Nicolas Rondeau is the Executive Vice President, Sales and Marketing, of Flying Food. The Chicago-based company supplies inflight catering to more than 70 airlines, mainly in the international long-haul segment.
“The past couple of years were hectic and we are getting back to the pre-Covid type of service in terms of the menus and offerings,” says Nicolas.
Plant-based proteins account for a low percentage of meals eaten onboard at present. Nonetheless, Nicolas has noted growth in demand for plant-based proteins served during in-flight meals.
“It’s mainly on a premium customer basis,” explains Nicolas. That means most plant-based proteins are served at the front of the cabin.
Since early 2020 Japan Airlines has been serving the Beyond Burger to passengers in their First cabin. United Airlines has Impossible Meatballs on the menu and passengers in First can pre-order them.
At present, Economy passengers who want to avoid meat may find pasta is their only savoury option. “We’re not there on the price point, to be able to get that democratized through the economy class,” explains Nicolas.
Developments in the market are bringing changes. “We hope to be to see new products on the market that enable us to expand our offering to a wider volume,” says the Executive Vice-President.
The retail offering for plant-based proteins is expanding. In the USA, the sector is dominated by Beyond Meat, whose products are made from pea protein, and Impossible Foods, whose products are based on soy protein.
Soy is an allergen and the fact that some plant-based proteins are soy-based could be a hurdle to their wider offering as part of in-flight meals.
Budget is a factor in broadening the plant-based protein offering to Economy passengers. Inevitably, airlines need to cater to the tastes of the majority of customers too. Additionally, passengers travelling in First and Business have a broader choice of meals, making it easier to serve plant-based proteins.
Airlines are in a phase of post-Covid recovery and stabilisation but have had a strong summer in 2022.
“I think we’re going to focus on the development of new projects towards the end of the year, next year. I think airlines will start to think about buffing up and changing their offerings,” says Nicolas.
“We have the capability to develop products around the base plant protein. Now it’s to find a suitable product and find the airline that will be willing to make the offering on a wider basis,” he adds.
Over time, the increased volume of plant-based protein consumption may help lower their price meaning they become more widely available in all classes of cabins.