Cities with College Graduates, Craft Breweries Attract Food Trucks

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Gourmet food trucks — peddling meals such as sushi and Korean tacos — are more likely to hit the streets in cities with college graduates, creative workers, and more diverse populations, says a collaborative study by researchers from two universities.

Additionally, cities with a higher number of craft breweries and farmers markets — and fewer fast food and chain restaurants — also tend to have more fashionable food trucks, say researchers from the University of Michigan and Northwestern University, who harvested social media data to conduct the trend of upscale U.S. food trucks.

“Virtually all these trucks are online and use Twitter to connect with customers, especially if they change locations,” says Todd Schifeling, a doctoral candidate in sociology at the U-M. “So we were able to avoid the sampling errors that often happen as a result of using social media as data.”

Schifeling, along with Northwestern’s Daphne Demetry, found that there are now more than 4,000 food trucks in the country 

Larger and more spread out cities with higher rental costs had more trucks, supporting the idea that chefs are turning to trucks as a cheaper alternative to brick-and-mortar restaurants. Not surprising, Los Angeles — where food trucks got their start — has the most food trucks at 366. Detroit comes in at No. 85 with 10 trucks, and Ann Arbor places at No. 96 with seven trucks.

According to Schifeling and Demetry, the growth of food trucks is a prime example of what they call “the new authenticity economy”— a trend toward favoring unique, eclectic, local, and artisanal products.

“We were surprised to find that weather isn’t really a factor in the concentration of food trucks,” Schifeling said. “Extreme temperatures have no effect and precipitation is actually positively associated with the new food trucks, although this effect drops out of significance if Portland, Ore., is removed.”

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