By John O’Connell | The Capital Press
LAS VEGAS — The U.S. Potato Board is entering the trendy food truck business, seeking to develop new recipe ideas for consumers while promoting the versatility and nutrition of the nation’s most popular vegetable.
USPB unveiled what it hopes will be the first of many potato-farmer owned food trucks Jan. 13 during the National Potato Council’s Potato Expo 2016 in Las Vegas.
The prototype for USPB’s Spud Nation Food Truck program is named Bettie 500 — the number represents USPB’s goal for growing its fleet size.
The first truck, which will sell potato products in the Denver area, is 40 feet long, counting a platform designed for hosting public demonstrations. USDA has requested a second, smaller truck to be based outside of its headquarters in Washington, D.C., beginning May 1, said USPB board member Karlene Hardy, of Oakley, Idaho.
USPB has created a website, www.spud-nation.com, for the program, as well as an interactive computer app that will enable users to access a live video feed of each truck’s culinary crew, and give them the means to ask questions or offer recipe suggestions. The trucks will also have video screens, enabling crowds to watch the chef prepare various potato delicacies. USPB plans to post recipes developed by food truck chefs online.
Hardy said the board has been working out the details of the program for a year and the unveiling ceremony “felt like Christmas morning.”
“People are really flocking to these food trucks,” Hardy said. “It’s a value marketing option with high impact.”
Hardy said the annual budget for each truck and its culinary staff is about $162,000, which is roughly equivalent to the price of having a billboard in Denver. USPB hopes each truck will average $250,000 in annual revenue, with the profits returned to the program, or applied toward other USPB efforts.
Hardy said the first truck will operate on a trial basis through the end of June, and more trucks will be added if the program is as successful as anticipated.
“They’re calling it a rolling test kitchen with instant feedback,” Hardy said. “We think we have a first-of-its-kind opportunity to have live visits with your chefs at the time they’re cooking.”
USPB has hired Travis Howard — who has 18 years of experience in the culinary industry and has worked for the past seven years as a culinary instructor with Keiser University in Tallahassee, Fla., as the program’s executive chef. Chef Derek Johnson, who has worked in the culinary industries of Colorado and Southern California, will assist Howard.
USPB President and CEO Blair Richardson said the National Restaurant Association predicts food trucks will be a $2.7 billion industry by 2017.
“Currently, food trucks are only reaching about 50 percent of the U.S. population, but it’s one of the fastest growing market segments in food service,” Richardson said in a press release.