Friday, May 21, 2010

When trends collide

If you heard a sonic boom yesterday, it might’ve been the collision of two mega-trends. The National Restaurant Association’s annual convention hasn’t even officially started, but it’s clear the proliferation of truck restaurants and move to local purchasing will be major themes.

The two coincided during a presentation at the Marketing Executives Group’s meeting, a two-day get-together that traditionally precedes the main show. Scott Baitinger , a recent entrant in the booming truck-restaurant business, was explaining one of the twists to his venture, a pizzeria-on-wheels called Street-za. The truck will soon be zipping around its home base of Milwaukee to pick up whatever tomatoes and other produce home-gardeners would like to sell. “Then we’ll sell it back to them as pizza,” explained Baitinger.

Baitinger’s presentation was far from the only mention of truck restaurants and local purchasing during the MEG conference. Speakers cited restaurants-on-wheels ranging from the famous Kogi truck to the Blizzard Mobile that Dairy Queen plans to roll this summer.

Others noted that chains aren’t sitting idle as the industry shifts to local purchasing. One pointed out that McCormick & Schmick’s has long purchased local seafood. Now the dinnerhouse chain is featuring local produce in its salads, a MEG speaker noted.

The topics will be frequent areas of focus during the convention. Baitinger, for instance, will be discussing his mobile restaurant during the Restaurant Executive Breakfast at 8:30 tomorrow morning in room N427 (attendance is limited to chain executives). The session, which I’m moderating, will also feature Susan Shield of Jamba Juice, speaking about licensing and catering, and John Inserra of Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants, who’ll address educational sessions for consumers as a new revenue stream for restaurants.

What’s more, Baitinger’s truck restaurant will be one of several featured in a special section of the show floor, The Food Truck Spot.

Local purchasing will be the focus of several education sessions at the show, including “’Local’ Making You Loco?,” Sunday, 2 to 3:30 p.m., and “Are Sourcing Local and Sustainable Food Mutually Exclusive?”, Monday, 2 to 3:30. All education sessions will be held in the North building at McCormick Place.

Hope to see you at tomorrow’s breakfast session.

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