we had created for the promotion ofRunning a Food Truck for Dummies.”

Kids Eat Free

Think about offering free food for kids during certain hours. This is a great idea that can increase your line pretty quickly. Choose some of your off-hours for the free meals and use it to pump up business during those times. For example, offering a kids eat free option from 4:30 – 6:00 will get families to track your truck down when you normally wouldn’t be serving many people.

Generally children can no longer eat for free after the age of 12, although in some places it is 10. You’ll want to have a rule that the items must be ordered off of the kid’s menu, and maybe only one free child’s meal per paying adult.

There are numerous ways to build up your food truck business with small guests; it just takes a little forethought and planning.

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discover local flavors

Over the years, I’ve written a lot about using local ingredients and products as a way food truck owners can separate themselves from the competition. Today I want to take that idea a step further to discuss local tastes or better yet, how to discover local flavors to inspire your next food truck creation.

If you’re a mobile food vendor looking for a way to excite potential customers and create a niche in the community you operate in, there might not be any better way than researching local flavors. Every town has the typical list of fast food, fast casual, burger joints, diners, and pizza places. What’s a better way to stand out (other than having a kitchen is on wheels) than offering something specific to the region your food truck calls home?

Discover Local Flavors

What this means depends on the course of meals you serve from your truck as well as where you typically park. Regardless of the ingredients, flavors, and dishes that are native to your hometown, a strategy like this means moving away from developing a menu based on the demand of the masses and toward a food truck menu based on something unique that people might not realize they want.

If this sounds risky, that’s probably because it might be. But it’s not as though using unique flavors and ingredients means making and serving weird food. You can use local influence to put your personal twist on a popular, mainstream dish.

Consumers Have Changed

If you’ve missed it, the average consumer has developed much more interest in the flavor of the food they purchase. Food truck customers typically ignore the old standbys and safe choices. They are a demographic that enjoys watching food television, trying new cuisines, and exploring food establishments that previous generations may have passed by.

The era of the celebrity chef has taught television watching foodies how to be adventurous and try the best local food any given place has to offer. When it comes to your location, that could be your food truck; that should be your food truck!

Research Local Flavors

If you’re looking for something new to add to your food truck menu, it might be time to study the flavors and ingredients that are indigenous to your local community. Speak with local farmers or better yet, if you have a local food historian (yes they exist) track them down and find out the food history of your area.

Determine how you can use the history of food and the local ingredients and flavors to influence your menu. Think about different twists can you put on old favorites to make them truly local, truly worth the locals tracking you down at next food truck location or for those traveling to seek out your food truck service window on their way through town.

I’m betting with the ingenuity I’ve seen come out of the kitchens of food trucks around the country; you can come up with something absolutely amazing.

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Protein Sources for a Vegetarian

Every week, across the country, more food trucks are joining the Meatless Monday project. Whether they have full on vegetarian menus, or trucks that serve meat but offer meatless options, more and more questions are coming in from our readers about the best ways to serve their vegan or vegetarian customers. Today we want to share a list of ingredients that can be mixed or matched in your menu items, to provide protein dense options.

You may be wondering why you would want protein dense items on your menu, well, there are a few reasons. Protein is a macro nutrient composed of amino acids that is necessary for the proper growth and function of the human body. While the body can manufacture several amino acids required for protein production, a set of essential amino acids needs to be obtained from animal and/or vegetable protein sources.

There is considerable debate over the amount of protein a person needs to consume per day, the current recommended daily intake (RDI) of protein is 46 grams for women aged 19-70 and 56 grams for men aged 19-70. Any excess protein consumed is turned into energy by the body, and it is controversial whether this excess protein causes a strain on the liver. A deficiency in protein leads to muscle atrophy, and impaired functioning of the human body in general.

Top 5 Protein Sources for a Vegetarian with the highest protein density:

Cheese

Of all cheeses low sodium Parmesan cheese provides the most protein with 41.6 grams per 100 gram serving. It is followed by regular whole Parmesan at 35.8 grams of protein per 100 grams. That is 10 grams of protein per ounce, and 3.6 grams per cubic inch. Other cheeses like Romano, Mozzarella, and Swiss provide around 28-30 grams of protein per 100 gram serving. Softer cream cheeses, or spreadable cheeses, provide the least protein with only 16 grams per 100 gram serving.

Mature (Large) Beans

The older, larger, and more mature a bean gets the more protein it carries. Mature roasted soybeans have the most providing 39.6 grams of protein per 100 gram serving, or 68 grams per cup. They are followed by mature Lupin beans which provide 15.6 grams per 100 gram serving. That is 25.8 grams per cup.

