Date
28 July 2017
Some of the Hong Kong food trucks (left) have such high windows that customers need to climb a platform to be able to order food. Their counterparts in South Korea are more approachable. Photo: HKEJ
Some of the Hong Kong food trucks (left) have such high windows that customers need to climb a platform to be able to order food. Their counterparts in South Korea are more approachable. Photo: HKEJ

Why HK food truck scheme is doomed to fail

The Food Truck Pilot Scheme, a brainchild of former financial secretary and now chief executive contender John Tsang, was finally launched this month, with 11 food trucks opened for business in specific locations across the city.

It’s not everyday that the SAR government could pull off something like this, so I was quite excited to visit the food outlets on wheels in Wan Chai and Tsim Sha Tsui.

Given the lack of dining options at the Golden Bauhinia Square, the food truck stationed there had a strong debut, with mainland tourists eager to try out its fast-food offerings.

However, it was a different story in Tsim Sha Tsui, where the food truck was located next to a café.

It was rumored that Tsang came up with the business concept after watching the 2014 Hollywood comedy-drama movie Chef.

But I truly believe the food truck business is an original Asian idea.

Street hawkers have been part of everyday life in Asia for centuries, carrying their cooked food around by means of a bamboo pole on their shoulders or in small wooden trolleys.

The truck is an evolution of the tools used to convey the food, but the essence of the business is the same.

As streets in Asian cities are rather narrow, food trucks in Japan, Taiwan or Korea are often simpler than their counterparts in North America.

The trucks are self-sufficient; they don’t even require an external power source as the owners just bring their stoves and all the other implements and food ingredients aboard.

Food trucks operate according to the needs of their clientele. For instance, they offer breakfast in central business districts in the morning and quick meals in construction sites and on school campuses in the afternoon.

The prices, of course, are quite friendly to customers from all walks of life.

In Hong Kong, a 5.5-ton truck is the standard for the business; it costs at least HK$600,000 each.

That’s a big outlay, a world record, if I may say so. I don’t know of any other place in the world where the business makes use of first-hand trucks.

Second-hand trucks are quite sufficient for the business because the food truck only travels from the parking lot to its place of operation and back.

A food truck made out of a converted postal truck in Canada would only cost around HK$470,000. That would allow the operators to charge lower prices for their food.

The food truck business is great, but I am bewildered by the way it is being implemented by the government.

It’s intended to boost tourism, but I can’t see local food items being offered by the food truck operators.

Selling a pineapple bun for HK$12 or offering grilled Angus beef dices in Hong Kong streets is absolutely mind-blowing.

What is more absurd is that the scheme is run with the same managerial style of local property developers.

A food truck can only operate in a designated location, where the owner has to pay a rent that is based on its sales performance.

In other words, an operator may have to pay a rent of up to HK$220,000 a year.

As such, I’m not quite sure if the scheme could boost Hong Kong tourism, given that the offerings are quite pricey and fail to reflect the local culture.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Feb. 21.

Translation by Darlie Yiu

[Chinese version 中文版]

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DY/AC/CG

Columnist of the Hong Kong Economic Journal

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