In the last edition of Tasty Tidbits, we looked at the motivations and challenges of Toronto restaurateurs and chefs in sourcing local food. This week, we’ve profiled another Ryerson research project to see what food truck operators in the GTA have to say on the subject.
It’s no secret that food trucks are one of the biggest trends to come out of the food industry in the last decade. In 2013, the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization estimated that 2.5 billion people enjoy some form of street food each day . Yes, billion. As you might expect, food trucks, one of the most popular methods of bringing that street food to the masses (in North America and beyond) can mean big business. By meeting consumer demands and incorporating local, organic and/or artisanal ingredients, food trucks can also have a significant impact on the local economy.
Released in December, 2014, Assessing the Feasibility of Operating a Food Truck and the Use of Local, Organic and Artisanal Foods was conducted by the Ted Rogers School of Hospitality and Tourism Management at Ryerson University. The study’s findings were informed by interviews with 35 of the over 50 food truck owners serving up their street eats across the city.
Here are some of the results :
- 52% of respondents indicated their have used locally sourced products
- 31% of respondents have featured artisanal products
- 11% of respondents have used organic ingredients
When asked to share their reasons for choosing these products, respondents indicated three main reasons :
- 46% feel local/artisanal/organic ingredients are higher quality and taste better
“Locally source products are much higher in flavour and when combined with our dishes, the taste is noticeable.” 
- 40% are motivated by the health benefits
- 14% buy locally to support their community and stimulate the regional economy
“It’s nice to keep our local businesses involved.” 
As with the Ryerson restaurants study, the majority of respondents (83%) indicated there was a noticeable price increase that came with choosing to buy local/artisanal/organic . However, this did not seem to be a deterrent, likely due in part to the increased demand and support from consumers for these products. Three-quarters of respondents were confident that their customers were able to notice the difference in taste and quality.
When it came to procuring those local products, farmers’ markets topped the shopping list :
- 63% of respondents have shopped for ingredients at farmers’ markets
- 14% of respondents work closely with direct suppliers
- 14% of respondents rely on grocery stores
- 4% of respondents go straight to the source – the farmer themself
With close to forty farmers’ markets spread across the week and the city, Toronto food truck operators have a wide variety of markets to visit and source from. That is not to say operating a food truck in the GTA is a walk in the park. Far from it – there has been no shortage of news stories chronicling the challenges of mobile food vendors in the city. When respondents for the Ryerson survey were asked to voice their issues and concerns, permit regulations and fees ranked high on the list .
Currently, a mobile vending permit to operate a food truck in Toronto will set the licensee back $5,000 – a significant cost for a start up and/or small business owner. The cost becomes even more significant when compared with other food truck regions; the same permit in Hamilton and Vancouver is only $1,000. Vancouver, named one of the best food truck cities in North America , annually awards the twelve best performing food trucks in the city with designated spots. Toronto’s food trucks are also required to be at least 50km away from any bricks and mortar restaurant and can only operate for a three- hour window (outside of events).
Compare this with Ottawa’s thriving street food program, which provides designated spaces for its vendors from 5:30am – 11:00pm. To ensure customer satisfaction, a Street Food Selection Panel awards spaces through an application process. The application helps the panel assesses selection of menu offerings, quality and perceived curb appeal of the potential new mobile vendor .
Along with showcasing Best Practice regions that have fostered a successful food truck culture, the Ryerson study made several other recommendations for how Toronto could elevate its street food game, including:
- Lower permit costs
- Increase time limit for hours of operation
- Create standardized guidelines and resources for potential new food truck vendors
In order to prevent Toronto’s street food vendors from driving off into the sunset, it is clear that new rules and regulations will need to be instated – or at the very least, the current ones will need to be adjusted.
Support our province’s road warriors – find a food truck near you through Ontario Street Food or Toronto Food Trucks. And for industry members, look for new food truck development workshops (hosted or created in partnership with OCTA) to be announced in the coming months.
Keep on truckin’!
Our thanks to the Ted Rogers School of Hospitality and Tourism Management, Associate Professor Rachel Dodds and students: Joyce Corpuz, Ali Mahmood and Hala Taher.
 “History of Food Trucks – The Growing Food Truck Trend.” Culinaryschools.com. 2013.
 Corpuz, J.; Mahmood, A., Taher, H. & Dodds, R. (2014) Assessing The Feasibility Of Operating A Food Truck And The Use Of Local, Organic, And Artisanal Foods, Ted Rogers School of Hospitality and Tourism Management, Ryerson University. Toronto. 63 pages.
 “Top street food cities in North America.” VanCity Buzz. 2013.
 Powell, Philip. “Community Curb Appeal: Building a Food Truck Friendly Community”. Presentation. Sept. 4, 2014.