Roasted Pumpkin, Squash, and Watermelon Seeds

A popular food in the Middle East and East Asia pumpkin and squash seeds provide 33 grams of protein per 100g serving, that is 74.8 grams per cup and 9.2 grams per ounce. Watermelon seeds provide slightly less at 28 grams of protein per 100 gram serving. If you can’t find these seeds in your local supermarket you will surely find them in Middle Eastern or East Asian specialty stores. Alternatively, you can also save any pumpkin, squash, and watermelon seeds you have and roast them in your oven. The seeds are typically consumed by cracking the outer shell and eating the seed inside.

Yeast Extract Spread (aka: Marmite)

Yeast extract spreads are popular in Britain and Europe, and have started to gain popularity in the U.S. A good vegan source of vitamin B12, the spread also packs a lot of protein. One hundred grams provides 27.8 grams of protein, that is 1.7 grams per teaspoon.

Top 5 Protein Sources for a VegetarianLentils, Pulses, and Peanuts

Lentils, pulses, and peanuts (a legume) are a great vegan source of protein. Peanuts provide the most protein with 23.7 grams per 100 gram serving or 6.6 grams per ounce, 0.2 grams per peanut. Lentils provide the most protein when consumed raw at 25.8 grams per 100 gram serving, and 9 grams per 100g serving cooked (17.9 grams of protein per cup).

While there are plenty of additional protein options, ( i.e. Low-Carb Flat Breads, Chick Peas, Kidney Beans, Baked Beans, Tofu, Almonds, Peanut Butter, Soy Milk, Dried Apricots and Avocado), these 5 items are the most dense in protein.

If you think we missed something in our Top 5 Protein Sources for a Vegetarian list, please feel free to post your comments below.

Please do your part today and join the Meatless Monday movement? Signing up is fast and easy! Follow them on Twitter.

Mobile Cuisine looks forward to continued coverage of Meatless Monday for our readers!

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we want to hear from you

We have recently received a number of emails from food truck owners that want to get their customers involved in what they offer on their food truck menu. It’s a great topic and one we’ll cover today.

Marketing strategies are consistently evolving and food trucks seem to be taking the lead in this evolution. As many of you already know engaging your customers in a two-way conversation is a smart way to create loyal supporters and brand ambassadors for your mobile food businesses.

Since it has become increasingly simple to solicit customer ideas through social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and even by email…it should be part of your food truck’s brand strategy. Not only will this give your customers a voice but it can also generate a lot of local media buzz about your truck.

So, how do you get your customers involved in creating items for your menu? Here are 5 ideas. For each of these, ideas can be submitted at your food truck on a contest form (via suggestion box), social media, or on your website. Heck, for that matter, why not all three?

  • Recipe contest – Create a contest for a menu item where customers submit ideas and either a panel judges the winner or the winner is selected by a vote.
  • Beverage contest - If you want to serve more than just the typical soda or water options create a form that collects information for beverage suggestions.
  • Returning favorite – Ask customers if they would like to see a discontinued menu item make a comeback.
  • Seasonal item – Create a contest for a seasonal item (try Spring since it’s right around the corner) that will be a limited time offer.
  • A day in the kitchen – Develop a contest where the winner can co-create a dish with your food truck’s chef at your commercial kitchen.

Whatever avenue you choose to involve your customers in designing menu items, make sure that you actually follow through on the idea. Ask questions, listen and act. By opening up a conversation with your customers about your menu, you could learn a lot about your food truck. With an increased level of engagement, your customers may come up with ideas about other facets of your business, what they like and don’t like.

And don’t forget, any of these ideas can be leveraged as news items too. Depending on your market and the details of the contest it could be looked at as a great story for a blogger or the local newspaper’s food or business sections.

So have you already created menu items based on your food truck customer ideas? We’d love to hear about them in the comment section below.

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Menu engineering is the study of the profitability and popularity of menu items and how these two factors influence the placement of these items on a menu.

The concept of menu engineering is not based on random decision making; the idea was brought to the restaurant industry roughly a decade later by Professor Donald Smith of Michigan State University.

Food Truck Menu Engineering

While menu engineering is most often mentioned relating to traditional paper restaurant menus, however the concept is equally applicable to a food truck’s menu board.

To engineer your food truck menu, you will need to do a little math to determine the contribution margin and popularity of each item.

Contribution Margin = Menu price – food cost. If a menu item’s contribution margin is greater than the average contribution margin for the entire menu, it receives a rating of “H” indicating that it has an above average contribution margin.

