Julie Baxter

Onboard caterers and suppliers are upping their sustainability efforts with innovative ingredients, new service delivery and greater scrutiny of their actions, Julie Baxter discovers more

Sustainability issues touch everything in our industry and increasingly caterers and food suppliers find themselves at the forefront of the debate.

Cutting food and packaging waste has become a key global issue for those concerned to tackle climate change, and it makes obvious sense for airlines, rail and cruise operators too in terms of corporate social responsibility policies, financial efficiencies and public relations.

While tableware specialists focus on new service delivery options and weight-saving designs and materials, caterers are beginning to scrutinize just what they are dishing up, and taking a closer look at both the provenance, eco credentials and supply chain impact of their ingredients, as well as the way it is wrapped.

En Route International, launched a ‘Four The Future’ strategy during WTCE, aiming to reduce its impact on the environment and help its customers meet their own eco targets.

Time to rethink

Built around four principles: reduce, remove, replace and reimagine, the strategy will see the company replace single-use plastics and plastic linings with biodegradable, compostable or recyclable alternatives in its bakery, hot snacks and cheese offerings. The company is also conducting a full packaging audit across its supply chain and embedding eco KPIs into all new developments.

Step change

Richard Wake, creative and marketing director at En Route, explains: “This step change is being fuelled by the desire for change coming from airlines, passengers and new legislation. We want to be a force for good, and approach the entire supply chain with environmental targets in mind.

“Our customers’ approaches differ so we wanted to make sure we have a broad range of options to meet their specific goals. There is often more than one way to achieve a sustainable product or service. An understanding of all the processes the product goes through during its lifecycle can vary. For example, differing legislations on return routes can affect how it is disposed of.

“The impact from the general public has encouraged more organisations in this industry to focus on this issue. Our Four the Future strategy focuses on some concrete areas where we can implement changes as part of our product development and innovation endeavours.”

The challenge when it comes to catering however is the need to balance aspirations for more eco-friendly presentations with critical concern for product performance and food safety. But En Route has already shown the possibilities by cutting 20 tonnes of product weight through a reduction in the complexity of its cheese service for Emirates Business. Reduced weight helps to lower fuel burn and reduce environmental impact.

Reimagining service

working with customers and partners to invent service ideas that naturally reduce packaging. For example using one large 100% biodegradable box of products in the oven rather than many individually-packed products with multiple packaging to be recycled. We are committed to helping our customers meet their sustainability goals through innovative approaches to service design and delivery, that ultimately reduce their impact on the environment.”

Such innovation can clearly add a point of difference to service, add value to the passenger experience, and position an airline as innovative and thoughtful. The materials available have evolved significantly to support such innovation, with plant-based products, for example, and coatings other than laminates (challenging to recycle), supporting those who want to change.

Robin Padgett, divisional senior vp at dnata Catering says: “There is no doubt that sustainability is the big theme for our industry now. It’s on every agenda, in every conversation. There is a new commitment to being environmentally sustainable whether it is in supporting recycling, moving away from plastics or simply ensuring your company buildings run efficiently. It is a complex topic for the aviation sector but as airlines do all they can to bring emissions rates down, our sector has its part to play and is pushing at an open door. It is important not to overly complicate the topic but to just make a start, focus on some basics and build as you go. We’re also working with our customers to better plan and predict what we put onboard, through technology and better understanding customer demand. Ultimately, we don’t want to be dealing with waste.

“With one of our key inflight retail customers in the Middle East we’ve driven pre-order as a percentage of total sales up to 75%, which contributes to a significant reduction in loaded product and waste, and that contributes to emissions reduction for our customer.”

Ingredient issues

And it is not just the wrappings that are coming under increasing scrutiny. Consumers worldwide are thinking more about the environmental impact of the products they eat and the ingredients within.

Climate change reports and environmental influencers, such as David Attenborough, have turned a sharp focus onto our diets. What we eat, they insist, has growing implications for topsoil,
pollution, greenhouse gases and deforestation.

Palm oil, found in everything from bread to ice- cream, and meat are facing the heaviest attacks, not least because of the deforestation and burning they inspire in the scramble to meet agricultural demands for planting and animal grazing.

Eating a largely plant-based diet is increasingly promoted as a solution to human health issues too and the trend towards veganism seems unstoppable both for health and environmental imperatives, particularly among millennials.

While onboard caterers may not be able to save the planet single handedly, they can surely do their bit and innovative onboard catering chefs, says Phil Sumnall, chef at Monty’s Bakehouse, should welcome the challenge around sustainable ingredients.

He says: “We are already working with Quorn and others to develop meat-alternative products for airlines and these are getting good feedback. We are actively innovating with meat alternatives and recognise there is a growing movement towards this. We welcome the challenge. Using such products doesn’t inhibit any cheffy nuance, flavour or skills. Meat alternative products are versatile so we can add any multicultural worldwide flavour or ingredient to them, and create new concepts.