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November 8, 2016 Staff

IBISWorld Reports Less than 5,000 Food Trucks Operating in United States

airstream kitchenHow many food trucks are currently operating in the United States? According to a 2015 report from IBISWorld, a leading industry research agency, that number is less than 5,000 (4,130 food truck vendors to be exact per the report).

The number of active food truck businesses operating in the United States has been a topic of much debate over the past few years. Adding to the confusion of an agreed upon accurate estimated number of food trucks are the varying media reports. Some of the most cited reports have been inconsistent while others rendered completely inaccurate when a bit of simple common sense and math are used to verify.

One such inaccurate, but often shared report was that there are currently 3 million food trucks operating in the United States alone as reported by this Entrepreneur magazine article that has been cited across dozens of websites. That number is incredibly impressive until you actually stop to think about how big a number 3 million is. As this post by SmallBusinessLabs.com points out, there are only about 350 million Americans in the entire county. That means that there would be one food truck for every 117 American citizens. On average, each state would have 6,000 mobile food businesses each. That’s simply not possible and a statistic anyone could poke a hole in if they took the time.

So how many food trucks are in America?

  • 15,000 – 20,000 Food Trucks are Currently Operating in the United States

Why Is It So Hard to Determine The Number of Food Trucks Operating in America?

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There are a few reasons it’s difficult to lock down a number in the food truck industry. For one, food trucks are small businesses usually owned by individuals or families. Some are only operated part-time or seasonally during the busy summer months. During the winter, the businesses are temporarily closed down by design. Often, seasonal businesses or part-time businesses are not included within industry reports.

The other challenge is defining or classifying what a food truck business is. For example, if a small restaurant franchise with three brick-and-mortar location purchases a food truck to develop more catering business this example would not be reported as a food truck business, but a restaurant. The same scenario can happen with a caterer. Even if a catering business owns a food trailer, they may not classify themselves appropriately to be considered within industry reports.

The real number of active mobile food operators changes frequently as well. Businesses start and close down for a variety of reasons. Some food trucks close down due to the retirement of their owners. Others simply don’t fail to meet the high-expectations of their owners when they started.

Finally, there are so many different types of mobile food businesses out there that may not be included in these reports. Shipping containers for example can be transformed into mobile restaurants. Buses, food carts, bicycles and trailers can all be converted to serve food mobile. Should these also be lumped into the food truck industry reports? We believe so.

No matter what number you estimate, one thing is clear, however. The overall food truck industry continues to grow and evolve. As the industry becomes more mature, we believe the accuracy of the reported number of food trucks in the United States will continue to improve.

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