The airline industry doesn’t have the best track record for serving up healthy food onboard. But with the rise in popularity of wholefoods and clean eating on the ground, is this changing inflight?
“The mindset of consumers is shifting and their demand for healthy food is increasing,” says Sebastian Schäfer, Manager Culinary Excellence at LSG Group.
“For airlines, it is important to present a food offering that is really appreciated as it increases passenger satisfaction and reduces food waste.”
Historically, the average passenger travelling for leisure was looking to indulge rather than make healthy choices. But that’s changing, says Gwendal Hamon, Food Development Director at En Route International.
“More and more consumers are seeking healthier, good-for-you, choices on the go. Understanding of what is ‘healthy’ has evolved significantly too into a wide variety of food territories that have opened the door to endless new options,” she says.
Passenger preferences and behaviour are being driven by a number of factors, according to Gottfried Menge, gategroup VP of Culinary: “Customers are becoming more aware of the products’ values and origins, and with a trend towards foods which are organically produced, where nutritional values are preserved, and there are benefits for the mind and body.”
Health and wellness are high on the agenda, particularly following the pandemic. “Consumers are seeking immunity-boosting ingredients in foods and selecting items from healthier ranges,” says En Route’s Hamon.
Examples include ginger or turmeric ‘shots’, which have been growing in popularity; popped ‘superfood’ snacks and freeze-dried vegetable crisps.
Despite this, flyers are less willing to experiment onboard than in a classic retail environment such as in the supermarket, says Moritz Kolb, Retail Program Manager at Retail inMotion, who adds: “This is why we focus on familiar dishes and products. At the same time, we are seeing increased demand for high-quality products.”
Local foods which are seasonal and sustainable are growing in popularity, as consumers want to identify where products are coming from. “We are using more regional and seasonal products because customers’ behaviour has changed, and it’s important to bear in mind that the behaviour of a traveller is different from someone staying at home,” says Menge.
“Shoppers are reaching for products that are perceived to be more sustainable, eco-friendly and have a lower carbon footprint,” agrees Hamon. “This desire to make more sustainability-conscious food choices is also fuelling demand for upcycled food, using ingredients that would otherwise have been discarded,” he adds.
Vegan options, special grains, seeds and bowl foods are popular. “Wholefood products like vegan wraps with falafel, tomatoes and mozzarella or goat cheese are highly appreciated by passengers,” says Kolb. “In addition, bowls with rice, beans, salad, vegetables and more toppings are becoming very popular.
When it comes to snacking, customers are prioritising taste, opting for “dried fruits and mixed nuts, which are rated because they are both healthy and full of flavour,” says Menge.
Demographics should be taken into consideration too, adds Hamon: “Business travellers often opt for healthier snacking choices onboard because of the frequency of their travel. Fresh, seasonal fruit can help passengers stay hydrated onboard and is often a popular wholefood snack.
“We have to consider passenger activity too. For example, on long-haul flights, a lot of passengers will be watching a movie. So salty and nostalgic treats such as popcorn can be a popular choice and there are ways to make these options healthier,” suggests Hamon.
In a recent survey by GlobalData, over 60% of global respondents said they now expect or like to see plant-based alternatives on the shelves of their local retailers. How long will it be before this trend is reflected in the airline product offering? Kolb says: “This is a rather slow development, as it is not necessarily driven by the airlines but should rather be viewed holistically.”
“Partnerships with specialised companies like NotCo, an expert in meat and dairy alternatives, is helpful here for LSG Group. The team develops the range with the help of artificial intelligence – a powerful tool here – and we can rely on their specific product expertise,” adds Schäfer.
There is plenty of evidence that points to younger people making healthier lifestyle choices and it’s important that airlines react to changing demand.
“There is a growing desire from Gen Z and millennials in particular who are demanding a broader range of snacks, be that snacks that are high in protein, vegan or wholefoods,” says Hamon.
“By 2030, this demographic will make up the majority of the global population, so it’s important for airlines to act now and introduce a broader range of wholefood snacks that offer exceptional taste and quality,” he adds.
One major challenger is the higher price point of products aboard aircraft but this can be overcome. “Focus on variety, health benefits and authentic and memorable storylines about the origins of the product which consumers will find compelling,”