When I founded Prestige Food Trucks in 2012 , now the World’s Largest Food Truck and Trailer Manufacturer, I never imagined in a million years that food trucks would have expanded into so many other markets such as our education system.
“Food trucks are a great addition to school food service—both from a way to engage the older kids and a way to engage the community,” says Ann Cooper, the director of food services at Colorado’s Boulder Valley School District. “It’s part of a great overall marketing strategy.”
It’s not just Colorado — school districts and universities across the nation have become Ground Zero for the food truck revolution that has taken the country by storm. It’s not too hard to understand why K-12 schools, high schools and colleges are welcoming food trucks. Kids and young adults seem to be naturally drawn to these rolling food servers. Ms. Cooper exclaims: “It’s meeting the kids where they are to provide a cool environment. There’s a different vibe to it, with music playing.”
Food trucks, whether owned independently or by the school district, are indeed cool, but they also have the potential for enhanced nutrition and financial profits. In 2014, Boulder Valley was one of the first school districts in the country to begin serving school lunches from a food truck. The brightly painted, music-blaring truck was financed by Whole Foods Market, which coughed up a $75,000 grant to pay for the district’s truck purchase. The truck rotates among different schools throughout the week. Now, schools everywhere are scrambling to attract, or buy, food trucks.
Education System Food Trucks Are Changing The Industry
A Healthful, Tasty Alternative
Food trucks are a big hit with students and with schools, for a variety of reasons, and nutrition is a very important one. Cafeterias at public schools and high schools, even those with the best intentions, must perennially contend with tight budgets on the one hand and pressure to offer healthful fare on the other. Soggy carrots and mystery meats just don’t cut it anymore (if they ever did). Boulder Valley was saddled 85 percent of teens rejecting school lunches. But food trucks have the incentive to use recipes that are stealthily healthful – to meet the concerns of the educational institutions – and delicious, to keep the trucks in business.
The Minneapolis School District’s director of food services, Bertrand Weber, worked with local restaurants to create engaging dishes, such as bowls of orange chicken or carnitas, for its food truck. According to Weber, “In just the first three weeks of this school year alone, we served 28,000 pounds of local produce. I worked with a small local turkey farmer and a turkey burger and hot dog—and found a processor to do this. We’re working next on a breakfast sausage.”
Says Timothy Heneks, 21, a senior at the University of Florida, “The best things about [school food truck] La Lola Loca are the festive atmosphere it creates and the taco-dilla — it’s delicious!” Similar trucks have become fixtures at many universities, including Baylor and the University of Alabama. Lizzie’s Curbside Cuisine has been serving hungry students at the University of Connecticut for 22 years, according to owner Lizanne Searing.
“It is quick and easy to get a bite between classes,” Heneks said. “I hope [the truck] becomes a well-guarded secret to those who love it. That would keep the lines short.”
Helping the Farmers
The USDA’s Farm to School program embraces the food truck craze as an outlet for fresh, healthy produce, as opposed to the manufactured grey and brown food served in many school cafeterias. Sometimes it’s a tough sell, especially to kids who have grown up on junk food, but well worth the effort.
The USDA estimates that more than 23 million children have access to food supplied by the Farm to School program. Local farms sell food worth almost $400 million each year to schoolchildren.
The director of the Farm-to-School program, Deborah Kane, is excited at the prospects for food trucks at schools. “They’re fun, flashy, and for high school students they’re cool in a way cafeterias might not be. They bring school food into the bustling, mobile here-and-now and out of people’s perceptions about what school food was like in the past,” Kane said. “Schools have to market their food just like restaurants do.”
Colleges are finding that food trucks can save, and even earn, money. It can take $1 million or more to fully renovate a campus dining center, while a food truck might cost $100,000 to $200,000. The University of Massachusetts hosts two trucks, each costing between $150,000 and $175,000, to serve about 1,000 on-campus students daily, racking up $10,000 in daily sales. UMass’ executive director of auxiliary enterprises, Ken Toong, opines: “The students don’t want a buffet as much anymore. They would rather go to a food truck when it’s convenient for them and get a package of fresh food. They like the upscale sandwich and the atmosphere of the truck – to them that’s more value than all-you-can-eat.”
Public school districts can look to corporate, government agency and foundation sponsorships to make food trucks financially viable. In addition to Whole Food Market’s grant to the Boulder Valley School District, other benefactors include the USDA support for the Alachua County (Florida) School Board food truck, and a $600,000 grant from the Life Time Foundation for two trucks to serve the 13 high schools in the Austin School District.
Getting kids to willingly eat good food through a financially viable operation — food trucks are easy to love.
Do you have any other education system food truck examples? If so, share yours in the comment section below.
Tracy Stein is the Founder of Prestige Food Trucks as well as CEO/President of Prime Pinnacle. Prime Pinnacle is a Venture Capital & Private Equity Firm which focuses in various industries to include Real Estate, Private Lending/Funding, Manufacturing, Online Retail Sales, and etc.