Houston's gourmet food trucks cooperate, compete to elevate group's prestige

April 17, 2017 by David Ruth

New research by management and organizational behavior experts at Rice University's Jones Graduate School of Business finds that gourmet food trucks in Houston cooperate extensively and engage in friendly competition to promote the group members' excellence and uniqueness. The study, published in Administrative Science Quarterly, focuses on 41 food trucks in Houston, the fourth-most populous city in the United States.

Rice's Scott Sonenshein, the Henry Gardiner Symonds Professor of Management; Otilia Obodaru, assistant professor of management; and Kristen Nault, research analyst, developed theory and a model to explain how companies form a strategic group identity that shapes both competitive and cooperative behaviors among its in the study "Competition of a Different Flavor: How a Strategic Group Identity Shapes Competition and Cooperation."

Food trucks are the fastest-growing sector in the restaurant industry, generating approximately $850 million in revenue in 2015, according to the study. They have also become part of popular culture, making appearances on television shows such as "The Great Food Truck Race" and in movies such as "Chef."

"This cultural exposure has called attention to the opportunities in operating , which have flooded the market in recent years with many new entrants," the authors wrote. "With many market players seeking similar scarce resources, operating a food truck can be a difficult way to make a living. As our research evolved, it became clear that gourmet food trucks formed a strategic group identity to help with these challenges."

Based on a qualitative analysis of prototypical members of Houston's gourmet food truck market, the researchers found that members cooperate to help each other meet the central tendencies of the group—properties such as tasty food and good ingredients, reliable business practices around cleanliness and legal matters, and mobility in terms of truck location and social media. The researchers said members support each other, for example, by fixing each other's trucks, running errands, donating supplies and volunteering on other trucks.

The researchers also found that members compete to strive for the ideal tendencies of the group—the attributes of members held in highest regard, such as having the best , most reliable business practices or greatest mobility.

"These competitive and cooperative dynamics lead to three surprising consequences in light of previous research on strategic groups: Existing members of the strategic group help new firms enter the market; resource scarcity leads to cooperation, not competition; and when competition does emerge, it focuses on status within the group and not on price," the authors wrote.

The dynamics the authors theorized about, central and ideal prototypes, can explain how strategic groups evolve over time, they said.

"Central tendencies push firms toward conformity as members embrace the core attributes of a typical member, and ideal tendencies push for intragroup status, allowing some members to rise to the top," the authors wrote. "Thus the strategic group identity fosters both conformity, which allows the group to accommodate new members while maintaining its core identity, and distinction, which improves the group as exemplary members emerge and become respected and emulated. This push for conformity alongside the tolerance of nonconformity in the form of excellence can offer strategic groups both a means to grow (from new members) and a means to improve (from exemplary members) while protecting the very that holds the group together."

Explore further: Azure-winged magpies show human-like generosity

More information: Scott Sonenshein et al. Competition of a Different Flavor, Administrative Science Quarterly (2017). DOI: 10.1177/0001839217704849

Related Stories

Azure-winged magpies show human-like generosity

October 18, 2016

Magpies do not always have the best reputation, as they are generally known for their tendency to steal shiny things. Also other bird species tested for prosociality so far turned out to be either indifferent to benefitting ...

Kids think stereotypes reflect how world should be

December 22, 2016

Once children believe that a group is characterized by a certain trait, they think individual people within that group should also be judged by that trait, according to a University of Michigan study.

Recommended for you

Ancient DNA offers new view on saber-toothed cats' past

October 19, 2017

Researchers who've analyzed the complete mitochondrial genomes from ancient samples representing two species of saber-toothed cats have a new take on the animals' history over the last 50,000 years. The data suggest that ...

Six degrees of separation: Why it is a small world after all

October 19, 2017

It's a small world after all - and now science has explained why. A study conducted by the University of Leicester and KU Leuven, Belgium, examined how small worlds emerge spontaneously in all kinds of networks, including ...

Scientists see order in complex patterns of river deltas

October 19, 2017

River deltas, with their intricate networks of waterways, coastal barrier islands, wetlands and estuaries, often appear to have been formed by random processes, but scientists at the University of California, Irvine and other ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.