Andrew Lynch, SSP - The Food Travel Experts CEO talks with Peter Marshall, Managing Director of Marshall Arts International on Airport Dynamics.tv about travel trends.
Peter> Andrew, what do you think are the main trends currently effecting the food service business?
Andrew> I think there is a lot going on at the minute, a lot of things which is making it a very interesting place. I’ll just pick out a few for you:
The whole issue and area of provenance, you know, the story behind the product - where the product’s coming from and again linking that with ethical trading - peoples concerns about the environment. We’ve got all of that in once space.
Interestingly we are seeing a real a real pull for Mexican food now, a lot of Asian food, new variants of Asian food being developed, and again portion sizes and the way in which we display food and we serve food. Lots of demand for sharing plates, small plates, tasting menus going possiblely with flights of wine, tasting of beers, lots of different things happening in the marketplace.
Peter> Do you think the continues economic climate is impacting consumer behavior?
Andrew> I think it has. There’s no doubt that people are more focused on value for money now, not the same as looking for the cheapest product and there is still very much a market for premium products but people are very focused on “Is it a fair price, am I getting good quality products, and is the service great?” You get those things there is still a very exciting market at all price points.
Peter> So are there other underlying trends that you have identified that are determining customers preferences?
Andrew> Well I talked about a few of the ethnic cuisines but I think stepping back from that healthy eating is on clearly on many people’s agenda at the minute. That diet and being very aware of what’s in the food and there is no doubt that is playing a part in the mix and changing the mix somewhat.
Peter> Now food and beverage prices continue to be significantly higher in airports than the high street. In today’s climate how can this variance continue to be justified and does the very nature of the airport business always preclude the possibility of passengers, customers, ever actually getting a good deal?
Andrew> I think quite often the customer gets a very good deal and again I will make this point that it’s about value for money. Price is important, the quality of service is important and the quality of product is important so all of that need to be looked at together. In many airports the airport operates a policy of matching downtown prices so it is not true that they are always more expensive although often the consumer perception is that they are and again other things like the car park charges, etc. sort of fuel that perception but I think you also have to acknowledge that the cost of operating in an airport is pretty significant. It is a complex environment and there are all sorts of complexity associated with working in an air-side environment so the cost in the system has the effect of pushing the prices up. Our job is to try and mitigate that and give a great value for money.
Peter> I guess the recent fluctuations in exchange rates doesn’t help.
Andrew> Well that depends where you are. If you are traveling through Switzerland right now, it can feel pretty expensive, if you are being paid in Swiss francs.
Peter> The global food and beverage offer has really moved on from the cookie cutter approach of maybe ten years ago. But the players of the global business have become increasingly polarized. Just how much research do you do to accommodate the local flavor particularly when pitching to any airport?
Andrew> We’ve done an enormous amount of research and I think it is understanding the consumer that is key to the our success in being able to create the right solution for an airport. Within that we are finding more and more the demand for localization to create this sense of place so that people can relate to where they are and of course our decentralized structure plays to that as well. I think people on the ground who really understand the local market and its a really crucial part of the mix both from the point of view of the client who wants to create that sense of space to differentiate their airport from other airports and crucially the customer coming through who wants to eat and drink where they are.
I will give you one or two examples which we have done recently working with a guy Danny Garcia in Malaga who has a fabulous Michelin star restaurant but also an innovative tapas bars in the city and we have brought that, adapted that to the airport environment and its a fabulous offer. In Switzerland we work with Gilles Dupont whose got again a very smart restaurant on the Lake to create something that is reminiscent of the environment in the Montreux Jazz Cafe again reflecting what is happening in that part of Switzerland, bringing a little bit of the ethos of the jazz festival into a cafe environment and very much speaking to the lakeside location.
Peter> Do you think that there is enough research being done in this sector and arguably is there enough research being undertaken by the airport partners?
Andrew> There is a lot of research I think research done. Certainly a number of airports spending time and money understanding what is going on in their airport and a number of concessionaires are doing the same. We certainly have spent an enormous amount of money over the last few years building a view of consumer insight but there could definitely be more. I think there could be more joined up research. What we find there is a poorcity of is industry wide market data certainly on F&B and I think it may be an area where we can try and make the Trinity more effective - the partnership between the operators and the concessionaires and the brand owners. Maybe that is a fertile area for working together.
Peter> So what direction are you think the Food and Beverage sector will take in the coming years?
Andrew> I think the clues are in what you are now seeing, whether that be the knowledge of provenance, ethical trading and environmental trading, looking at a broader spread of ethnic offers. I think in also increasingly seeing peoples demand for value for money, for quality for “premiumization” coming through - if you look at the wider market High Street is becoming a much more an innovative place. People’s design standards, people’s use of technology is charging ahead and people expect rightly to see that in airports as well. So I think we will see an eccellaration of the quality of environments and an excelleration of the quality of the food, increase diversity of the food, increase diversity of brands, a continuation to swing away from international brands and cookie cutter solutions to localized solutions, bespoke solutions and partnering with local heros. So many of the emerging trends today I can see developing over the next few years.
Peter> That can’t be a bad thing and the consumer has to win. Better profiling, more niche products, broader canvas of product offer and good value or perceived good value.
Peter> Let’s just go to your business now. I mean the business itself has grown exponentially over the last five or six years. What do you think are the key elements of it’s success?
Andrew> I think the investment in research, really taking the time at the beginning of our journey as an independent business to understand the consumer and understand the trends, the things that people were looking for, and the ability to execute against these I think is one of the reasons. I think our ability to utilize our international footprint, joining up the business, leveraging expertise in different parts of the world to make the whole bigger than the sum of all the parts, leveraging relationships with international players. I think a willingness to take risks and experiment and look for solutions beyond the obvious international brands whether that is partnering with very young and new companies or creating our own solutions and I think a decentralized and empowered culture within our business and very experienced teams all around the world doing extraordinary things and I think our job at the middle of that is make sure that we leverage all of that innovation and all of that knowledge and all of that expertise and make the whole bigger than the parts.
Peter> If you had three words, three words that best describes your business that are the emotional triggers that drive it, what would they be?
Andrew> Passionate about food.
Peter> You consider yourself a food company first and last?
Peter>Finally Andrew, if there was one thing that you wanted the industry to focus on, one thing that you felt was worthy of campaigning over, what would it be?
Andrew> Putting the customer first. Customer service, outstanding customer service at all of the touch points in their journey though an airport.