A Guide to Launching a Food Truck Business (2023)

A Guide to Launching a Food Truck Business (1)

UPDATE: This article was originally published in January 2020, but due to its popularity it’s been updated on 11 October 2021.

The LoCrate Market in Soweto is one of the many venues food trucks can be found.

Long a trend in the US and UK, food trucks are growing in popularity in South Africa.

Food trucks can today be found anywhere from ordinary street corners or at dedicated food truck stops like The Hoods in Sandton, which is Johannesburg’s first food truck stop. Some food truck businesses focus on live events such as festivals, weddings and markets like LoCrate Market in Soweto; BrownSense in Johannesburg and Cape Town and Fourways Market. There are also opportunities for food truck businesses to serve private and corporate events.

The most successful food truck businesses succeed by finding a niche, creating a personality for the business and building great customer relationships.

Food truck businesses offer a variety of food offerings. The Cape Town Food Truck Association lists the following niches: Asian-inspired food, pork belly and ribs, wood-fired pizzas; poke bowls; Indian food and bunny chow, Mexican, Cajun, chips, waffles, sushi and oysters, gelato, frozen yogurt and coffee. Other popular niches are American-inspired fare like burgers and hot dogs, and traditional South African dishes like pap, chakalaka and braaied meat.

Industry Overview

Food trucks form a part of the food and beverage sector. The fast food sector is a major contributor to the growth of the food and beverage industry. The industry showed 2.9% growth in May 2019 when compared to the same period the year before, this is thanks to a significant increase in fast food sales which grew by 7.5% when compared to the same period in 2018.

A study by Lightstone Explore found that consumers are attracted to fast foods because of convenience, which suggests that consumers are moving away from “the costly, both in time and money, implications of eating out in a restaurant.

The same study found that 90% of South African residents live within 5km of at least one fast food outlet.

Key trends

There are a number of trends driving the popularity of food truck businesses.

Dov Girnun founder and CEO of Merchant Capital gives two factors that are fuelling the popularity of the sector.

(Video) How To Start a Food Truck Business 2022

“South Africans spent more on eating out and coffee last year than they did the year before,” says Girnun.

“And because hard working consumers are tending to work even harder during this downturn, they don’t have the time to cook.

“This translates into an uptake in take-outs or grabbing a quick bite to eat. Good news for those working in the food and beverage sector.”

The second reason he gives is the rise of foodie culture.

“Consumers have developed an international palate and there is a growing opportunity for more “small food” innovators, which are becoming increasingly popular with patrons looking for authentic foreign food that is locally made and produced.

“With an inherently multi-cultural society, South African consumers are now spoilt for choice and restauranteurs are cashing in on this wave.

A Guide to Launching a Food Truck Business (2)

Success Stories

While still a relatively new sector, there are brands that have successfully established a name for themselves. The Balkan Burger food truck was launched by brother and sister team, Bojan and Lidija Ivanovic, on a hunch, with only R5,000 in 2012. The brand is well-known for its Serbian-inspired cheeseburgers.

Other forerunners in the sector are Sumting Fresh, which offers cocktails and chicken dishes, founded by entrepreneurs Hezron Louw and Andrew Leeuw. Today it is a globally recognised food brand, loved the world over for its creative cuisine and exuberant service style.

Laws & Regulations

In addition to business registration, certain businesses are required to get a business license in terms of the Businesses Act, this includes businesses making or selling food that can go off.

A business licence is generally required for businesses that need to comply with health and safety regulations.

Your local municipality handles business licences and you can contact them for details on licensing procedures and the various health and safety regulations required for different kinds of businesses.

The most important regulations that business owners in this sector have to comply with are health and safety permits, licenses for the selling of liquor and tobacco, as well as zoning permits, to operate in certain locations.

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If you comply with all the requirements, you will be issued with a licence. If not, you can apply for a 14-day grace period, during which you can make changes to your premises so that they meet the requirements.

Regulations also require a food business to possess a certificate of acceptability. For a certificate of acceptability, you will generally be required to provide information regarding the nature and type of food being handled on the premises, the nature of the handling (e.g. preparation, packing, processing etc), and certain other information.

The law also requires all home and business owners who have liquid gas installed in their home or business to obtain a gas compliance certificate, also known as a Gas Certificate of Conformity.

SEE HERE: Starting A Business: Licensing and Permits For The Food Industry

It is also mandatory for a person to register for VAT if the taxable supplies made or to be made is, in excess of R1 million in any consecutive twelve-month period.

