We Indians love eating our food outdoors – not just as a means of sustenance or survival but more so as entertainment, as a celebration to mark special occasions. Outdoor dining has been integrated into the fabric of our culture. We eat and feed to socialise, show affection, caring and all other great things in between! An Indian mother calling her child working or studying away from home doesn’t answer their “Hello” with a, “How are you?”, but with “Have you eaten yet?” whatever time of day it may be. We Indians show our love through food. Each Indian state has multiple delectable cuisines packed into its culture and Indians have never been shy of integrating global cuisine into their daily pleasures be it the humble loaf of bread, craze for Chinese food or the more recent Middle Eastern food revolution sweeping India.
Hungry Wheels – enthusiastically welcomed by hospitality and dining industry players across India at the FHRAI convention.
Food trucks have been late in making their presence significantly felt in India despite being an easy access dining option. This is certainly not for want of established hospitality players or aspiring entrepreneurs desirous of moving into this segment. Conde Nast Traveler magazine’s recent issue lists Los Angeles, Austin, New York, Chicago, Berlin, Portland, San Francisco, London, Vancouver with Paris as the most recent addition – as the top cities to experience food truck dining. Yet, despite our rich cuisine and intrinsic love for food, this segment has remained virtually untapped in India, primarily owing to the lack of a proper regulatory framework to regulate the food truck industry segment.
Hungry Wheels who unveiled a special preview of their mobile restaurants for FHRAI members at the recently concluded ‘Brand India’ FHRAI’s 2016 Annual convention in Indore, spoke about how they have been able to make policy breakthroughs that would now allow this segment to take root and grow in India in a well regulated, formal manner. “We first looked at what can’t be done in India given the various laws and regulations governing various aspects of the food truck business. We also went around prime centres around the globe that are ahead of India in adopting this model. All of this was over the last four years since when we first identified the need gap,” said Mr. Vikram Sood, Founder and Director of the soon to formally launch Hungry Wheels at a panel discussion on ‘New Food Technologies that maximise revenue’, hosted at the FHRAI annual convention.
The idea of mobile restaurants becoming a reality in India was warmly welcomed by hospitality industry leaders attending the FHRAI convention. “In a country of our scale, we are unable to provide clean, hygienic food solutions to most locations. Food trucks are an opportunity to provide clean and hygienic food. Taste is secondary at this time. Given such a broad cuisine food trucks will be an exciting concept to have,” Bharat Malkani, President, FHRAI said in response to his views about bringing the globally popular food truck concept to India. “We will work with the government to ensure that licensing for food trucks will be similar to hotels i.e they will have similar food safety standards. There will be a distinct difference between a food safety certified truck and a regular street cart. We are promoting this idea, we like it and we would like to see this succeed for all good reasons. Many of our food specialists are already seriously looking at this option. Some of our members have already agreed to go ahead. And that’s a serious endorsement of this.”
The few existing food truck dining establishments that have mushroomed around centres such as Mumbai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Delhi NCR, Chandigarh etc. face constant harassment from regulators and law keepers whether or not they have the license to operate. This is mainly because there are no specific licenses or clear guidelines for food trucks operations. The fear of harassment and regulatory risks keeps away established hoteliers and restaurateurs from using these as means to get better ROI from existing kitchens that often lie idle during non-prime time. It also restricts them from using this as an easy solution to expanding pan-India – while they may well be the perfect idea to just even test a new market or cuisine at low risk and low investments!
Vikram Sood said, “Mobile restaurants as a segment have to succeed in India, we intend to augment revenue for existing hospitality businesses, who already understand this business best. Hungry Wheels is an enabler, and a partner. We will do great things together!”
There is no dearth of market demand for this segment either. A recent consumer survey on ‘Urban Indian Dining Preferences 2016’ by ‘Ace Insights’ found that 80% of those polled, dine alone 10 or more times each month. Lone diners also prefer quick service formats of food service under 15 minutes while spending up to Rs.500 per meal. When dining in groups on casual occasions the willingness to spend per group rises to double that amount for the same time spent dining as single diners. However, only 30% of respondents dine out in groups more frequently than 10 times each month. Single diners show a clear preference for home delivery while groups like good cost hygienic, dining options that offer a good experience with little travel from their home or work locations.
Hungry Wheels mobile restaurant vehicles, custom fitted kitchens and parking policies comply with global standards of safety and pollution; as well as traffic management around service spots. This is expected to eliminate any regulatory objections in legalising this segment in India.
To make these global standard compliances possible, Hungry Wheels took away the two dangerous parts from the typical food truck format – the engine and cooking fuel. The mobile restaurant kitchens are flameless and fitted with top end Korean mobile kitchen equipment for all kinds of cooking, semi or fully prepped to be served hot or cold. This trailer van are moved around by fuel efficient vehicles which will soon also have a battery driven option to become even further environmentally sustainable. Since these are no longer vehicles in their own right, rather than food trucks – Hungry Wheels calls them ‘Mobile Restaurants’. Hundreds of prime parking slots for both running the mobile restaurant from and overnight parking, in key centres across India have already been identified in conjunction with relevant authorities.
“We provide turnkey solutions along with a white label mobile restaurant. We want our clientele to be able to serve their customers best while we take care of the rest,” Sood further added.
It truly seems like the idea of mobile restaurant dining’s has arrived, if the enthusiastic industry response is anything to go by. It’s only a matter of time till it becomes a default option especially for diners that are looking for a more safe, hygienic and casual setting or sometimes just wanting to dine-out while hanging out at locations with their personal favourite views!