food / travel

Brazil’s Magic Food Truck Recipe: Culina​ria, Crisis, Creativity

After spreading in the U.S. in the wake of the financial crisis, food trucks are arriving in Brazilian cities such as Sao Paulo, which are eager for culinary adventure at a low price.

That, people, is a Brazilian hamburger.
That, people, is a Brazilian hamburger.
Beatriz Santos

SÃO PAULO â€" The green, white and red flag of Mexico adorns the side of one van, and the colors are emblazoned on the retractable awning of another truck. Sombreros and ponchos hang in the big window, as customers are handed their tacos and steaming hot burritos. All this, in a parking lot in the Brazilian city of São Paulo.

The van's owner is Reinaldo Zanon, a partner in the Mexican fast food franchise Los Cabrones. Attracted by the possibility of turning over good daily cash while significantly cutting costs, the entrepreneur decided to start a food truck, the fast and not-so-fast food concept that has now spread to Brazil after first feeding the urban masses in the U.S. and some European countries over the past few years.

Not that the food van itself is a novelty in the Brazilian city landscape. People have generally perceived them as more functional and more affordable than restaurants. And these days they offer more sophisticated options such as Turkish food, Italian vegetarian or gourmet hamburgers.

Zanon says "shopping malls charge really big rents" for space, which explains his decision to work from a van instead. Starting a food truck requires an initial investment of about $30,000, depending on the type of vehicle and equipment used inside. Because the overhhead is lower, the business model is more profitable for its scale.

"Traditional formats give you an 18% profit margin, whereas a food truck can give you 30%," Zanon says.

Another São Paulo businessman, Mauricio Schuartz, realized that people might like to see "honest" food being prepared before them, which led him to create the Butantan Food Park. It's basically an open-air food court that initially prompted resistance. "There is a certain reluctance to come out of the restaurant," he says.

The van's problem is one of space. To work here, chefs must discard much of their equipment and stick to the basics, though as Schuartz says, that can stimulate creativity. He has been playing with the idea of high-end cooking from vans for some time now. His earlier project was Chefs na Rua, which took some of Brazil's most prominent cuisine names onto the street to create affordable, everyday dishes.

"We saw in these events that there was a repressed demand for eating on the street, and we began to investigate these projects in other parts of the world," says Schuartz, who was determined to show that people would welcome high-quality, Brazilian street food.

Marketing 3.0

Food trucks are also becoming ideal selling and marketing vehicles for a range of products, foods and technology. Paulo Sorge, head of direct sales at Fiat in Brazil, says manufacturers have noted the potential here for boosting sales of Fiat vans. "We took part in the first edition of the reality show MasterChef with a food truck," he says. One of the models most used for food trucks, he says, is the Ducato Multi, aptly designed for functional adaptations and use as mobile kitchen.

Others joining the tasty bandwagon are those who would sell their products on the vans, like the Brazilian processed meat firm Seara. It has come up with its Social Food Truck concept, which offers dishes made with Seara ingredients. "The person pays for lunch with social money, which can be a stamp or content shared on networking sites," says Tannia Fukuda Bruno, marketing chief for JBS Foods, Seara's corporate owner.

She says the project is working, with "43,000 rations served and 4.4 million likes" accumulated with just one truck driving around São Paulo.

Brazil's Fox Life channel also began a food truck that has driven around São Paulo serving gourmet dishes. Carol Scholz, vice president of Fox International Channels in Brazil, says Fox has used this trend in São Paulo to advertise program ideas. Its truck visited clients, advertising agencies and cable operators to promote programs as Homens Gourmet and Brasil no prato.

Curiously, though it is upgrading itself today to gourmet class, the real boost behind food vans was the 2008 global financial crisis, when job losses, reduced lunch budgets and the need for personal and professional recycling converged. That was in the United States, and one wonders, is Brazil about to face the same situation?

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"The Truest Hypocrisy" - The Russia-NATO Clash Seen From Moscow

Russia has decided to cut off relations with the Western military alliance. But Moscow says it was NATO who really wanted the break based on its own internal rationale.

NATO chief Stoltenberg and Russian Foregin Minister Lavrov

Russian Foreign Ministry/TASS via ZUMA
Pavel Tarasenko and Sergei Strokan

MOSCOW — The Russian Foreign Ministry's announcement that the country's permanent representation to NATO would be shut down for an indefinite period is a major development. But from Moscow's viewpoint, there was little alternative.

These measures were taken in response to the decision of NATO on Oct. 6 to cut the number of personnel allowed in the Russian mission to the Western alliance by half. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the removal of accreditations was from eight employees of the Russian mission to NATO who were identified as undeclared employees of Russian intelligence." We have seen an increase in Russian malicious activity for some time now," Stoltenberg said.

The Russian Foreign Ministry called NATO's expulsion of Russian personnel a "ridiculous stunt," and Stoltenberg's words "the truest hypocrisy."

In announcing the complete shutdown in diplomacy between Moscow and NATO, the Russian Foreign Ministry added: "The 'Russian threat' is being hyped in strengthen the alliance's internal unity and create the appearance of its 'relevance' in modern geopolitical conditions."

The number of Russian diplomatic missions in Brussels has been reduced twice unilaterally by NATO in 2015 and 2018 - after the alliance's decision of April 1, 2014 to suspend all practical civilian and military cooperation between Russia and NATO in the wake of Russia's annexation of Crimea. Diplomats' access to the alliance headquarters and communications with its international secretariat was restricted, military contacts have frozen.

Yet the new closure of all diplomatic contacts is a perilous new low. Kommersant sources said that the changes will affect the military liaison mission of the North Atlantic alliance in Moscow, aimed at promoting the expansion of the dialogue between Russia and NATO. However, in recent years there has been no de facto cooperation. And now, as Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has announced, the activities of the military liaison mission will be suspended. The accreditation of its personnel will be canceled on November 1.

NATO told RIA Novosti news service on Monday that it regretted Moscow's move. Meanwhile, among Western countries, Germany was the first to respond. "It would complicate the already difficult situation in which we are now and prolong the "ice age," German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told reporters.

"Lavrov said on Monday, commenting on the present and future of relations between Moscow and the North Atlantic Alliance, "If this is the case, then we see no great need to continue pretending that any changes will be possible in the foreseeable future because NATO has already announced that such changes are impossible.

The suspension of activities of the Russian Permanent Mission to NATO, as well as the military liaison and information mission in Russia, means that Moscow and Brussels have decided to "draw a final line under the partnership relations of previous decades," explained Andrei Kortunov, director-general of the Russian Council on Foreign Affairs, "These relations began to form in the 1990s, opening channels for cooperation between the sides … but they have continued to steadily deteriorate over recent years."

Kortunov believes the current rupture was promoted by Brussels. "A new strategy for NATO is being prepared, which will be adopted at the next summit of the alliance, and the previous partnership with Russia does not fit into its concept anymore."

The existence and expansion of NATO after the end of the Cold War was the main reason for the destruction of the whole complex of relations between Russia and the West. Today, Russia is paying particular attention to marking red lines related to the further steps of Ukraine's integration into NATO. Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov previously stated this, warning that in response to the alliance's activity in the Ukrainian direction, Moscow would take "active steps" to ensure its security.

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