Frozen in France

September 5, 2016

French caterer Davigel is making inroads into the airline market. Jeremy Clark visited its new factory in Brittany to find out more.

Not far from Mont St Michel, off the French coast of Brittany, is Pontivy, home to a new facility for frozen food producer Davigel.

Davigel has three French sites but Pontivy is where its airline catering meals are produced, and the first surprise was the size and modernity of the facility, nestled in Brittany’s beautiful countryside. The company started in the 1930s, evolving through acquisitions by Nestle and Brakes, and is now owned by Sysco.

It has traditionally focused on restaurants (40% of its business), and contract catering, including schools and hospitals, which made up most of its almost €650m turnover for 2015.

Airline catering accounts for approximately 3% but Elise de la Maindrelle, Davigel’s key account manager says: “Our focus is on delivering the best possible quality of chilled and frozen products and we see considerable global potential for our products in airline catering”. She sees particular potential in the Middle East and Asia.

This focus on quality standards is reflected in the impressive list of certifications attained, including ISO 9001, 14001, FSCC 22000 for consumer safety and OHSAS 18001 for H&S at work.

Frozen meals for airlines aren’t new but Davigel’s Pontivy plant shows how technology can add flexibility and an increased range. The €38m facility, completed in December, added to an existing facility and features the very latest in technology including three new spiral freezers.

It was here that I had my next surprise – walking through the process areas, a confit was being prepared and I discovered the excellent duck confit I’d eaten at my hotel had come from here too. I can tell you the food was excellent!

The new plant focuses on meat and vegetable dishes. Davigel produced 30,000 metric tonnes of frozen raw and cooked vegetables and 32,000 tonnes of meat, fish and seafood last year. The new, halal-certified plant is also environmentally-friendly to minimise energy wastage and water usage.

Davigel places great emphasis on healthy recipes and nutritional value and sources for quality from sustainable suppliers. De la Maindrelle adds: “Since 2010 we have taken 60 tonnes of sugar and eight tonnes of salt out of our products, whilst retaining premium flavour and quality”.

The company’s team of 15 chefs based in Dieppe is constantly working to produce recipes in response to demand. All products are GMO free and 71% of fish is from certified sustainable sources. With four food labs in the group, food safety through the entire supply chain is highly scrutinised too.