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RETAIL/F&B Last modified on October 15, 2015

Health on the menu

Mark Angela, SSP’s chief commercial officer, explores how the F&B offer at an airport can be tailored to meet the needs of the ever-growing number of health-conscious travellers.

Gone are the days when ‘healthy eating’ was regarded as niche and meeting the needs of those who wanted to eat healthily while travelling was seen as something of a bolt-on for the airport food and beverage operator. 

On the High Street, healthy eating has well and truly moved into the mainstream. Maybe we don’t all want to treat our bodies as temples every day of the year, but most of us will, even if only occasionally, give some thought as to whether the food we are eating is good or bad for us. 

Successful food brands have recognised this for some time. A number of the food and beverage sector’s star performers are brands that put healthy ingredients at the heart of their offer. 

Similarly most of the classic fast food brands that in the past were regularly condemned for menus laden with fats, salts or sugars now offer fruits, salads, mineral waters and other healthier alternative to burgers, pizzas or fried chicken. 

Information about the provenance of the food on offer and its nutritional value is now expected as standard.

The patterns of demand that we see in food and beverage on the High Street do not-stop at the doors of the airport terminal. 

The trends that are relevant downtown have similar resonance in the travel environment, and the culinary landscape at the airport has been similarly transformed. 

Leisure travellers may be in an indulgent mindset, and looking to treat themselves to celebrate the start of a holiday, while similarly the stressed business traveller may be seeking to reward themselves on the way home from an important meeting. 

But even for these customers, concern for the quality of what they consume is ever growing. Options for those who want to choose healthier products are now an essential part of the food and beverage mix at any leading airport.


What is ‘healthy’?

Understanding the influences that affect demand for healthier alternatives is a complex business. SSP works with some of the leading research organisations, including Allegra, Clear, thefoodpeople and Future Foundation, to get under the skin
of evolving trends and understand how we can best respond to these market changes. 

Firstly, we need to define what we mean by ‘healthy eating’. One-size doesn’t fit all, and ‘healthy’ means different things to different consumers. For example, while fat or calorie content will matter to some, others might be more concerned about the balance of carbohydrates and protein. 

Free-from or ‘clean-label’ products to help people with allergies or intolerances make informed decisions are now an indispensible part of a well-considered menu – and indeed in the EU, supplying information about allergens is a legal requirement. 

But healthy eating doesn’t necessarily mean avoiding the ‘bad stuff’. It can also mean choosing foods that provide positive benefits. 

At an airport, passengers are increasingly looking for foods that will help them stay healthy on a flight. Hydration is well recognised as essential to physical well-being while flying, and picking up a bottle of water post-security is an essential travel ritual for many. 

Those who take an even more sophisticated approach to nutrition while flying might like to choose food and drink that will help their mood and set them up for a flight, giving them vitality without subjecting themselves to peaks and troughs in energy levels. 

Vitamin and protein content are increasingly important, or finding the right carbohydrate level to stay fuller, longer. A meal without meat is an appealing alternative to a new generation of ‘flexitarians’ who like a choice of vegetable-based dishes. 


Keeping it simple

Consumers believe that food that comes from ‘good’ sources is also ‘good’ for them and increasingly they want to know that the food they consume has been carefully sourced and treated well. 

The provenance of ingredients is rising up the consumer agenda, and healthy eating also means choosing food that is authentic, fresh, and has travelled fewer miles. 

At SSP’s Moodie FAB award winning Malaga food court, for example, our Dani García Deli Bar showcases the best foods of the Andalucian region, while Adam Aamann’s open sandwiches at Copenhagen airport feature local ingredients wherever possible, such as free-range beef and pork from local supplier Grambogaard. 

These outlets not only appeal to the growing number of passengers who want to know where their food comes from, they also help airports create that coveted ‘sense of place’ which all airports of international repute aspire. 

Led by the trend that kicked off in Scandinavia towards foods that are served in a more natural, simple state, we are seeing more demand for dishes finished by methods such as curing, pickling or fermenting to preserve nutrients and flavour, rather than cooking with heat. 

Raw foods are also gaining in popularity. This isn’t just raw fruit and vegetables – raw fish is also rising in the popularity stakes and sushi is now a favourite far beyond the shores of Japan. 

Sushi brands such as YO! Sushi, continue to gain traction and is a passenger-pleaser at travel locations around the world. Sushi has also evolved beyond the classic kaiten conveyor-belt and crossed into the standard culinary cannon to become an established must-have on many other menus such as that at our Center Bar at Zurich. 

It’s perhaps no surprise that it’s also amongst SSP’s best-selling menu items in many airports such as JFK in New York. 


A global perspective 

Staying on top of trends demands a global view, but local variations also need to be taken into account. Emerging healthy eating trends are no exception to this rule. 

Understanding where trends originate, how long they will last, and the cuisines they will influence is fundamental to creating the right brand mix at an international airport. 

Our research concludes, for example, that the demand for foods that have positive dietary and wider well-being benefits will apply in the US, the UK, Europe and Australasia/Pacific, and will be reflected in British, Scandinavian, Mediterranean, Asian and Persian cuisines. 

This is likely to remain an important movement until 2018. Similarly, the interest in the ethics of food will be seen in the UK, the US, Australasia/Pacific, Europe and Scandinavia. This will transcend all food-types, and will endure until 2025 and beyond. 


Helping travellers ‘eat right’

Providing a good range of healthy eating options can be achieved by adding healthier products to standard menus. 

Alternatively, airports can introduce brands that have been specifically tailored to the needs of the health conscious passenger, such as Naked (Paris Charles de Gaulle) – where the menu centres around freshly prepared salads – or Ne’O  (Budapest), which was part of the line-up that helped the airport win a Moodie FAB award in 2012, and serves a range of fresh, healthy foods that are ideal to carry on board a flight. 

SSP’s Camden food co., which offers wholesome, handmade and carefully sourced alternatives to run-of-the-mill pre-packed ‘on the go’ food, was however probably the first international brand ever specifically developed for the health-aware travelling consumer.

The brand was created for the UK market, and was further developed when it crossed the Atlantic to make its debut at Houston Airport in 2010. Since that time, it has gone on to become a 25-strong chain, present at some of the world’s most prestigious airports. 

Camden was undoubtedly one of the first brands that elevated ‘healthy’ foods from the slightly boring and worthy to vibrant and exciting. 

The success of the brand, underpinned by its philosophy that ‘you don’t have to be good to eat good food’, is further proof that healthy eating is a not a passing fad, but a lasting trend that cannot be ignored. 

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