Food Service
Off The Grid Forecasts Top Mobile Food Trends And Predictions For 2019

Posted On: 12/11/2018

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SAN FRANCISCO -- Off the Grid recently published "Think Mobile, Act Local: The Future of Mobile Food in America," its first annual trend and insight report that examines the ways in which mobile food transforms space, builds community and connection and enlivens the food scene.
Founded in San Francisco in 2010, Off the Grid transforms under-used and temporary spaces into community gathering-places. Through public markets, corporate dining services and catering options, Off the Grid brings communities together around food while increasing opportunities for mobile food entrepreneurs.
Through interviews with industry experts, entrepreneurs and Off the Grid's own leadership, "Think Mobile, Act Local" offers a view into the opportunities mobile food provides to brands, municipalities, entrepreneurs and consumers alike.
"The consumers of tomorrow will look for quality, variety and authenticity, all wrapped in a single experience," said Off the Grid founder and chief executive Matt Cohen. "Mobile food -- spurred by rising costs, limited real estate, fast-growing technology and deindustrialization -- is positioned to rise up and meet this demand."
As reported by Barnes Reports' 2018 Industry & Market Outlook and cited in "Think Mobile, Act Local," the food truck industry alone is projected to reach $985 million dollars in revenue in 2019, up from $800 million in 2017.
Off the Grid credits entrepreneurs like Roy Choi, whose now-legendary Kogi BBQ truck hit the streets of Los Angeles in 2008, exceeding $2 million in sales in its first year, for fueling the quick-growing mobile food movement. Two years later, Off the Grid debuted its flagship public market at Fort Mason Center in San Francisco. Today, the emerging field of mobile architecture, including Off the Grid's Cubert -- a modular pop-up kitchen and retail venue -- is continuing to offer new ways to activate public and private space.
Top Five Mobile Food Insights from "Off the Grid's Think Mobile, Act Local":
1.  The 2008 Recession Inadvertently Spurred the Mobile Food Movement. The 2008 recession and subsequent stall in new construction projects led to a glut of food trucks on the resale market, while many urban chefs were left unemployed and spooked by the prospect of opening a brick-and-mortar business. Add to that the growth of social media, and you have the perfect environment for the rise of mobile food.
2.   Less Risk, More Risk-Taking. While chefs at brick-and-mortar restaurants may be uneasy about making risky menu choices, mobile food has proven a hotbed for culinary innovation — from reinvented Cup O' Noodles to artisanal s'mores and adobo burritos. In fact, 34% of mobile food business owners say they regularly experiment with new and interesting items while an additional 26% have a "sky's the limit" attitude. 31% also view mobile food as a way to test a concept before investing in a permanent location, and 24% view it as an opportunity to stay ahead of changing trends.
3.  Mobile Food Reimagines Underutilized Space. In 2017, when the Union Square Business Improvement District sought a way to enliven a stretch of downtown San Francisco's Stockton Street during the holidays -- a construction zone since 2011 during completion of the city's Central Subway Project -- Off the Grid was commissioned to design a five-week pop-up holiday pedestrian plaza dubbed "Winter Walk." The event, which returned this year, saw 1.7 million guests enjoy mobile food, beer gardens and seating nooks that offered a temporary oasis in the city (with 94% saying they'd like to see the space made into a permanent plaza every year).
4.   The Rise of the Dabbler. Buoyed by the new "gig economy," a different breed of mobile food entrepreneur has emerged; the dabbler. Dabblers are passionate home cooks and would-be small business owners who view their mobile food venture as a controlled experiment on the open market, an added source of income, or even a creative outlet from their nine-to-five. In March 2018. a Nashville-style hot chicken dabbler debuted at an Off the Grid market. After serving 9,294 meals over 31 events, it became the highest Off the Grid seller for the 2018 season.
5.   Diversity in Motion. Mobile food has proven to be a powerful vehicle for catalyzing diverse entrepreneurship. Providing a snapshot of the mobile food community nationwide, a survey of San Francisco's robust mobile food scene shows 30% of mobile food businesses are immigrant-owned, 30% are women-owned, 8% are LGBTQ-owned, and 2% are military/veteran owned. Bonus highlight: What's the highest grossing state for mobile food entrepreneurs? You guessed it, California.
Industry Leaders Weigh in on the Future of the Mobile Food Industry
1.   It's All About Food Experiences. In 2019, the food industry will continue to move towards flexible, community-driven, experience-based models. Food hall style dining -- in which artisanal food vendors and retailers sell products side-by-side -- has exploded in urban centers as a lower-investment method for activating space while creating holistic hospitality experiences. Attorney and food hall consultant Philip Colicchio said, "The venue operator of a food hall is, in effect, the mayor of 'Tiny Town.' The vendors are the city services and the customer is the citizenry. The mayor needs to keep both constituencies happy if he or she wants to stay in office."
2.   Side Hustlers Keep Hustlin'. Cohen predicts that 2019 will see even more mobile food entrepreneurs forgo the cost of entrepreneurship and keep their day jobs while building their side hustle. In California, recently-passed legislation advocated by the C.O.O.K. Alliance will soon allow hobbyist chefs to sell food cooked in out of home kitchens directly to the public. Flexible mobile vending opportunities, like those afforded by Off the Grid, are likely to play host to a new generation of enterprising, passionate and culturally diverse cooks.
3.   Scale Frictionlessly Without Pain.  Anthony Myint, owner of the popular and now bi-coastal Mission Chinese Food — which started as a food truck named Mission Street Food —  predicts that in 2019 "the flexible dining models that launched our own restaurant careers will continue to make food more accessible by lowering costs and other barriers to entry for aspiring chefs."

Similarly, Cohen forecasts that "new entrepreneurial pathways and flexible vending opportunities will give cooks direct access to the market and allow them to scale without pain."
4.   Legislation that Levels the Playing Field. The past 10 years have seen a boom in the mobile food industry, but it needs another 10 to level the playing field with legislation that addresses the realities of starting a mobile food business. Sam Mogannam, owner of San Francisco's Bi-Rite Family of Businesses, predicts that "mobile food will play a critical role in our success in 2019. In the past year, we were able to influence the creation of new legislation that allows brick-and-mortar foodservice establishments -- that normally wouldn't be allowed to have a mobile food facility in front of their businesses -- the opportunity to do so when their building undergoes a mandatory seismic retrofit. This allows businesses like ours to keep staff employed and retain a connection to the community."
5.   Bonus Highlight: The Corporate Cafeteria Goes Mobile. With companies' workforces growing far faster than the speed of typical cafeteria buildouts, many expensive time- and labor-intensive structures are rendered obsolete before they ever open for service. CFOs, HR leads, and food services managers will seek out mobile solutions that enable them to increase menu choice and flexibility as well as employee productivity through healthful, diverse food choices, all while drastically reducing capital expenditures.

With a network of 300 independent food entrepreneurs, Off the Grid says it will continue to shake up corporate dining in 2019 with Off the Grid at Work, a newly launched solution that "innovates the staid workplace cafeteria."
Click here to view the full report.