Financial Management

Steven Cohen Head of Sage One International (Africa, Australia, Middle East and Asia): “It’s important to look at how you will earn a healthy margin off goods that will be more expensive to make or source than the mass-produced alternatives.

“How do you balance quality and price to ensure profitability? How do you keep people coming back, even if you’re not the cheapest supplier on the block?

“Traditional business disciplines such as tight inventory management, market research, hard-hitting sales and good customer relationship management are all key to success.”

Getting Started

Breyton Benjamin is the owner of Big Bite RoadHouse, which is based in Ceres in the Western Cape. They specialise in a variety of hearty, traditional meals like a full house Gatsby and the masala steak Gatsby. His meals are jam-packed with flavour and represent real South African culture.

Benjamin is someone who understands and honours South Africa’s food culture and its importance. He advises future entrepreneurs to surround themselves with supportive people who bring value and want to see them succeed.

A Guide to Launching a Food Truck Business (3)

Benjamin shares his expertise for running a successful food truck business:

Choosing Your Target Market

The size of my market is limitless because ‘everyone must eat’. We cater to lower, middle, and higher-income people, including a vast portion of the market which hasn’t been tapped into.

(Video) Writting a food truck business plan [ write a food truck plan ]

Setup Costs

For costing of a food truck, one would have to speculate how much space you need and what is affordable, the relevant size for the market you’re catering for, and which market segment you want to tap into as well.

For instance, if you are just doing catering [for events], you won’t need such a big food truck to use for the general public. There is a big variable cost on items like fryers, gas stoves or grills. For us we just basically copied what we had in our current shop and applied it to our food truck.

A pretty decent trailer can cost between R100 000 and R150 000.

Opportunities Available

The opportunities to explore are limitless, I believe that if you want to do something and you’re very passionate about it, just make it better than existing businesses with the same offering. Don’t ever give up on what you believe in if it creates value for the customer.

Sales & Marketing

There are two things I look at in order to stand out in the market; what people are familiar with and how I can innovate and put my own twist on dishes to make it unique.

I want to have a niche market that makes people come to me, instead of them going to my competitors. I am building a loyalty base by letting my customers know why I recognise them for being loyal, and I think they like that a lot.

The best way to convert customers is by showing your products and by being genuine with them, we all love other people being real with us. I also get customers through social media, casual talks and most of my customers I get through word of mouth.

Industry Challenges

The biggest challenge we have is unexpected loadshedding, luckily customers understand, and they have become accustomed to it. Another challenge is employing the right staff.

Standardising everything for new trainees and chefs is also difficult, because you want them to be themselves in the kitchen and to keep them happy as well, but there must be a consistent product that comes out of Big Bite Roadhouse.
Another challenge is menu developments, we generate new ideas and test them every day.

Finding the right suppliers for food items is another battle: one may tend to go for cheaper suppliers, but we prioritise quality. I pay more for my stock, and it shows in my figures and growth, my customers always come back.


Choosing a location is very important, I’ve made the mistake of just taking any shop that was available. One must know the physical location very well, and if you don’t know, you need to find out where most of your market is at a specific time during the day. If you want to position yourself next to other food trucks, you’re going to need to have a very unique product, and create more value than your competitors. Try to keep the product consistent.

So many things go together with choosing the right location: from how to get there (logistics) to how much it will cost you to get there.

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My pricing changes a little bit depending on where the event is going to be held. So, the location is very important, your business can take off so much quicker in the right location.

Startup Advice

My advice to young entrepreneurs starting out is to surround yourself with the right people and to toughen up a bit because the ride is never easy.

It is the unexpected stuff that throws you off, and it is in that moment that outcomes are determined. So, decision-making and the ability to work under pressure is very important. Find a Startup Mentor here.


Must-have tech tools for food trucks

Search and Maps – Google My Business is a free online tool that allows your customers and potential clients to find your contact information when they conduct a Google Search. For food trucks with a designated spot during weekdays, Google Maps helps customers to track their trucks. In addition to Google My Business, there are a number of location tracker apps available that help new customers to do the same thing. Find out how to create a profile for your business here.

Mobile POS system – Make it easy for customers to pay you by offering them various payment solutions such as a credit and debit card POS terminal, Tap & Go option, or QR Codes – all via your POS system. With your POS system, you will also get access to apps and a dashboard that can help you provide discounts and rewards to customers, as well as keep track of your customers’ data including their contact numbers (for SMS marketing) and email addresses. You can also integrate your POS system into your e-commerce website. Find the POS system here.

