July 13, 2024

In good spirits

Taste is important, but what else determines a good beverage choice for service onboard? April Waterston investigates

Take one look at the 2022 Onboard Hospitality Awards entries and you’ll see our beverage category is bursting with innovative beverage products. 

From water to wine, tomato juice and iced matcha tea, the entries reflect a demand for variety onboard and many come with eco credentials too. Increasingly as buyers make their choices though it’s not just taste that’s important, but also packaging, product design, sustainability and provenance that can make or break a successful onboard collaboration.

Brand match 

I asked Benedict Fanconi, SWISS Inflight Product Europe, how SWISS chooses its onboard beverages. He said: “We have an evaluation matrix through which we rate all products. Beverages are assessed base on the following ratings: taste, design of product, premiumness, Swissness, storytelling potential, organic, regionality, sustainability of packaging and the commercials. 

“For me, all of the above play a role in choosing a product but of course besides taste we also want that a beverage fits our brand,” he says.

Partnerships with big brands onboard can benefit all parties involved – something the cruise sector in particular has capitalised on. P&O, for example, has added theatre to its ships with onboard distilleries. Salcombe Gin is behind a bespoke spirit made on Iona (the ship has a dedicated gin bar with 300 varieties), while new vessel Arvia, will have its own sea-inspired rum – The Tidal Rum – produced specially for the cruise line onboard by a specialist producer from Jersey.

Wine and dine

Provenance and storytelling has become key, and wine is no exception. Italian icon Bottega focuses on its story and history with its products, such as the Il Vino dei Poeti Prosecco Rosé DOC – a Brut sparkling wine that originates from grapes grown in the Prosecco Doc area using traditional techniques. The wine is characterised by its mother-of-pearl pink colour. While Bottega Gold, a Prosecco Doc characterised by its golden bottle, widely appreciated worldwide as an expression of its Made in Italy credentials.

​​On rail, Great Western Railway (GWR) has recently revamped its wine offer with a new partnership with Virgin Wines, which is now its sole supplier of wine across the network. The partnership is GWR’s first change of wine supplier in almost 20 years. Under the new partnership Virgin Wines has curated a bespoke range which will be available on all trains including in its famous gourmet Pullman Dining rail service.

Packaging focus

Regardless of the content, packaging can make or break a product. In particular it offers an opportunity to reinforce brand ideals with regards to sustainability. 

For example, Paul Sapin bottles its Philippe Dublanc wine in a light-weight recycled plastic bottle that aims to emulate the sophistication of glass, but are 49% lighter in weight than a glass bottle. It uses a champagne-shaped bottle with a screw cap and a top closure for a traditional sparkling-wine look.

Packamama has supplied its eco-flat wine bottles to support KLM’s efforts to achieve the most sustainable flight possible. 87% lighter and 40% spatially smaller, Packamama’s climate-friendly bottles are ideally suited where space is at a premium and weight savings are sought after to help reduce fuel consumption. Made from 100% recycled PET, the bottles fulfill the sustainability brief inflight but also have lower carbon emissions in their production and transport chains compared to glass bottles. Organic wines were selected to further enhance the focus on responsible sourcing.

“Our climate-friendly bottles demonstrate that the customer experience around wine can go hand-in-hand with sustainability,” Amelia Dales, commercial director at Packamama, explained.

Encouraging airlines to move away from bottled service altogether, Skytender is offering specialist trolleys for beverage service and will unveil some key sustainability plus points achievable by moving this way during WTCE in Hamburg. The company has been involved in some significant research undertaken by UNESCO which suggests mobile beverage solutions have a 50% lower carbon footprint than traditional cans and bottles offered onboard.

Cocktail hour

Cocktails can help inject personality and branding into a drinks service. For example, Finnair has recently extended its drinks service to include a new ‘Northern Blush’ cocktail, created in partnership with Scandinavian cocktail producer, Danish Mikropolis Cocktails. Containing lingonberry, a splash of gin, and a dash of orange peel mixed together. It aims to conjure up the freshness of Finland’s forests through the nuances of citrus and a hint of juniper.

Lauri Ahonen, Finnair kitchen concept & category manager, said: “Cocktails are a growing trend and have become a part of Finnair’s inflight dining experience. With Mikropolis, we found a partner who could understand our sustainability goals and work with Nordic ingredients to produce on a large scale. Quality is at the core of our values, and with this collaboration we are able to offer an interesting and consistent cocktail selection to our customers onboard.”  

Finnair has also partnered with Finnish producers for whisky from Kyrö, gin from Helsinki Distillery and Valamo XO dessert wine.

For an added sense of occasion, passengers onboard Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines find a Bionic Bar where mixology meets technology and two robotic bartenders shake, stir and mix up the cocktails. While guests wait to be served, an electronic display board shares fun stats about guest orders and a play-by-play of each drink that’s being made.