Innovation Insights


Competition is a good thing

What Niagara’s food truck industry can teach us about raising the bar.


By Jessica Potts

“A rising tide lifts all boats.”

(I should pause now to warn you that there may be an abundance of nautical references, puns and other potentially groan worthy aphorisms in this article.)

That saying is often attributed to John F. Kennedy in the context of the economy: what serves to benefit one will likely create benefits for others.

I recently heard one of Niagara’s thought leaders use that quote with respect to charting a course for our region’s future.

That leader was Tamara Jansen, co-founder of El Gastronomo Vagabundo (EGV), Ontario’s first gourmet food truck; strategist; and advocate for all things that contribute to a stronger Niagara.

Tamara spoke of an upcoming initiative where she plans to work together with those who could be perceived as “competition” to promote the quality and variety of food and drink experiences in the Niagara Region.

It makes perfect sense—happy customers breed more interest in the experience, more new and repeat customers, and more loyalty resulting in full-on brand advocacy…and the tide starts to rise.

Here are three reasons why competition in your marketplace is a good thing:

1. Competition validates your concept
Competition shows that your product/service/idea is one that the existing market will support. Four years ago, EGV was the first gourmet truck to open in Ontario. Today, there are over 100 trucks, with many more planning to launch.

2. Competition can clear a path
First movers often require gale force effort to educate the marketplace about a new product or service. In the case of EGV, their battle was against the crimson tide of red tape surrounding bylaws that placed limitations on where food trucks could operate. They actively lobbied against restrictions placed on the number of street food vendors in multiple municipalities. “The more the merrier,” says EGV, believing that the market will determine which trucks and chefs are successful.  

3. Competition drives innovation
It is easier to sail into the sunset when you aren’t forced to evolve and stay on top of trends that affect your industry. The seasonality, price points, food storage restrictions, and many other factors have forced EGV and others in their industry to be innovative.  

And then there’s the case for collaboration over competition. Collaboration is key to building industry clusters as well. In EGV’s model, the summer months are spent in their truck five to seven days per week. In the colder months, they focus on catering and a pop-up kitchen experience at places like Niagara Oast House Brewers.

The business benefits by maintaining a reduced cashflow through the slower months, but also benefits from an increased and broadened customer demographic, cross-promotional opportunities with other chefs and venues, and developing their reputation as chefs and business people in the community.

The same principles apply to other high growth sectors like interactive digital media and biosciences. Each of these industries benefits from having business incubation facilities here in Niagara like the Generator at one and Goodman School of Business BioLinc.

These incubation facilities allow for fledgling companies to access equipment and resources that, in the absence of a cluster, wouldn’t have capacity to afford on their own.
In the end, competition can ultimately lead to smoother sailing.

Jessica Potts handles communications and outreach for Innovate Niagara. She is the owner of Inspired Communications—a company specializing in “facilitating your awesomeness and inspiring your Best. Day. Ever.” through consulting, training, strategic planning, speaking and writing services. For more information, please visit www.innovateniagara.com.

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