Accounting software –All businesses need to keep an eye on their finances, and food-based businesses are no different. Get clarity and keep track of your finances from anywhere and at any time with cloud accounting software. Your accounting software will also enable you to calculate sales tax, revenue, and complete cash flow forecasts, as well as manage your inventory. You can also process online payments and send invoices immediately. Read our Review of Accounting Software for Small Businesses

Online ordering systems – By using online ordering systems customers can order their food to go from your food truck and can be integrated on your website or e-commerce store. Most systems come with digital menu functionality, on which businesses can share images or videos of their food.

Social media apps – As part of your social media strategy, use social media to find new customers, provide customer service, or give updates letting them know where your truck is located on a particular day. Also, use social media to engage with your customers by posting or sharing the images of their food truck experience on your own social media pages.

Industry Support

Food truck manufacturing

Food truck associations

The Cape Town Food Truck Association is a member services organisation. They advocate on behalf of all their mobile food members to help them succeed in this very competitive industry.

(Video) How to Start a Food Truck: The ULTIMATE Guide for New Business Owners


A Guide to Launching a Food Truck Business? ›

Barbecue is consistently rated as North America's most popular – and most profitable – food truck item. Find out what kind of BBQ your customers want, and you'll be the hottest eatery on the block. With some simple spices, sauces, and seasonings, you can make any kind of BBQ your own.

What is the most profitable food to make on a food truck? ›

Barbecue is consistently rated as North America's most popular – and most profitable – food truck item. Find out what kind of BBQ your customers want, and you'll be the hottest eatery on the block. With some simple spices, sauces, and seasonings, you can make any kind of BBQ your own.

How profitable is a food truck business? ›

Food trucks make an average of $250,000-$500,000 annually, or $20,000 - $42,000 monthly. That might seem like a big range – so this guide will help you to calculate your food truck's revenue and profit margin potential. Along the way, you'll develop some strategies for maximizing your restaurant's income.

What licenses are needed to start a food truck in Nebraska? ›

Katherine Boyarsky
  • Business License.
  • Mobile Food Facility Permit.
  • Public Health Permit.
  • Seller's Permit.
  • Liquor License.
  • Employee Health Permit.
  • Food Truck Laws and Regulations in Nebraska.

What is the top 3 most popular food truck foods? ›

The Most Profitable Foods for A Food Truck Business
  1. Grilled Cheese Sandwiches. Grilled sandwiches with melted cheese are a customer favorite for their satisfying taste, texture, and convenience. ...
  2. Mexican Food. ...
  3. Gourmet Burgers. ...
  4. Mac n Cheese. ...
  5. Indian Street Food. ...
  6. French Fries. ...
  7. Loaded Fries. ...
  8. Taco Truck.
Mar 14, 2023

Do food trucks pay for locations? ›

Yes, food trucks typically pay for locations in order to operate in certain areas. These fees can vary widely depending on the location, the time of day, and the popularity of the area.

What is the best profit margin food truck? ›

Most Profitable Item #1: Barbecue. The most profitable food truck dishes strike the perfect balance between cost, labour, and sales. Nothing embodies that balance more than barbecue. Not only is it easy to toss some choice meats and veggies on the fire, but it's also quick and cheaper than other options.

What is a day in the life of a food truck owner? ›

Solo food truck entrepreneurs work anywhere from 10-16hrs per day. Their time is spent purchasing supplies, prepping food, loading/unloading, driving, cooking, serving, updating budgets, updating social platforms…etc).

How much is a food permit in Nebraska? ›

Limited Food Service
Temporary Food
31 more rows

How much is a food license in Nebraska? ›

Nebraska state law requires that the test and license not cost more than $15, in order to make sure anyone working in a restaurant can afford to get certified.

Can I sell food from home in Nebraska? ›

Getting started in Nebraska

Prior to conducting any sales, Nebraska cottage food producers must complete a nationally accredited food safety course and register online with the state. The requirement is waived when selling directly to the consumer at farmers' markets.

How successful can you be with a food truck? ›

With an average revenue stream of $250,000-$500,000 a year, managing a successful mobile kitchen can be a lucrative endeavor! It's important to understand that getting through the first few years and establishing a thriving brand takes some work. How can a food truck owner beat the odds and come out on top?

Why would my food truck be successful? ›

1.) Discipline, Persistence, Passion. A successful food truck business tends to have discipline, persistence and passion — well, when it comes to the owner, that is. When your friends are out having fun on a Friday night, you are serving at a location or doing any form of work for your business.

