Toronto Street Food Consumer Survey Results

During one Food Truck Eats and the Tasty Thursday events last year, The Street Food Vendors Association conducted a survey where they asked consumers to offer their thoughts on street food in Toronto.

Street food has been a hot topic in Toronto for the last eight months. Because of the citys bureacracy and an archaic set of rules (a moratorium placed by council in November of 2002), new street food vendors (trucks or carts) are not allowed to operate in public spaces within Torontos downtown core (Wards 20, 27, and 28). So, all the existing food trucks (currently about a dozen active trucks) operate with the assistance of BIAs, owners of private spaces, and event organizations. The Food Truck Eats events that I have organised are designed to create awareness and to showcase the desire for more street food options in Toronto.

The City of Toronto established a street food working group to re-evaluate licensing and bylaws, but judging by their progress so far, it might be safe to say that there wont be much progress in 2012 from this group, which is why events like the Toronto Underground Market and Food Truck Eats are important. 

During the second Food Truck Eats event last year, Marianne Moroney (Executive Director of the Street Food Vendors Assocation, and cart operator) conducted a survey with consumers asking them what they thought about food trucks and what they want to see in the future in Toronto. Although the survey polled a small group (387 in total between FTE and Tasty Thursdays), it is a good example of what this city wants.

Here is the report from SFVA.

As directed by the Street Food Working  Group, Enterprise  Toronto conducted a survey of street  food customers who attended the Tasty Thursday events at Toronto City Hall, on August  11and 18, 2011, and at the Food Truck Eats event in the Distillery District on August  20, 2011. The same survey was completed by randomly-selected
customers  of several of the citys  hot dog vendors  as coordinated by the Street Food Vendors Association in the last two weeks of August  2011.

In total, 387 individuals completed the street  food  consumer survey.

Key findings:

  • Vast majority of individuals surveyed have eaten street  food  before- 91%. More than  70% of all respondents have eaten street  food  in cities other  than Toronto.
  • The majority of street  food consumers at August  events were between the ages of 18 and 50. However, at 49%, more  30-50 year olds favoured  hot dogs as compared to 18 to 30 year olds.
  • Younger  people (18-30 year olds) seem to enjoy  events like Street Eats or Tasty
  • Thursdays  more  than older  street  food  consumers.
  • The top reasons  for liking street food:  1) Taste & flavour,  2) Inexpensive, 3) Trying  new food,  4) Fast and 5) Eating outdoors.
  • Respondents dislike street  food  largely  because: 1) Not enough  vendors, 2) Long lines, 3) Limited menu, 4) Car or truck  is unclean, and 5) Poor food  quality. However, “cleanliness” and “poor  food quality” were not  indicated when consumers were asked what the City could  do to improve street  food in the city.
  • In fact, only  2-3% of the respondents mentioned “cleanliness” and “poor  food quality” at all. It can be concluded that these issues are rare and therefore not of significant concern  to street  food consumers in general.
  • It should  be noted  that  more  street food  event attendees  (as opposed to hot dog vendor  customers) indicated that “not enough  vendors” was a dislike indicating that  individuals likely  attend street food  events because of the variety  of food options. Also, lines are a particular dislike at events rather  than at individual hot dog carts.
  • Respondents  at the hot dog  stands mentioned Limited menu, Not enough vendors, Long line, and Poor food quality as top reasons  for dislike of street food. Cleanliness  and Poor food  quality were not dislikes of hot dog vendors customers.

When asked what they thought the City could  do to improve the street  food  in Toronto, survey respondents offered  the following verbatim responses:]

  • more variety   (144)
  • food trucks   (32)
  • increase number of vendors    (30)
  • less regulation      (20)
  • more locations      (16)
  • allow  food  trucks  to travel    (10)
  • Cleanliness   (6)
  • more frequently organized  (6)
  • make healthier food   (4)
  • make it easy and inexpensive to operate   (4)
  • lines can be improved    (3)
  • do nothing, let the market  decide    (2)
  • food  safety   (2)
  • increase accessibility to it    (2)
  • more festivals    (2)
  • more  street food  all year around   (2)
  • betterguality, desiqnate  area    (1)
  • fresh food   (1)
  • health and safety standards  are met  (1)
  • learn from  other  cities  (1)
  • seating (1)
  • shut down streets in specific  areas like St Lawrence and Kensington   (1)
  • stop messing up great programs like  A Ia Carte  (1)
  • more  music   (1)
  • more  picnic  tables   (1)
  • allow for more  advertising  (1)

As indicated above, the overwhelming majority of respondents would  like to see more variety  in the street food available. Additional respondent comments suggest  that Variety is defined  as:

  • More diversity in the origin and ethnicity of the food available.
  • Types of food (not only hot dogs or fries)
  • More, healthier options
  • Vegetarian  foods

The most  commonly cited  ethnicity of desired  street food  was Asian. Street food consumers also would  like  to see more locations to purchase  street  food. One of the top four  recommendations was for the city to stop over regulating street  food vending additional respondent comments suggest  that  street food  consumers wish the City to let market forces, rather than regulation, determine the variety, location and volume of street food vendors.

Interestingly, a number of respondents want to see food trucks that are allowed to travel to different locations in the city rather than fixed locations.

end of report.

Its no surprise that with a city that has a rich food culture like Toronto, there is a demand for more (better) street food options. With the Food Truck Eats events, weve seen our attendance rise from 3,800 to over 20,000 at (Food Truck Eats 3). The real question is: When will the City listen?

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The next Food Truck Eats is this Thursday, January 26th at UofT. Details here.

(Photos by Renee Navarro, and Spotlight Staff)