Mt. Plymouth IGA owner Nakul Patel has been showing off the shiny interior of his store’s newest food truck, a follow-up to the the truck he first introduced in 2017 to help attract new shoppers to his IGA store and boost grab-and-go sales. “Originally we did the food truck to alleviate the pressure of the deli,” Patel said.
But the truck has performed differently—and more successfully—than he expected. It has become it's own destination, a popular place for fresh food and made-to-order meals, with food truck sales soaring during the pandemic. "Deli sales have remained flat when we compare that year to this year, but our food truck is up by about 65 percent,” he said.
According to Patel, reinvesting those profits in a new truck with more space and amenities only makes sense. "Our initial investment in the truck was a great business decision for us. Now with a new truck we serve more diners, who later become in-store shoppers."
A Bold Way to Stand Out
A few years back, Patel was looking for a way to make Mt. Plymouth IGA stand out from the Publix stores that flood Central Florida. In 2017 he bought a food truck and parked it across the street from the store. “We are located in one place and customers know exactly where we’re going to be,” he said.
Parked right across the street on Niles, the giant green box truck offers all sorts of advertising:
- The side of the vehicle serves as a billboard on a busy street.
- The store’s fresh food and produce shows up on the menu in a variety of sandwiches, salads, burgers, and quick snacks for kids.
- The truck parks right across from the store, reminding the community that Mt. Plymouth IGA is where you go to solve the eternal question: What’s for dinner?
The new truck will sit in the same place once they get a health inspection and transfer the license and supplies to the new truck, and Patel promises a ribbon cutting this summer to celebrate.
The interior of Mt. Plymouth IGA's new food truck was thoughtfully designed.
The interior of the truck was planned inch by inch with specialty vendors and input from the people who work in the store. Every piece of equipment is raised off the ground so you can get under and clean the floor. The truck’s refrigeration design raises up the motor to prevent dirt from getting sucked up from the bottom, and some of the equipment is even movable so you can clean behind. Even the front window design was been customized to keep the employees cool inside. The new truck has a lot more refrigeration, more room for cold drinks, and it now comfortably fits six people working in it.
In-Store Impact: A Surprise Success
Instead of drawing the deli customers outside, the original food truck did something surprising: it brought in new customers. “We thought it would be the customers who were already coming, but that’s not what happened. It actually is a different customer,” he said.
Overall sales in the grocery store were very good during the pandemic, he said, but the ready-made, grab-and-go deli sales stayed static. The food truck business, on the other hand, went wild.
During COVID-19, the truck became a helpful addition to the store. “We updated the whole area and created a seating area and the food truck took off,” Patel said. People could remain six feet apart, eat together but outside, and also order online for quick takeout.
The outdoor seating area made the food truck a safe dining destination during the pandemic.
Everything that’s happened since Patel bought the original food truck has been a surprise: a global pandemic hit, the food truck boomed, and a bunch of new customers came to the store after being fans of the food truck first.
“We’re leveraging our grocery store’s advertising to attract the customers to the food truck,” Patel said. “I thought it would be the other way.”
Find Out More at The NGA Show
Want to learn more about Patel's creative strategy for increasing foods-to-go sales? Join us in Las Vegas at The NGA Show (September 19-20), where Patel will participate in the "Capitalizing on New Demand for Foods To Go" panel.
IGA has secured a special discount for IGA retailers to attend. Use the code "IGA" when registering for $100 off the prevailing rate. Register to attend at www.theNGAshow.com.
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