Published on November 15, 2017, at 10:26 p.m.
by Parker Rocco.
Food trends. From avocado toast to kale salads to acaį bowls, there seems to be a brand-new, must-try food item that hits the consumer market every year. While many types of foods, varying from sweet to salty and healthy to unhealthy, can become trendy, there is one common link between each of these foods reaching popularity — social media.
These trendy foods often reach the limelight by appearing on social media platforms like Instagram. Instagram has become so popular because of its dual photo and video feature. According to an article published by Aljazeera, “Over 208 million Instagram posts have been hashtagged ‘food’ on the photosharing app since it was founded in 2010.” Restaurants, shops and consumers alike post these tasty trends across all social media platforms, making followers’ mouths water and their taste buds crave a bite.
Like all fads, food trends come and go. While social media can be essential in educating consumers about a potential, new food craze, it is not what makes food trends stick like rice. In fact, social media is only responsible for a small portion of this success. Trends built on meaningful relationships and connections are those that have the power to stick around. Food truck owners seem to have mastered these techniques as they are necessary to keep their businesses running. Food trucks are one trend that seem to be here to stay.
One key to the success of food trucks across the country is the relationships each truck builds with the surrounding community. Food trucks are no longer just popular on the streets of New York City or Chicago; they are sprouting up across the United States. As a result, food trucks and their owner have no choice but to build relationships with local citizens, governments and businesses to be successful.
The Local Roots food truck, in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, is a perfect example of why food trucks aren’t going out of style anytime soon.
Dustin Spruill, a Tuscaloosa native, has always had a love for food. When he was young, Spruill would spend time cooking with his grandfather, Harold Willcutt, at their family hunting camp. In fact, Spruill still uses some of the cooking techniques his grandfather taught him when he was young.
While Spruill had always wanted to be in the food business, he knew opening a restaurant came with many challenges. The idea to open the truck started when Spruill and his wife attended the Austin Food Festival in Austin, Texas. They were inspired by what they saw and tasted. Not too long after their visit, Local Roots was up and running in the spring of 2016.
“We started the process [for establishing the food truck] in the summer of 2015, and by April 1, 2016, we opened. It took about nine months from concept to delivery. It was a lot faster than we thought, but we knew our direction,” said Spruill.
In a bustling college town that grows more and more every year, Spruill has taken to social media to promote the Local Roots food truck.
“I do 99 percent of our social media posts. It’s usually me posting from my phone constantly,” said Spruill.
While social media is a tool that can be used to promote many businesses, Spruill knows it must be used carefully.
“A lot of people ask why I run it and don’t get a third party to do it,” Spruill said. “We are really passionate about what we do and we try to show that in our posts. If you put something out there that really shows you care, then people have a better connection to it.
“We just share what we are passionate about with all of our followers. The people on our social media are the same people doing the cooking and visiting farms and coming up with new concepts instead of someone doing the marketing for us that doesn’t actually have a connection to us.”
Beyond Local Roots’ presence on social media, Spruill knew building relationships with the Tuscaloosa community would be essential to the food truck’s success. Before the food truck even opened, Spruill decided to approach The University of Alabama about a potential partnership.
“I wanted to be a partner with the university — not just a food truck that comes on campus,” said Spruill.
“We built a following off-campus. A lot of our customer base is students, and they left campus to come visit us. It was a good match to get us on campus and keep students on campus,” said Spruill.
He noted that “some areas of campus are underserved and it’s a lot cheaper to have a food truck than opening a new dining hall. That is just another reason why food trucks make a lot of sense on campus.”
To maintain a positive partnership, Spruill stays engaged with students and UA by working closely with Bama Dining (link: https://bamadining.ua.edu/), the university’s food service.
LaShana Sorrell has worked at Bama Dining for the past three and a half years. Sorrell has 10 years of marketing experience, which has been very beneficial while working with clients like Local Roots and other food trucks, such as Archibald & Woodrow’s BBQ and SnoCo.
“We call them Bama Dining’s Mobile Family. They are an extension of who we are,” said Sorrell.
To successfully manage the Bama Dining Mobile Family, an open dialogue is imperative.
“To maintain the relationships with the trucks, we have constant communication. We communicate with them on a regular basis, so we can be there to support them,” said Sorrell.
Additionally, there are many beneficial aspects of the food truck partnership that are not only for the food trucks themselves but for the university, too.
“Anytime we can find a way to better serve our students is a win for us. We want to be here to support them. Food trucks allow us to be in areas where we might not have a designated food location,” said Sorrell.
One key to success in the trendy food truck industry is building relationships. While social media can be a great way to connect with customers and form partnerships, traditional, face-to-face communication is essential to making this industry relevant for many years to come.