From Argentinean to Austrian, Brazilian to Belgium and Colombian to Cypriot, the global street food market has exploded in recent years. According to a report by MCA, the UK street food market is forecasted to reach £1.2bn in 2018, up 9.1% from 2017 and easily outperforming the percentage growth seen in the total fast food market. It is clear that there are many opportunities for brand owners to adapt and thrive in this new arena, but how can they protect their trade marks in a sector where a distinct ‘non-corporate’ identity is the principle reason for its success?

The clichéd maxim of eating three square meals a day is fast being resigned to the history books. Today people are eating more frequently, choosing non-meat options, upgrading to organic ingredients and pulling inspiration from global cultures. And these changing habits have been hugely influenced by our 21st century lifestyles, such as increased awareness around fitness, nutrition and dietary nuances, which have given rise to greater demand for different types of food.

It is no surprise therefore that ‘Street Foods’ – ready-to-consume food and drink sold by merchants in a street or other public location – have revolutionised the global food and beverage market.

One of the biggest advantages of the street food market is its culinary diversity which in turn has allowed entrepreneurs to set up businesses catering to niche audiences. Be it vegan or vegetarian all requirements are covered, and ‘healthy foods’ such as wholegrain, superfoods and low fat or low calorie are also catered for under the street food umbrella.

This continuing trend creates opportunities and challenges for brand owners. Small, individual merchants may view trade mark protection as premature but strong branding will build an identity which adds value, and with time and consistency may be worth protecting. Larger merchants with chains of street food vendors should also consider unifying their brand and registering key trade marks.

The idea behind trade mark protection is to safeguard consumers from confusion by identifying the origin of particular products or services by branding. A trade mark allows owners to stop others from using a registered mark or something similar on equivalent products or services. Businesses that have good products or services and have built up brand loyalty can use trade mark protection to protect their reputation.

Trade marks do not exist in a vacuum. When registering a trade mark, it is necessary to identify products and services for protection under said trade mark. Too narrow and the rights are limited, too broad and the trade mark may be rejected. Obtaining the right balance is critical and a trade mark attorney can prepare a suitable trade mark, which leaves room for expansion.

A strong brand can be a company’s most valuable asset. Many street food merchants have transitioned to bricks and mortar, including MEATLiquor, Kanada-Ya and Pizza Pilgrims. All three have registered UK trade marks since 2012.

Larger companies are also paying close attention as they recognise consumers are yearning for the ‘Street Food’ experience. Award-winning UK restaurant chain Wahaca entered the market in 2007, with a unique Mexican-style street food experience inspired by the food stalls of Mexico’s bustling towns and cities.

Tesco, Waitrose and other established supermarkets have detected the current ‘vibe’ and change in food culture, having introduced ranges of ready meals inspired by street food under their existing brands.

The street food uprising may be symptomatic of a wider revolution. Longer working hours, busier and chaotic lifestyles are leading to more consumers eating on the go. Brand owners therefore need to adapt and review whether their current trade marks provide sufficient protection to enable them to follow new market trends.

No matter what level a business is at within the street food market, correct branding and trade mark protection will be vital. Unlocking a strong brand and protecting it, is key to a successful venture, especially in a growing, saturated market.

No matter what level a business is at within the street food market, correct branding and trade mark protection will be vital.