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Hong Kong’s ailing food truck scheme extended for two years, but operators say they need more help

Only one of the city’s 15 vendors is turning a profit

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 27 September, 2018, 9:57am
UPDATED : Thursday, 22 November, 2018, 9:19am

Hong Kong’s ailing food truck scheme was extended for two years on Wednesday, although operators said they were disappointed at the lack of additional support to make their ventures financially sustainable.

The Tourism Commission decided that the trial would continue until February 2, 2021 after some measures were introduced over the past few months to improve the operating environment and flexibility for those taking part.

A federation comprising all 15 food truck operators said most of them had been losing money or breaking even at best since the tourism scheme was introduced about two years ago. Only the Pineapple Canteen truck, which offers the city’s signature pineapple buns, has been turning a profit.

“There is a market for food trucks,” Hong Kong Food Truck Federation chairman Gordon Lam Sui-wa said. “I am really disappointed and surprised that there is a lack of a supportive policy to help make the business viable, and the existing measures tend to tie our hands.”

Why Hong Kong’s food truck scheme is failing to get into gear

Branded as an unprecedented project to boost Hong Kong’s tourism image, the food truck scheme was floated in the 2015 budget by former financial secretary John Tsang Chun-wah. But the mobile eateries are confined to eight locations on a two-week rotation.

About two years after the trucks hit the roads, the commission conceded that revenue was varied, though it believed there was room for the business to grow.

A commission spokesman said that in the past few months, new operating venues had been introduced along with more flexible shifts, and operators were now allowed to take part in events they identified.

He added that the operators could also bring up new venues for the government’s consideration.

“We have suggested some ideas on new venues but got turned down or ended up with no news probably because the red tape involved several government departments,” said Lam, who is also the boss of the Table Seven x W Burger food truck.

“Its attitude is like leaving us swimming against the tides – if you make it, survive, if not, drown.”

How Hong Kong food truck found success in Beijing

Some food trucks sought to operate at private events at Cathay Pacific Airways’ headquarters on Lantau and at the West Kowloon Cultural District but were turned down on the grounds that these were not tourism events, not open to the public and did not have entertainment event permits, Lam said.

He said the extension of the trial meant new contracts would be signed between the government and the operators, with a new mechanism to be introduced: rent adjustments.

“This doesn’t help much,” he said. “If a location generates a lot of revenue, it will lead to a rent rise. If a location doesn’t have business, a rent cut doesn’t make any difference.”

Lam added that many operators chose to suspend services if they were not assigned to popular locations such as Disneyland and Ocean Park.

Responding to inquiries from the Post earlier this month, a Commerce and Economic Bureau spokesman said the daily rental for food trucks varied from HK$302 to HK$723.