Tasting in Tokyo
September 12, 2016
SAS celebrates its 70th anniversary this year. Seventy years of service is quite a feat in today’s aviation market and from early on Tokyo has been an important destination for SAS.
Services began there in 1951 via Bangkok and in 1957 Tokyo was served via the polar shortcut through Anchorage. In 1971 direct services began between Copenhagen and Tokyo and today the airline serves Tokyo daily with its newly-refurbished fleet of Airbus aircraft.
Peter Lawrance is manager of meal planning and execution, onboard product and service for SAS, and I spent two days with him in Tokyo at TFK Catering Narita. Lawrance is on the road most of the year carrying out catering operational tasks across SAS’s destinations but in Tokyo he was taste testing and challenging each meal, soon to be served from Tokyo, in Business, Premium Economy and Economy. His goal is to ensure the offer stays true to the Scandinavian way of doing things and doesn’t cut corners to save costs.
Strong relations and trust have also been forged between Lawrance and his Tokyo catering provider, TFK Catering. Lawrance says: ‘’Tokyo is an important city for SAS. Scandinavia has a strong relationship with Japan on many levels and in Japan I can always be certain whatever has been agreed, will be as agreed. Everyone takes great pride in what they do.”
But Japan also brings challenges, Lawrance still finds it difficult to find the right suppliers. ‘’You need to be really hands on and to physically find the products, as anyone who has tried finding anything on a Japanese-based website will understand!” he says.
He’s committed to giving time and effort to finding the right products for passengers and adds: “Why import vegetables from another continent that will be left to ripen in a container ship on its way here from some giant cooperation greenhouse, when we have some fantastic produce right here in Japan from real farmers?”
Whilst the selection ex-Tokyo may be limited and depends greatly on seasons Lawrance firmly believes that taste will always win and has, for example, selected butter, cheese and ice creams that are only made from Hokkaido milk, as the quality and clean fresh taste suits the airlines new Nordic-style cuisine.
And whilst the airline places emphasis on Japanese produce, it still ensures the service reflects its Scandinavia heritage as much as possible too. Mikkeller the Danish micro-brewery founded in 2006, created the Sky High Wit and Sky High Red Lager for SAS. In 2015 Mikkeller opened its sixth international bar which happens to be located in the Tomigaya area of Shibuya, Tokyo.
Lawrance has also introduced Japanese travellers to Europe’s very first sake, Nøgne Ø Junmai, which is hand-brewed using traditional methods and pure local water from the countryside of Grimstad, southern Norway. “For us the fact that this product can stand proud among the best in the world is a big plus,” says Lawrance.
In Economy, or SAS Go, Lawrance prefers to add value to the experience rather than items so focus is on the weight, volume and quality of the meals. He says: “There is no value in waste for our passengers. Waste to me is just a product or service we bought that the passenger didn’t enjoy SAS Go passengers receive complimentary meals (but no choice) and can purchase additional drinks after the meal service if required. This slight change in the offer and featuring quality brands passengers recognise, has enabled the airline to increase the consumption (and purchase) of beverages onboard.
Since June 2015 the airline has offered a pre-order meal programme which was redeveloped based on positive customer feedback in June this year. Passengers on selected flights within Europe and Scandinavia can now select from a choice of children’s meal, breakfast, lunch and dinner. When quizzed about the future of pre-order Lawrance says: ‘’We are also starting to explore the possibility of offering a larger and better pre-order product but the logistics of having to handle over 149 different catering stations split over 1000+ flights per day is quite complex and requires more planning and development.”