Street food must embrace technology to succeed in the digital era

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Street food is at the cutting edge of culinary innovation in the UK, but it needs the power of technology to take on the high street and satisfy the appetites of the digital-first consumer.

Millennials and Gen Z – the terms used to describe the “digital native” generations of young people currently aged 11-36 – now make up a quarter of the UK’s population. Their habits and tastes have come to dominate every consumer sector, from shopping to travel to entertainment – the food industry is no different. Millennials and Gen Z eat out more often and spend more money than any generation that came before them. They’re also much pickier than older consumers when it comes to eating: they want authenticity, an abundance of choice, niche offerings, and high-quality - preferably locally-sourced - ingredients that meet an ever-expanding array of dietary preferences. And they want bang for their buck! Street food hits the mark on almost all of these desirable attributes, which is why Millennial and Gen Z food preferences are the number one reason why the UK street food scene is exploding.  

Another trait that unites these young people is their thirst for information about potential purchases. They expect to find information about their next meal immediately, with a mere tap on their smartphones – the proliferation of food delivery and booking apps, complete with menus, opening times, allergens and imagery, is a testament to this. But the current state of play leaves out the entire world of street food…until now. Hawkker the street food app, launching in summer 2018, is designed to meet the digital and dietary demands of this new breed of consumer. Hawkker recently surveyed 75 UK eaters and found that respondents would eat street food more regularly if: 1) They could be sure that vendors in their vicinity were open, and could peruse menus beforehand; 2) They knew more about ingredients, dietary information and quality of the dishes; and 3) They could avoid long queues at peak times. Hawkker is developing an innovative platform to tackle these barriers so street food is more convenient, accessible and reliable. 

Using technology to enhance the growth of street food doesn’t stop with easing burdens on eaters. The correct application of digital tools can also empower street food vendors by affording them better engagement with customers, driving footfall with targeted marketing, and gathering feedback on their dishes through a review and rating system. Hawkker’s research shows that street food vendors often don’t have the tools or the time to respond quickly to customer needs, keep track of their costs, or evaluate their business model. Using a simple integrated marketing and insights solution allows vendors to focus more on producing great food and growing their businesses.

Street food is a rapidly expanding industry valued at £1.3 billion in the UK, with turnover growing at around 16% annually. Despite this impressive growth rate, street food is but a tiny sliver of the wider £78 billion consumer foodservice pie. If street food is to scale from its current form – pockets of stalls and markets sprinkled around major cities – to a country-wide phenomenon, it will need to attract investment and evolve with the times – the modern world is data-driven and digital. Major investments have already been made in scaling businesses that originated as street food stalls – Pizza Pilgrims, Meat Liquor and Honest Burger, to name a few. There is clearly an appetite for investing in street food. But the current climate for restaurant investments is challenging - rising labour, ingredient and property costs have contributed to a wave of restaurant closures in the UK in recent years. Investors want proven track records when assessing the attractiveness of investing in novel food concepts. Hawkker’s digital platform helps street food vendors build this track record so they can provide funders assurance that their capital is well-invested.

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