It seems that if I’m out-of-state and I mention I’m from Portland, people have heard about our food cart culture. It seems they’re popping up everywhere! In such a competitive market I’m always curious how carts attempt to make a name for themselves, stand out from the crowd, and attract customers. In a word, I’m on the lookout for how they’re branding themselves.
And I have to say – it’s surprising that many carts don’t have a memorable brand. This surprises me because the food cart scene is one that seems to gain customers either by foot-traffic appeal or by word of mouth. When people want to grab a food cart lunch, they usually walk around a certain cart pod and make a decision on where to eat based on looking at the outside of the carts and their menu. In this instance, they are judging a book by it’s cover and by how the food is presented on the menu. A striking food cart design and well-photographed and written menu would give a cart a better chance of attracting customers.
The other option is they hear about the food cart from word of mouth. In this instance, a food cart with a memorable name or distinguishing characteristic (type of food or how it looks) is more likely to be recommended. This is also largely branding. Which is more memorable, a Thai food cart or a Korean Taco cart? Which name is more likely to be remembered, “Cake on a Hot Tin Roof” or “Santos Brothers Express Mexican”? And if you’re describing a cart to a friend, which is more easy to tell someone how to find – a generic white food cart with a menu sign out front, or one that is painted with a huge lumberjack waving a trophy cup full of french fries? I’m just sayin. It’s good to think of how people hear about your business and find their way to your cash register.
At the end of 2011, I worked with Ryan Tenzeldam who helped me gather photos of Food Carts around town and think about the role branding plays in the food cart scene. Here’s a few we identified as having distinct brands and admirable logos.
- Easy to read logo and cute mascots make this brand easy to recognize
- Innovative menu full of things “you gotta try”
- Extra points for an easy-to-read sign and logo (despite being behind a tree)
- It’s in an old school bus! Very memorable and it’s even referenced in the logo.
- What a great name – hard to forget
- Color palette communicates sophistication, font says Boston Red Sox, and the seashell says seafood – a lot of meaning here
- Smarty pants name is memorable and full of attitude
- The name of the food cart makes a promise to their customers, and as you can see in this photo they uphold that brand promise
- Koi Fusion has a distinct brand extended across all their touchpoints – signs, menu, online presence, etc.
- Their sleek modern design stands out against the competition – most food cart graphics have a more hand-made feel
- Korean Taco truck – an unexpected concept that’s tasty and has a big “I gotta try this” appeal
- Such a great mascot (even if it is painted over the old truck lettering)
- Limited menu offering lets these guys claim a niche – creates a situation where people develop a craving that only Whiffies will satisfy
Interested in foodcarts? Check out the branding, logo, and design work we did for PDX Empanadas.
Photo attributions, Creative Commons License:
Big Ass Sandwiches: Flickr user Swift Benjamin
Featured Food Carts Photo: Flickr user Christine Rondeau
Koi Fusion Cart: Flickr user PDX Food Cart Lovers/Scott Batchelar
PBJ’s: Flickr user Sarah B Brook
Whiffies: Flickr user Christopher Harley