During the summer and beyond, frozen treats such as gelato, frozen yogurt and customizable sundaes are trending on food truck menus, according to data compiled by research firm Datassential.
According to a study by the firm that tracked menu trends on food trucks in 2011, frozen treats appeared on nearly one quarter of all food truck menus. The category came in second only to cakes — which included cupcakes — in a ranking of desserts tracked on food truck menus.
The study noted that food trucks that serve frozen desserts often make use of innovative toppings and twists on traditional items to set them apart from competitors — a reflection of a trend that is being seen on food truck menus across the board.
New York’s Big Gay Ice Cream, which began as the Big Gay Ice Cream Truck in 2009, is an example of a food truck concept that uses unique and high-end flavors to court adventurous tastes. While the frozen treat concept now has a brick and mortar shop, the truck still operates in the summer months, offering treats with names like the Bea Arthur and Cococone. The former is a vanilla ice cream served with dulce de leche and crushed Nilla wafers, and the latter is a vanilla cone dusted with toasted curried coconut.
Another example is Coolhaus, which has trucks in Austin, Dallas, Los Angeles, Miami and New York, and specializes in customizable ice cream sandwiches. Customers can choose from cookie flavors such as Potato Chip & Butterscotch and Ginger Molasses, as well as ice cream flavors that include Baked Apple, Balsamic Fig & Mascarpone, and Beer & Pretzels.
Find out how two other food trucks concepts, Kelvin Natural Slush Co. and Tropical Shave Ice, are finding success with frozen treats.
Kelvin Natural Slush Co.: Not your childhood slushes
Alex Rein was inspired by the slushes he drank during the warm weather months in his youth and created a grown-up version for his food truck concept, called Kelvin Natural Slush Co. He rolled out the concept in 2010, and currently, Kelvin Natural Slush operates the truck, along with carts and kiosks, around New York City.
Kelvin Natural Slush Co. offers three base slushes: Spicy Ginger, Tangy Citrus and Green & Black Tea. The base slushes can be served on their own, in any combination, or with "mix-ins" that include fruit purees from blood orange to pink guava, or items like fresh chopped basil or mint.
The slush comes in small medium and large sizes at $3.50, $4.00 and $4.50, respectively, with one mix-in included. Additional mix-ins are $.075 each.
“We try to do a special everyday,” Rein said. However, the menu is entirely customizable, and a lot of the flavor combination ideas come from guests, who can tweet Kelvin Natural Slush with their ideas or upload photos of their slush creations online.
“Three purees is the max,” Rein suggested for creating flavor combinations. “At a certain point you’re just going to be drinking fruit puree.”
Rein said that there might be additional base flavors in the works, but Kelvin Slush Co. regularly experiments with mix-ins. Other limited mix-ins have included pomegranate seeds and shaved coconut.
The different non-truck locations around the city also allow the team to see what ingredients are available on the market seasonally to try out. One such location is a cart that operates out of an outdoor food market in Brooklyn called Smorgasburg. Smorgasburg attracts a variety of food vendors, as well as food savvy clientele who are a built-in test market for more adventurous flavors.
“We keep basil on the carts and truck. In the truck people will buy it, but I think we see somewhere around 4 to 5 times sold at Smorgasburg because the customers are a little different," explains Rein. "At the truck, people stick more to the fruit purees.”
Kelvin Natural Slush is planning to expand its partnerships with bars and restaurants to supply its slush bases for alcoholic beverages, which it already does for Brooklyn bar and restaurant Berry Park.
Tropical Shave Ice: Keeping it authentic
Rick Kukahiko, owner of Tropical Shave Ice with his wife Emily, said authenticity is key for their business, which includes a truck that has served Orange County and Los Angeles since 2010 and a shop that will be a year old in October.
The extracts used to flavor the shave ice come from Hawaii and the machine used to shave the ice is carefully selected to guarantee the “fluffy, airy, melts-in-your-mouth” ice that Kukahiko says is characteristic of Hawaiian shave ice and sets it apart from the rougher, crunchier crushed ice used in frozen treats like snow cones.
Syrup flavors include tropical fruits such as pineapple and lilikoi, which is Hawaiian for passion fruit. “It’s more about the tropical flavors like mango, passion fruit, melon and coconut. We also serve it Hawaiian style with red beans and a scoop of ice cream on the bottom,” said Kukahiko.
Tropical Shave Ice is available in regular and large sizes at $3.50 and $4.25 respectively, tax included. Guests can choose any three syrups to flavor the ice.
However, like Rein, Kukahiko warns that too much of a good thing can ruin the balance of flavors and recommends sticking to two or three syrup combinations. “If you’re putting together three syrups, that’s more like six flavors," he warned. "If we're doing four flavors you’re going to lose the taste.”
Tropical Shave Ice also introduced Fusion Shave Ice, a category of shave ice that resembles more shave ice served in countries like Taiwan, Japan Korea and the Philippines.
Fusion Shave Ice differs from the Hawaiian-style shave ice because it is topped with fresh fruit and sweetened condensed milk. Additional toppings include sweet Azuki bean paste, mochi balls, lychee jelly and vanilla ice cream.
Even thought it was a crowd pleaser, Fusion Shaved Ice was eventually taken out of trucks and is now available only at the shop due to the time it took to prepare it, as well as the waste that resulted from having to keep fresh fruit on the trucks.
Contact Sonya Moore at email@example.com.