Example: Take the sum of CMs on your menu, for our example we’ll use $30. Now take the number items on the menu (our example is 10). Now divide 30 by 10 to get an average CM of $3.

If a menu item has a contribution margin of $4.00 it is given an “H.” If a menu item had a contribution margin of $2.00 it would receive a “L.”

Demand = Number of items sold of a particular menu item/total number of menu items sold. If a menu item’s percentage of sales is greater than the average sales percentage for the entire menu, it receives a rating of “H” indicating that particular item has a higher sales percentage than the demand mix.

Example: If there are 10 items on the menu, the demand mix would equal 1/10 X .70= .7 or 7%. Any menu item with a sales percentage equal to or greater than 7% would receive a rating of “H.” Any item with a sales percentage less than 7% would receive a rating of “L.”

Now it’s time to classify each item on your menu. All menu items can now be classified into four types using the H&L they’ve received for CM and D.

HH = Stars

These are premier items of the menu. They are relatively popular and generate above average profits per sale. Some strategies:

  • Give high menu visibility. The menu can be a great sales tool. Customers tend to order items which “stand out”. Make sure your gold items present themselves well on your menu.
  • Test for price elasticity. Be proud of gold items. If the customer is willing to pay more without affecting your total demand, logic says, increase the price.
  • Have the service window staff suggest these items when asked by customers.
HL = Plow Horses

These items provide a large number of sales while actually doing very little in helping your profit compared to the Stars. They are good candidates for inventory control. Some strategies:

  • Don’t offer these items as a special.
  • Maintain low menu visibility. Try to hide these items on the menu.
  • Reduce portion sizes slightly. This will reduce food cost, and in turn help to increase contribution margin. This can sometimes turn a plow horse into a star.
  • Find alternative ingredients. See if less expensive ingredients can be utilized without sacrificing quality.
  • Test for price elasticity. Will raising the price significantly reduce demand?
LH = Puzzles

These are the most misunderstood items on your menu. They manage to make above average contribution margin, but are weak in demand. So why aren’t they selling well and how can you increase demand without sacrificing the high profitability? Some strategies:

  • Offer as daily specials. A quick and easy way to attract consumer attention and increase demand is to offer an item as a “Special.”
  • Give the item high menu visibility. Make it “stand out” on your food truck menu.
  • Reduce the price. The item may be overpriced.
  • Drop from the menu if it is difficult to prepare.
LL = Dogs

These items are your poorest performers and may need to be dropped from the menu entirely. Some strategies:

  • Drop from the menu. These items may be nothing more than dead space on the menu and in the truck. By dropping them you can free space, reduce clutter, and concentrate on more profit bearing items.
  • Rename and describe to make more attractive. A catchy name and description may be all it takes to increase demand and turn a Dog into a Plow Horse or even a Star.

How did your food truck’s menu fair?

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Over the years we’ve touched on topics crucial to running a successful mobile food business such as type of cuisine, parking locations, commissaries and selecting the right platform (truck, cart, trailer etc…) to serve your food from. In this article we’ll cover aspects that delve beyond those obvious concerns.

key ingredients

The key ingredients that matter most to creating an awesome mobile food business are your food, your staff and you. If done the right way, your food truck, food cart or trailer will thrive in the industry and stay on top.

Here are three factors that will propel your mobile food business to the next level above the competition:

Food Identity

Your food is your business’ identity. You first must portray yourself in a very definable way to your customers so they can equate you as the go to spot for your cuisine. Failure to define yourself is a huge mistake when trying to separate yourself from your competition. For example, let’s say that there are a bunch of burger trucks in your area, which means there has to be something about your food that makes it stand out if you too will be serving burgers.

How To Make Your Food Awesome

  • Uniqueness. Get your customer’s attention with original dishes. If you plan to serve common dishes, add some flair and make them just 10 percent better, you’ll have an inspiring and stimulating menu your customers will get excited about.
  • Go local. Get some local farm fresh produce. Not only are you bringing in very fresh ingredients, you are supporting the local economy. Today’s customers do take notice of this fact.
Supreme Staffing

You need to hire people who have a passion for the mobile food industry, a sense of urgency when handling customers and a willingness to be part of your team. The service experience is right up there with food when it comes to the top two elements to a great dining experience.

Your staff needs to work in sync because if they don’t, you could end up with reviews that minimally praise the food but ruthlessly criticize the service. Customers want to eat great food but at the same time, they want to be treated like royalty.

