As the mobile food industry grows, innovative companies are emerging to help food brands meet the challenges they often face in trying to expand to new markets. Food brands are oftentimes challenged by the unique characteristics of the different geographic markets they want to enter.
One company, New York City-based Move Systems, has seized on the need for food trailers in urban markets. The company, now in its fourth year, has played a key role in giving some rapidly growing restaurant brands a presence in a highly competitive market, New York City. The brands to date include Jericho, New York-based Nathan's Famous, Cheshire, Connecticut-based Wayback Burgers, and Belgium-based Le Pain Quotidien.
"Carts (trailers) certainly have a tremendous benefit to the urban location," Jeffrey Hoffman, vice president of operational systems and general counsel at Move Systems, told Food Truck Operator. "Very often it is advantageous to be able to tow a unit rather than drive it. As far as maintenance and the operability of the unit, if you have a truck and you have an engine problem, you're done. If you have a wagon (trailer), you're obviously able to tow it with a variety of different vehicles."
From its inception, Move Systems did not begin with a focus on food trailers, but on supporting a healthier and safer physical environment.
"We didn't sell anything," Hoffman said. The partners recognized that mobile food was a growing industry, and mobile operators needed cooking fuel as well as a source of electricity for operating their vehicles.
"We were trying to figure out, 'how do we solve these problems?'" he said. "Overall, we're trying to provide solutions that enhance life in the urban environment."
The company has developed two products to address these challenges: a food trailer and an electricity pedestal to control vehicle idling that reduces noise and pollution.
The mobile food movement has taken the country by storm, Hoffman said, and Move System believes its products present a game changer.
The company makes a trailer called the MRV100, and it customizes the equipment that goes inside the trailer, as well as the trailer's wrap. Any vehicle with sufficient horsepower can move the trailer, he said, including some passenger cars.
"We typically would recommend a van or a pickup," he said.
Through its subsidiary Simply Grid, Move Systems is also working with the New York food department and hospital systems to reduce carbon emissions and cut energy costs for its mobile fleets.
A manufacturer and an operator
Within the mobile food industry, Move Systems is unique in that it is both a food trailer manufacturer and an operator.
The company serves in a food trailer operating capacity in different ways. In some cases, they partner with existing vendors. In other cases, they actually operate the trailers on behalf of brands.
The company introduced its first trailers in late 2015. But rather than simply selling the trailers to mobile food operators, Move Systems partnered with mobile food operators in New York City, which Hoffman calls a unique mobile food environment.
"We're operating based on the dynamics of the market," he said. "New York City is not a truck town. It's a cart town."
"Our mission is to get brands that are looking to form a retail footprint in New York City that otherwise would not be able to afford it," he said. "It's incredibly expensive to do brick and mortar in the city."
Move Systems seeks to partner with brands that want to enter the "hockey stick" part of their growth curve, Hoffman said. It is also looking for cuisine types that will resonate on the streets of Manhattan.
High profile partnership
The company's most visible partnership to date is with Nathan's Famous, which began in 2015. Hoffman said his company has more 27 Nathan's Famous trailers operating in New York City and is on the way to having 50.
He did not wish to discuss the details of the company's arrangement with Nathan's Famous on account of a non-disclosure agreement.
"We have partnered with Nathan's and we have partnered with operators on the streets of New York," he said.
Nathan's Famous exhibited the trailers at this year's National Restaurant Show in Chicago. A Nathan's Famous spokesperson at the show told Food Truck Operator that the company plans to offer the trailers to franchisees in addition to brick-and-mortar restaurants.
More recently, Move Systems has also partnered with Wayback Burgers. The company approached Wayback Burgers at the International Franchise Show in New York City in 2016 because it saw an opportunity to expand the brand in New York City, a market the brand was not serving.
Move Systems has designed trailers for Wayback Burgers and will operate the trailers on behalf of the brand in New York City.
Because cities have different size requirements for trailers, Move Systems is investigating a larger trailer that Wayback Burgers will offer in cities outside of New York City. This will mark Move Systems expansion beyond its home city.
"We will be developing a larger unit to service other jurisdictions," Hoffman said.
Hoffman acknowledges there is a demand for both trailers and trucks within the mobile food industry.
"We think there is a robust market for both paradigms, both trucks and carts," he said. "We're obviously focused where the carts have the advantage."
In addition to Nathan's Famous and Wayback Burgers, Move Systems has also partnered with Le Pain Quotidien, a Belgium-based bakery restaurant chain that has a U.S. presence that has recently introduced trailers in New York City.
The mobile food industry clearly lends itself to different operating models, which is not surprising given the varying market characteristics that exist in the U.S.
Elliot Maras Elliot Maras is the editor of KioskMarketplace.com and FoodTruckOperator.com.