Jenna Owen has over a decade of experience covering retail and technology stories, both from the UK and internationally.
Street food is one of the newest trends in the food and drink sector and one that is continuing to expand. Historically, street food was eaten by poorer citizens, who could not afford the luxuries of the wealthy. Originating from ancient Greece, it is believed that small fried fish was served to the poor urban residents who did not have kitchens. Whilst in ancient China, servants would buy street food to take back to their wealthy citizens who preferred to eat in the comfort of their own home.
Fast forward to the present day and street food is becoming one of the most popular ways to eat out. It’s growth has expanded alongside rapidly changing lifestyles, tastes and preferences. An article by the MCA claims that the street food market was estimated to have reached a total value of 1.8bn in 2018. Furthermore, consumers are now demanding a greater selection of non meat, dairy free and vegan food options, all of which can be catered for by street food providers who can easily respond to changing market demands.
The Street Food Alliance: championing the benefits of the street food sector
In order to support the growing sector, The Street Food Alliance was created to support, promote and develop street food businesses. In the Birmingham and West Midland area, there was only a handful of street food businesses in 2010, growing to almost 3000 by 2016. The Street Food Alliance is working to achieve ten major objectives, which reflect the many ways in which street food can benefit the local community and its economy. The first objective is to support over 150 street food businesses within the next two to three years, which includes around 100 new startups. They also plan to help the 30 existing street food businesses in the area to move into more permanent bricks and mortar venues within the same time frame.
Most importantly, The Street Food Alliance has recognised that street food can bring many cultural, tourism and inward investment opportunities as well as the potential to redevelop and regenerate local areas and spaces. It also realises the potential to create a thriving night time economy, reduce anti-social behaviour and reclaim public spaces for the good of the community. Given the many benefits that can be provided to the community, there is a growing recognition that local councils, associations and business support organisations need to be doing more to help street food owners to develop stronger, safer, more sustainable business models in order to help their businesses to thrive.
Success in Practice: MeatWAGON
There are countless examples of successful street food operations, but one which stands out in particular is Meatliqor. Originally launched as the MeatWAGON, the business launched in 2008 as a small van that would drive around South London on Friday nights, selling the best burgers in the area. With the launch of Twitter, the business used it’s platform to full advantage to promote their offerings and drive footfall to the van. On one fortunate day, a London based landlord named Scott Collins tried the burgers and loved them. In 2010 the MeatWAGON was stolen and Scott saw the chance for an amazing partnership to begin. Scott made a plan for business to be located in the upstairs of an old run down pub he was about to buy. The three month pop-up launched in January 2011 and was an instant hit. This led to the opening of MEATliquor’s first permanent restaurant in November 2011, with the brand continuing to thrive to this day.
Taking the ‘street’ out of street food?
Much of the attraction of street food for both consumers and the owners themselves, is the flexibility and freedom that comes with operating a business of this nature. Whilst there are many examples of businesses that have transitioned from the street to brick and mortar stores, it is important to acknowledge that this move isn’t for everyone. Whilst there are a number of added benefits to moving into a more permanent premises, for the vast majority of street food owners, the emphasis will be on creating practices which enable them to trade fairly, safely and in a way which is commercially beneficial to both the owners and the local trading community. Many agree that the street food industry is maturing, but the opportunities presented within it continue to remain diverse.
The future is bright
As consumers continue to opt for a more flexible lifestyle and diverse food palette, the future of street food has never looked brighter. With endless opportunities available within the street food market combined with the relatively small amount of investment needed, more and more people are looking to enter the sector. Street food businesses encourage innovation and the chance to experiment with new ideas. Their simple infrastructure and low overheads mean that they can quickly respond to market demands and trends, whilst also testing new flavours, ingredients and recipes with ease.
As The Street Food Alliance so eloquently describes it, street food has the potential to ‘rejuvenate, re-energise and disrupt the food offering’. It has been shown to help increase footfall into the city areas and promote a safer, more vibrant community life. It is clear that the responsibility lies with the food retail industry, councils and business support organisations to help both existing and new business owners to expand, develop and professionalise their business offering, so that they can remain firmly entrenched in local communities for many years to come.