How To Build An Awesome Staff

  • Processes. Create employee manuals containing your processes and procedures, and ensure they are updated regularly. This gives your staff a way to succeed as a unified team moving in the same direction. There is nothing worse than attempting to manage a bunch of individuals trying to do the same thing, each in their own way.
  • Outstanding training. Your food truck staff has to know their job. Ensure your staff gets thorough book training on procedures along with on-the-job training complete with food tasting and menu education. Basic training should also include job shadowing a veteran staff member. Don’t stop there. Expose the staff member to the other job roles within your food truck. This will allow for position flexibility in case someone can’t show up for work and leaves you hanging.
  • Solicit feedback. Always communicate with them and more importantly, don’t stop listening. Give real-time feedback and think of yourself as a coach to your team. You don’t have to portray yourself as almighty. Look beyond your ego and start putting your people first.
Personality Plus

Food trucks don’t fail, people fail. As the owner, you are the people. Whatever happens under your watch is on you. This could be hiring a truck manager who under-performs or not training your staff to prepare your awesome recipes consistently awesome. Ultimately, the responsibility rests on your shoulders.

How You Can Become Awesome

  • Self-reflect regularly. The toughest thing for anyone to do is critique themselves. It is not in our nature to tell ourselves we are wrong. As a leader, it’s okay to be vulnerable and allow yourself to be exposed. That doesn’t make you weak; it actually makes you more authentic and respectable.
  • Ask for feedback. Ask your staff for honest feedback. Let it be known that honesty is the only way for you to improve as an owner. Don’t forget your staff extends further than just managers and service window staff. You should be listening to your line cooks just as anyone else. Customer feedback is also very important to the growth and development of your food truck. Let it be known that you want to know what customers think to make their experience better.
  • Keep growing. Food truck owners can always improve. What’s more, your staff has great ideas, so ask them. Your mobile food business needs to keep growing to thrive and it’s vitally important you grow with it.

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When you offer your food truck customers the right choices, you create memorable experiences that increase the value of your mobile food business brand.

customer choices

Offering the wrong choices can keep customers away from your service window. So, the challenge is determining which are the right choices for your customers.

It turns out the best choices you can offer your customers are those that allow them to personalize their experience with your business in a small way.

Why Up-selling May Be The Wrong Direction – Customers Want a Choice

Food service providers have historically used choice to bundle their menu products. This is known as up-selling.

The value in this approach is a better price for the consumer, and thus is exactly why up-selling discount packages is a poor choice. Bundling conditions your customers to be price sensitive.

Offering incentives for bundling can actually devalue your food truck menu if there is not a logical reason for it.

Most consumers recognize bundling as an approach that favors the business. The classic example is the super-sized combo meal.

Bundling conditions your customers to focus on the lowest common denominator – price.

Will that get your customers talking up their experience with your food truck? Don’t count on it.

Small Choices Allow Your Customers to Personalize Their Experience

At most food trucks, you choose your meal from selected offerings – what they do well. As an example, let’s look at trucks that sell burgers. For most of them, the choices are usually two:  regular and large – and with or without cheese.

This model provides customers with a simple first choice. Then the fun begins.

You get to personalize your order by choosing from extra toppings that are all FREE. This ranges from lettuce and tomato to fresh jalapenos and various sauces.

Now don’t worry about the customer that piles on all of the items…those costs become minimal. The net result is that the customer appreciates the added value and feels great about getting just what they wanted. The truck is now on its way to building personal relationships with their customers.

When you have your customers make easy choices you engage them in a collaboration – one that is interactive, inherently personal – and therefore, memorable.

Contrast that with the how fast food restaurants operate. If a customer asks nicely, they allow the order to be customized – mostly by deleting ingredients you do not like.

Isn’t it better to offer positive choices to the consumer that add value than permitting choices that devalue your menu items? Should a customer pay the same when it gets less? The key is making it their choice – then its ok.

So what is the burger and bun on your food truck menu? Once you have that figured out, now just add the right choices for your customers to customize their order –little ones that add big value for your customer.

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tip of the dayMaking specials a regular part of your food truck menu is a good idea for a lot of reasons. Not only do they keep things interesting for your cooking staff, servers and customers; but they are a great way to use product that might otherwise go to waste. Specials can also provide your servers a way to start conversations and establish rapport with customers.

Depending on your kitchen crew, you might open up the creation of specials to staff other than your chef. Any opportunity to help your food truck staff members feel pride in their work should be taken.

Whoever comes up with the dish can explain it to the window server as they sample it (yes, your window servers need to taste the food they are selling), this should hopefully increase their interest and enthusiasm.