What city has the most food trucks? ›

Los Angeles has the most food trucks with 715, while Virginia Beach has the fewest with 28. The top 15 cities have an average of nine food trucks per 100,000 residents.
The Best 15 Food Truck Cities in America
  • Providence, RI.
  • San Jose, CA.
  • Tampa, FL.
  • San Antonio, TX.
  • Seattle, WA.
  • San Francisco, CA.
  • Phoenix, AZ.
  • Las Vegas, NV.
Jun 22, 2022

How many items should be on a food truck menu? ›

A good rule of thumb is that most food trucks can handle five to 12 different menu items at any given time. The fewer the better to keep your quality top notch.

Who eats most from food trucks? ›

Middle-class millennials are the target audience for food truck businesses. 43% of monthly food truck spending is attributed to people between the ages of 25 and 44, and an additional 20% is attributed to people under the age of 25.

What is the most common food truck cuisine? ›

Street food truck

At the core of the food truck movement is a love of street food – tacos, kebabs, and sandwiches are some of the most common food truck fare. Street food trucks stick to classic dishes that can be prepped and assembled quickly.

What is the most profitable food? ›

Most Profitable Food Items
  1. Burgers. Time and time again, industry experts agree that burgers are one of the most profitable foods. ...
  2. Pizza. Pizza is another crowd pleaser with high-profit margins. ...
  3. Wings. Fresh poultry, in general, is often expensive, but wings are the exception. ...
  4. Tacos. ...
  5. Small Bites & Snacks.

What were the first 2 foods sold on a food truck? ›

The very first food trucks date back to the chuckwagon. These covered wagons sold perishable food to cowboys and loggers in the American wilderness. In a typical chuck wagon, you'd find beans, cured meat, coffee, and biscuits. It would also carry water, and wood to build fires.

What type of food makes the most money? ›

Profitable Food Business Ideas
  • Honey production – 30% average profit margin.
  • Coffee shop – 25% average profit margin.
  • Popcorn business – 22% average profit margin.
  • Custom cakes – 19% average profit margin.
  • Chicken poultry -17% average profit margin.
  • Pizza – 15% average profit margin.
  • Fruit juice – 14% average profit margin.

What is the most profitable take out food? ›

Most Profitable Food Items
  1. Burgers. Time and time again, industry experts agree that burgers are one of the most profitable foods. ...
  2. Pizza. Pizza is another crowd pleaser with high-profit margins. ...
  3. Wings. Fresh poultry, in general, is often expensive, but wings are the exception. ...
  4. Tacos. ...
  5. Small Bites & Snacks.

What is the easiest food to sell? ›

Easy Food To Sell To Make Money
  • Candy and other confectionery.
  • Cookies, pastries, and other baked goods.
  • Dry herbs, seasonings, and herb mixes.
  • Homemade fresh bread.
  • Hummus and other dips.
  • Jams, jellies, and other preserves.
  • Nuts, coated, and uncoated.
  • Pickles and other pickled vegetables.

What are 5 rich food? ›

Foods that naturally are nutrient-rich include fruits and vegetables. Lean meats, fish, whole grains, dairy, legumes, nuts, and seeds also are high in nutrients.

What makes a food rich? ›

Rich foods are those that contain high amounts of vitamins, minerals, protein, fats, carbohydrates, fiber, and other nutrients.

What food has the highest markup? ›

Markup: Spices that come from well-known brands can be very expensive. In fact, the markup on spices is a shocking 100%, making it one of the highest markups on any grocery item. The average customer spends more money on packaging, but there is an easy way to cut costs that can save a lot of money.

What foods sell the most? ›

  2. MILK.
  4. EGGS.
  5. BREAD.

What is the best color for a food truck? ›

Using The Right Colors

In general, warm colors like red and yellow are great for creating an open and outgoing atmosphere. Cooler colors like blue will lend you a calm and trustworthy aesthetic to help you stand out, while green is often associated with healthy and fresh foods.

What is the best size for a food truck? ›

Food trucks are typically 16 feet long and 7 feet wide but can range in size from 10-26 feet long. This versatile vehicle is designed for street parking to serve pedestrians that may be passing by. Food is prepared and cooked in the vehicle and sold to individual customers from the window on the side of the truck.

What are the most popular food truck options? ›

Effective food truck ideas
  • 1) Hamburgers. Hamburgers — and their vegan and vegetarian cousins — are some of the most popular food truck ideas on the planet. ...
  • 2) Funnel cakes. ...
  • 3) Coffee/tea/hot chocolate. ...
  • 4) Sushi bowls. ...
  • 5) Barbecue. ...
  • 6) Churros. ...
  • 7) Cupcakes. ...
  • 8) Grilled cheese.


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