3 mashup ideas for Starbucks-inspired coffee trucks

The caffeine giant is bringing a mobile concept to Rutgers University.

Published in FSD Update

Dana Moran, Managing Editor

coffee shop trailor graphic

A familiar face is coming to the roads of Rutgers University this fall: the Starbucks mermaid. The New Brunswick, N.J.-based school is testing a Starbucks truck throughout the upcoming semester, NJ.com reports. The company began testing trucks on college campuses in 2014, and now has mobile locations at Arizona State University, James Madison University in Virginia, East Carolina University in North Carolina and Sacramento State in California.

The trucks will serve the full lineup of Starbucks beverages that’s available at the outlet’s brick-and-mortar location at Rutgers, officials told the website, and university spokesman E.J. Miranda said the $200,000 spent on the truck, which includes branding rights, came from the Dining Services budget.

It may be the perfect time to capitalize on this growing thirst for coffee; 25% of total respondents to FoodService Director’s 2016 Menu Trends survey predicted specialty coffee sales will grow in the next two years, with 46% of college operators expecting this boost. Meanwhile, Technomic's 2016 Beverage Trends Survey finds 65% and 59% of respondents have ordered hot and cold coffee, respectively, from foodservice locations in the past month.

FoodService Director mashed up some successful coffee ideas and food trucks to inspire operators contemplating the rollout of a self-branded caffeine machine.

1. Cold-brew coffee + ice cream

When it comes to coffee, cold brew is the new hotness. Technomic’s 2016 Beverage Trend Report names it one of the most popular trending beverages; 27% of diners ages 18 to 34 find cold brew coffee appealing, and 19% of restaurants would like to offer more cold-brew options. So it seems only natural to pair the refreshing drink with a cold dessert. At the University of Connecticut, the UConn Dairy Bar Ice Cream Truck serves as an extension of a campus dairy bar. The truck has proven popular at catering events, says Dennis Pierce, executive director of dining services, and it also can be found on Twitter by following @ucdairybartruck. Coffee and ice cream also make the perfect mashup treat: Italian affogato.

2. Coffee roastery + clean labels

Organic, non-GMO, hormone-free, additive-free and other “healthy” buzzwords are on the tip of both operators’ and diners’ tongues in 2016. Winsight sister company Technomic reports that 40% of consumers are more concerned about what’s in their food and where it’s from than they were two years ago, and 82% of operators agree that clean labels will have a great or moderate influence on future purchasing.

Translating this transparency to coffee means showing diners every step of the process. Connecting Grounds coffee shop at Ohio State University serves 100% direct-trade coffee, and Senior Director of Dining Services Zia Ahmed tells FSD he personally visited the coffee farmers in Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico. At Yale University’s KBT Cafe, a kiosk in the lobby of the science building, coffee is roasted and ground in full view using equipment that fits on the countertop. An on-truck coffee roaster might be a tall order, but grinding coffee on-site and serving it with clean-label sandwiches and pastries certainly fits the bill.

3. Made-to-order drinks and international bowls

The mashup of DIY and Asian flavors may have been the biggest thing to hit foodservice in 2016. FSD’s Chefs’ Council Menu Trends survey found 58% of chefs saw bowls expanding in 2016, while flavors like Sriracha, gochujang, chipotle, wasabi and galangal root were driving these dishes. At Minneapolis Public Schools, Director of Culinary and Nutrition Services Bertrand Weber found success in pairing up with local restaurants to create international bowls like chicken curry and Caribbean-style with vegetables and brown rice for the district’s MPS Food Truck.

That desire for DIY extends into beverages. At the University of California at Berkeley, a revamped version of longtime cafe Ramona’s will include made-to-order coffee drinks, says San Francisco restaurateur Charles Phan, a Berkeley alumn and the brains behind the project. “Most of us in the Bay Area are, if not complete coffee snobs, at least somewhat coffee snobs,” says Jennifer Wolch, dean of the College of Environmental Design, which is based in the same building as Ramona’s.

A truck filled with hot trends may draw huge crowds, so separating this truck into two lines—one for ordering custom bowls, the other, coffee drinks—could prove a winning wait-time strategy.

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