- - Sunday, September 1, 2013

Traditional fast-food chains have been aware for years of the trendy new food trucks that are cutting into their business, and a new report from the NPD Group shows just how big a bite the mobile competitors have taken out of the quick-service restaurants.

The global information company shows in the survey released in August, based on 400,000 visits to food establishments, that if food trucks were not available about half of consumers would order from a fast-food restaurant while 20 percent said they would skip a snack or meal completely.

Food trucks have some down sides — they tend to be more expensive than big-name fast-food restaurants and they come with the inconvenience of waiting in line outside and not having a place to eat, an especially awkward proposition in cooler climates and in the winter months.

However, it seems that the availability of interesting foods and convenience were of sufficient priority for those surveyed by NPD. From barbecue to lobster rolls, food trucks can provides a range of meals that most fast-food businesses cannot.

About 61 percent of the NPD survey respondents said food trucks in their area provided Mexican food, suggesting an interest in something different for Americans who are used to a burger-and-fries combination and that such brick-and-mortar outlets as Taco Bell may be losing the most business to food trucks.

The most common orders at food trucks are hot sandwiches, Mexican foods, cold sandwiches and soups.

Food trucks also have obstacles that fast-food does not. Permits and regulations differ in each city. Parking becomes an issue in large cities where spaces are scarce, and the amount of time the trucks are allowed to stay in one designated spot varies throughout cities.

The survey further uncovered that while there are regular users, more than half of consumers aware of the food trucks around them are purchasing only once every two or three months or less, suggesting they view them as a treat or spontaneous act.

“For now at least, food trucks need not be viewed as a threat to restaurant demand nationally,” says Bonnie Riggs, NPD restaurant industry analyst. “However, in markets with a developed food-truck presence, [quick service restaurant] operators may wish to take note of the benefits food trucks offer, such as different and fresh food, especially as a means to build their snack business and/or protect lunch traffic.”

Competition within the food industry draws attention to fast food workers across the nation, who have been staging protests seeking to raise the minimum wage. Employees in New York last week, for example, demanded that the city more than double its minimum wage, from the current $7.25 an hour to $15.