An Interview with Fabrice Willot, President of the Belgian Foodtruck Association
Alfredo Zucchi: Does the Belgian Foodtruck Association cover only modern food trucks, or do you cover all kinds of street food in Belgium?
Fabrice Willot: The Belgian Food Truck Association is a trade association which covers vehicles (food bikes, food carts, food trailer & food truck) offering urban, hand-crafted, high-quality food in Belgium. We poll regularly our member and invite them to communicate to us all the figures that we deem necessary for us to evaluate the category. This information allows us to establish a complete cartography of category’s activity in Belgium. The association covers 65% food trucks active in Belgium.
Alfredo Zucchi: Could you please explain what is your definition of “street food”?
Fabrice Willot: We speak of Food Trucks and not of street food. The scope of the association excludes pop-up stores and street stalls/kiosks. The Food Truck was born under the impulse of “radical chic” culture – a culture which was looking for authentic, hand-crafted products. We still find that distinction today, as the food truck movement focuses strongly on a hand-crafted gastronomy, based on fresh products –as opposed to gastronomies based on industrial or semi-industrial products (which are excluded from our scope and from our figures).
Alfredo Zucchi: Could you give us figures regarding the number of trucks active in Belgium, as well as their Foodservice turnover?
Fabrice Willot: We have listed 218 food trucks in Belgium in 2014, as opposed to 181 by the end of 2013. The turnover of the category, in 2014, is estimated to €29.9 million. In 2015, the turnover is set to reach €32.9 million. Profit margin oscillates between 9% and 22% of the turnover, depending of the product types. 50% of the food trucks operators work as self-employed, 49% are owners of a company accounting for less than five employees. The remaining 1% is represented by investment groups.
Alfredo Zucchi: In a recent interview with Belgian magazine “Foods”, you indicate that only 15 trucks have the authorisation to stay in the city of Brussels. What about all of the other trucks? What is the legislative/regulatory environment like in Belgium?
Fabrice Willot: The municipality of Brussels recently proposed 20 emplacements for food trucks (which is an absolute novelty in Europe). By the end of 2014, 15 food trucks obtained the authorisation to exploit these emplacements. This is an attempt to regulate the activities of food trucks on the public space. At the same time, this does not prevent other food trucks to operate, as they can work on private spaces (e.g. companies’ car parks).
In Belgium, as in most other European countries, food trucks must obtain an authorisation in order to operate on the public space. The association completely approves such regulatory framework, which is healthy and legitimate.
Unauthorised food trucks must be banned, for they are against the comfort and safety of citizens, pedestrians and traffic. Moreover, such regulation is legitimate as it is only normal for a city’s municipality to benefit from taxes.
At the same time, a better understanding of the category, from public authorities, would allow food trucks to improve their offering. In fact, to date there is no specific authorisation for food trucks, but work with Belgian authorities in order to create a special identification number in order to better regulate food trucks offering without limiting it too much.
Alfredo Zucchi: What is the average ticket price in the “street food” category? What would be the average ratio of diners per transaction in street food?
Fabrice Willot: Differently from street food, food trucks focuses mainly on complete meals and not on snacks. Consequently, the average ticket price is quite high as compared to street food. In 2014, it stood at €8,5 per transaction. We consider one transaction to cover for 1.8 people fed. Food trucks consumer base is mainly made by men and women aged between 35 and 45 years.
Alfredo Zucchi: What is driving the recent popularity in food trucks, and what about them excites consumers? What kinds of concepts are most popular? And what is the long-term prognosis? Will this be a passing fad, or a more long-lasting shift in the dining culture?
Fabrice Willot: Street food has a very long tradition – from Ancient Rome to the modern era. At the beginning of the twentieth century, the development of cars changes dramatically the context within which street commerce used to operate. Streets become dangerous, sidewalks appear. There is a switch in roles: it is not anymore the commerce which goes to clients, but the other way around. Food truck.
Food trucks are not a trend, in this sense : they are a gastronomy revolution in their own right !
It is important not to forget that in Europe the concept was born only after the economic and financial crisis of 2008, and following several food scandals such as mad cow, dioxin, horse meat. .
It is such in such context that trends favouring ecology, environmental and economic sustainability grew. These trends gave birth to the food trucks movement. Citizens did not easily find jobs, banks reluctantly gave loans for consumer foodservice activities, consumers asked for more food traceability, while at the same anti-globalisation movements grew and demand for non-industrial food increased significantly. In this context foodtrucking was born.
Consumers ask for more traceability and proximity; urban spaces grow more and more, entailing traffic issues and, paradoxically, forcing consumers to be even more sedentary. Food trucks manage to meet all of these different needs and demands, as they propose a gastronomy made of high-quality, local and seasonal ingredients and original recipes.
Alfredo Zucchi: What are the challenges facing street food operators? Is safety or quality ever a concern for consumers?
Fabrice Willot: The main challenge is the lack of information. This is why we created the Food Truck Academy: to inform the category’s future businessmen. The second step concern the administration. Food trucks have no legal recognition today – national legislation does not yet foresee and comprehend food trucks. So municipalities have to face a demand they do not fully understand. In fact, we observe some – more less successful – cases of attempt to integrate and regulate food trucks at the municipality level. This is where trade associations have to step up and help the administration integrate and welcome these new traders.
Hygiene, on the contrary, does not represent an issue for food trucks. In general, the small size of the truck obliges operators to be extremely organised and detail-oriented. Besides, the kitchen is open and consumers see directly what is prepared and how. Actually, this element of transparency is highly appreciated by consumers.
Alfredo Zucchi: How fast are outlets growing? Will this growth continue, and for how long? Where is this growth happening—only in major cities, or in smaller markets as well?
Fabrice Willot: Since 2010,food trucks have grown at a very strong rate.In 2014, the bankruptcy rate was around 38%, while, as compared to 2013, there were 58% new food trucks opened. We believe that the number of food trucks will increase and stabilise, by 2020, around 600 to 700 units. The food truck is by definition an urban concept, so it is no surprise that food trucks become increasingly popular in Belgium’s big cities. However, we observe that the food truck concept is successful in rural areas too. Belgium is not a big country and the small distances between big cities favours food trucks’ mobility.
President of the Belgian Food Truck Association since 2013, Fabrice is a former consultant in marketing strategy who now actively militates for the development of food trucks in Europe. This epicurean and bon vivant holds a degree in marketing and communications, a Master’s in Information Security and is passionate about cooking and gastronomy. Fabrice is also co-organizer of the Brussels Food Truck Festival (the largest food truck festival in Europe) and the researcher for Food Truck Trends (market analysis) which inspired the creation of the European Food Truck Association. His unique market knowledge of food trucks in Europe has earned him the nickname “Mr. Food Truck” from some journalists.