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May 23, 2018 Staff

How to Start a Profitable Pie Concession Trailer Business

The Flying Pie Guy. Built by M&R Specialty Trailers and Trucks.

Crumbly, flaky, tasty… The business side of selling pies has its benefits. While pies are traditionally thought of as a desert in the United States there are simple ways the food can be adapted as breakfast or lunch options (chicken pot pie anyone?). In today’s post we explore the pie industry in greater detail so you can decide if it’s the right option for your business.

Business Potential

One of the first steps in writing any business plan is determining if there’s market demand for your product. In 2017, a company called Specialty Bakeries Inc. brought in over $20 million in pie sales for the year. Specialty Bakeries Inc. is the third-largest producer of pies in the United States according to the same report to give you a sense of the national appetite. Demand confirmed!

Of course you can’t achieve eye-popping sales numbers in the food industry without major distribution. According to the company website Specialty Bakeries Inc. pies, cake rolls, and lady fingers are distributed across 90% of supermarkets chains in the United States. The company has been in business for over 100 years so this level of success wasn’t baked up overnight. Even if your goal is not to build the next million dollar pie company, its reassuring as an entrepreneur to know there’s a high-ceiling of available demand inside the market you plan to enter.

Aside from overall market demand, the next important element that needs to be considered is whether or not selling pies can actually work on a food truck or concession trailer. Fortunately, pies work extremely well in a mobile environment due these two success characteristics:

Fast Orders: When operating a concession trailer, the faster you’re able to get orders out the window, the more sales you can haul in. Pies are the ideal food to serve quickly. All the product can be pre-made and cut in advance of service so all you need to do is plate the item, send it out the window, and you’re ready to accept the next customer transaction.

Where concession businesses get into trouble is when they have products that take a long time to cook and are made to order. For example, if it takes 5 – 10 minutes to cook and assemble a gourmet hamburger that can really slow down a line. A ten minute wait can feel like a very long time for customers too! This won’t be a problem if you’re selling pies that have already been cooked and prepared prior to vending at an event. You can continue to quickly serve even in the most demanding rush periods.

High-Profit Margin: There are plenty of expenses associated with running a food business. After compensating employees, paying taxes, and covering everything else there isn’t always a lot leftover for the proprietor. The good news is with certain exceptions, pies are low-cost items you can sell at a premium… meaning you can have a lot more of that revenue hitting your bottom line compared to others in the food industry.

If you’re planning to sell popular variations of pies like apple, cherry, custard, or cream you can purchase low-cost ingredients. Pie crust, fruit, and baking ingredients are all affordable, widely available and don’t fluctuate in price. If you are planning to serve a meat pie, however, your costs will typically run higher, but you can also charge more to even out the cost. As a general rule of thumb you don’t want to spend more than 1/3 of your total product cost on ingredients to ensure profitability. Here’s a break down of  the cost of making and selling a fresh pies from Mirror.co.uk:

As a concession vendor you will not incur as many expenses as the pie chart above. You likely won’t be paying any retailers costs since you’ll be selling direct to consumers with a trailer either. Your logistics costs will likely be lower as too since your business is more straight forward. Still, it’s important to note that ingredients and manufacturing (or baking) the product requires a significant amount of cost. Even if you plan to do a lot of this work yourself initially, it’s good to build hiring an employee into your financial projections so you have options as the business grows.

At special events (concerts, football games, festivals), it’s not uncommon for vendors to charge $5 – $6 USD per slice of pie. That means if you can get 6 slices out of a unit you could be generating around $36 per pie. If you want to increase profits further you could make each slice smaller and increase it to 7 slices per unit.

While you want to consider overall customer value when determining your vending prices, in most regions in the United States you can charge this amount at an event leaving you with plenty of profit no matter what style pie you plan to produce. At the very least it’s nice to know there are options to increase profitability if needed.

Popular Styles of Pie

According to Statista.com, the most popular are fruit / lattice that contributed to over 38% of annual pie consumption in the United States. While there’s no empirical data around it, the classic apple pie is assumed to be the most popular flavor within this category. While there’s national demand for the classics within the pie category there’s certainly room for innovation as well.

Statistic: Category share of pie sales in the United States in 2017, by pie type | Statista
Find more statistics at Statista

Vending Strategy 

If your plan is to hit the road to generate sales a a concession truck or trailer, you’ll want to get a clear strategy. First, identify what type of pie’s you plan to focus on. Meat chicken pot pies are served as entrees for lunch or dinner.  A Quiche is a breakfast food. Cream and apple pies are considered to be desert or treat in the United States. By selecting the types of pie you plan to serve you’ll be able to more strategically determine where and when you plan to vend.

Another vending strategy you’ll want to consider is the complimentary products you’ll be offering on the concession trailer. If you plan to serve Quiche or pies, offering coffee options is a simple way to increase the average ticket sale on your truck and increase profitability further. Coffee, of course, is a highly profitable item to sell and can be an easy way to create “value menu” type options for the business. Commercial grade coffee equipment and espresso machines can be installed on a food truck to offer a new high-quality product.

Equipment

As mentioned previously the pie menu concept is ideal in a mobile selling environment. Here’s an example of a build we completed for The Flying Pie Guy that is lovingly referred to as “Matilda.” The Flying Pie Guy serves Aussie style meat pies that are extremely popular for lunch in Australia. The Flying Pie Guy has had great success bringing this concept to the United States and has received significant TV and online press since opening. We wish The Flying Pie Guy and Matilda continued success with their business! Watch the video below for a full tour.

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