Ideas for specials can come from many sources:

  • One is when you need to figure out what to do with food that didn’t sell well in its original intent. If too many roasted chickens were made on Tuesday, how about running a chicken taco special on Wednesday?
  • The seasons will always be a source of inspiration. The first chilly day of the year would be a great time to make a pot of warm soup, especially if you happen to have some beef trimmings left over.
  • US regional and the various ethnic cuisine food trucks should have a myriad of ideas that can be used to add specials.
  • Your kitchen staff, especially when they get into the swing of it, is bound to be a source of new ideas.

Be sure you take the time to cost the specials out, so you’ll know how to price them. And don’t underestimate the importance of making sure your serving staff are familiar with the new dishes and how good they are. Nothing sells itself.

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The new year is upon us and with it come millions of resolutions to eat healthier, lose weight, and get in shape. A great way to attract new customers to your food truck is to make sure your menu contains resolution-friendly items. Even if they wind up ordering your more decadent dishes, diners with good intentions to eat more healthfully are likely to decide where to take their business based on the options you make available.

new years resolution

 To get you started, here are a few ideas for adding healthy items to your menu while keeping your food costs in check and your restaurant’s personality front and center:

Consider alternative proteins

You don’t have to start serving up tofu if you don’t already – there are plenty of non-animal protein options that convey healthfulness without screaming “vegetarian”.  Ethnic cuisines are great sources for inspiration –  Mexican bean dishes, Indian dal, or even Portobello burgers are good places to start.

Why do this? Offering meatless dishes makes your food truck an option for parties that include vegetarian or vegan diners, which is important because that audience is growing. Ten years ago, it might have seemed like a fad, with just a small population, but it’s been constantly increasing.

Focus on freshness

Let’s face it: if burgers and fries are staples at your food truck, your customers probably won’t be excited to see quinoa pilaf show up on the menu. But they might be interested to know that your beef is cooked to order, your French fries are hand-cut on the truck, or your buns are baked fresh daily. Details like these assure customers that you are serving them handcrafted, minimally processed foods, and that’s important even if it doesn’t mean a lower calorie count.

Again… why bother adding healthy items to your menu in the first place? According to the Hudson Institute, it’s good for business! In a 2013 study they found that increasing the number of lower-calorie options significantly increased traffic.

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How much should you charge for your the items on your food truck’s menu?  How do you know if that price is right?  If your prices are too low, you’ll be working really hard for low profit margins.  If they’re too high, many of your customers may seek out alternatives.

food truck menu pricing mistakes

Because pricing is one of the most important drivers of a food truck’s profitability, getting your menu prices wrong can cause a significant dent in your bottom line, and it can make the difference between remaining profitable or having to shut down your mobile food business.

The most common mistakes food truck vendors make when it comes to pricing are usually due to a disconnect between price and value.  When you undervalue your menu products, you set prices that are too low.  On the other hand, over-pricing is a sign that your customers do not perceive the value of your food as indicated by your prices.

Here are the two biggest menu pricing strategy mistakes:

Cost Alone

It goes without saying that you should know exactly how much it costs you to plate a dish from your food truck menu.  However, this number should only serve as a price floor, not as an overall strategy.  While taking your cost and adding a markup may seem like a good idea, this often isn’t the case.  The main reason is because this approach completely leaves the customer out of the equation.  In all honesty, they don’t care about your internal costs.  Just because something is expensive to serve doesn’t mean it is perceived as valuable.  On the other hand, something that is inexpensive to make may be extremely valuable to a hungry consumer.  When it comes to pricing, customers think in terms of whether something is “worth it” to them.  If it is, they’ll buy it; if not, they’ll pass.  Aligning price with the perception of value is the key to getting it right.

The Competition

The easiest way to set prices is to look at all your competitors’ prices and set your number somewhere between the highest and the lowest.  After all, it may seem logical to sit right in the middle.  There are several problems with this approach.  For one, very few food service establishment menus are exactly identical.  You need to know exactly how your products are different or better than your competition, and price based on the unique benefits you provide your customers.  You also need to clearly communicate those benefits to the customers waiting in line to be served, so they understand what they’re getting for the price they’re paying.  Last but not least, it is highly possible that your competitors are not pricing their products correctly in the first place, so following their lead can wreak havoc on your profitability.

While there is no real test to determine whether your prices are set correctly, knowing and understanding the way your customers think and make decisions will go a long way towards pricing for value.  Using a strategic approach when it comes to pricing will help your food truck remain profitable over the long term.

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