Chemistry allows food truck operators to prepare and serve food quickly and safely.
With low startup costs, potential for high returns, and substantial flexibility, food trucks have become a solid (and popular) business. And in mobile kitchens everywhere, chemistry is helping deliver the goods.
Scenes From a Mobile Restaurant
Imagine: A restaurateur wants to open an Asian, farm-to-table eatery. Rather than set up a storefront right away, she elects to test-drive her concept—literally. The vehicle for this tryout, she decides, will be a food truck: a rolling kitchen laboratory.
Through trial and error, she determines the best parking locations and times to serve. She also learns she needs to offer customers a more-varied menu—maybe some miso ramen to pair with those curried chicken pot stickers. And when she finally opens a brick-and-mortar location, she tweaks the food truck menu again, looking to evolve it in sync with the new restaurant. Her food truck, by the way, has grown to serve as many as 100 customers per hour.
Food Truck Industry Sees an Annual Growth Rate of 7.9%
No matter the posted speed limit, the food truck business can move pretty quickly. All the turns in the above cooked-up narrative could happen within a couple years or fewer¹. The reason: The mobile food business—by its nature—gives food truckers flexibility. Owners can change location in seconds, and menus in days—if not hours.
Much of this elasticity is enabled by chemistry. Cookware made with Teflon™ nonstick coatings facilitates faster preparation, while products like Ti-Pure™ titanium dioxide (TiO₂) can better protect ingredients outside of dining rooms. From thinner food packaging in the fridge to bolder colors on trucks, chemistry helps give food truckers the options they need to serve on the go.
The Need for Speed
The food truck industry saw five years of rapid growth, increasing approximately 7.9% annually from 2011 to 2017.2 It’s a business that can come together quickly and turn on a dime (or at least around a corner) to embrace change—whether that be new routes or changed-up menus.
Speed is also necessary in the kitchen, since customers have to stand and wait for their food outdoors rather than sit at comfy tables. Teflon™ nonstick coatings help here, too.
“Food trucks handle lots of volume—at least the ones I’ve seen,” says Christa Kaiser, Market and Business Manager for Teflon™ Consumer Coatings. “With food truck cooking, you need to make lots of meals and get them out of the pans neatly and quickly, then be able to dip the pans in hot water and wipe them. Teflon™ nonstick coatings exist to release food, making pans easier to clean.”
In such tight quarters, food truck owners often use compact equipment such as portable electric rills—a number of which incorporate nonstick surfaces with Teflon™ coatings.
And the most-discerning food truck chefs will be relieved to hear that Teflon™ cookware does allow for the Maillard effect—the chemical reaction between amino acids and reducing sugars that browns food and produces that distinctive taste. “There’s a little bit of a myth that you can’t brown and caramelize with a nonstick pan,” Kaiser says. “That’s not true. Yes, for sauce, there are fewer brown bits—the meat left on the pan—because the surface is nonstick. And caramelizing does take a bit longer. Still, you can do both of these.”
The typical food truck floor plan ranges from 120 to 200 square feet1—pretty tight spaces for making rice balls. Since space is at such a premium, food truckers must utilize each centimeter. Chemistry can help free some space.
“We’re trying to help our customers downgauge—reduce the amount of packaging, yet still give them the performance they need,” explains Alice van der Ende, Regional Business Development Manager for Ti-Pure™ Plastics. That means making containers thinner, yet able to keep the contents protected.
“Packaging can now take up less space and make less waste,” van der Ende continues. “Normally something like sour cream came in cup-like containers. Now they also come in these stand-up pouches—and you can just reseal them.”
The contents of these pouches are also better protected against light’s damaging rays. When included in food packaging, Ti-Pure™ can block light that can be damaging to foods, helping keep nutritional value and extending shelf life.
Mobile eateries benefit from eye-catching, memorable paint jobs that pop. After all, food trucks are basically billboards on wheels—and the delicious product advertised is right inside, available to customers on-site.
Ti-Pure™ TiO₂ helps here too. Used in paints, Ti-Pure™ TiO₂ delivers opacity that makes coatings whiter and brighter. In addition, the TiO₂ helps provide durability, which in turn resists color fading.
“At the Wilmington [Delaware] Farmers Market, all the food trucks show up on Wednesdays,” van der Ende notes. “And unless you have your go-to truck, you’ll look around and see what attracts your attention. So color and graphics—they really do give appeal.”
And when in those instances where food truck owners don’t want a long-lasting logo on their trucks, at least they can be quickly changed—unlike the major storefront renovation required for some brick-and-mortar restaurants.
So if that Asian, farm-to-table food truck above needs to transform into, say, a Texas sandwich joint, a new paint job can happen fast—much like everything else in the food truck industry.
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Alice van der Ende
Regional Business Development Manager, Ti-Pure™ Plastics
We’re trying to help our customers downgauge—reduce the amount of packaging, yet still give them the performance they need.