Upscales and DELI
By Kathleen Furore
“Following 911 there was a big drop in air travel, and airlines started on the path to consolidation. They had to figure out how to make their business model work, and cutting on board foodservice was part of that,” Joseph explains. “In an airport’s financial model, there is airline and non-airline revenue, and there is now pressure to increase non-airline revenue. Airports are becoming proactive in increasing business opportunities in terminals—they’re looking at how to optimize concessions programs, and there is a push toward availability of options.”
MOVE OVER McDONALD'S:
Anthony Joseph, president of
Airport food courts are rebranding, and deli retailers and their vendors stand to reap the benefits.
Think gourmet sandwich shops. A marketplace purveying made-to-order and pre-made sandwiches, wraps and paninis. A charcuterie-style quick serve bar with European meats and cheeses sliced on site.
It’s all part of a post-911 world that has streamlined the way airlines serve customers, according to Anthony Joseph, president of Concessions International, a top food and beverage airport concessionaire with more than 40 airport concession locations and over 30 different brands.
Those are just a few foodservice concepts that have recently joined upscale retailers like Michael Kors and Burberry in airport terminals from coast to coast, creating an enticing dining channel for busy travelers and a profitable growth channel for the restaurants, and the meat and cheese processors that serve them.
HMSHost’s new marketplace-style dining – MKT.
Case in point: HMSHost’s new marketplace-style dining concept called MKT, which debuted in 2014 at Anchorage International Airport, Las Vegas McCarran International Airport, Tulsa International Airport, and Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. MKT features made-to-order and pre-made hand-crafted sandwiches such as the Phat Philly made with shaved rib-eye and provolone on a baguette, and the Big 3 made with corned beef, turkey and pastrami.
“Our research shows that marketplace-style shopping and dining is a leading trend, which makes MKT an exciting way to connect with our guests,” Sickelsmith says.
The move toward premium products is also evident at Reagan National Airport in Washington, D.C., where Concessions International debuted Taylor Gourmet Handcrafted Hoagies in January 2015. The menu offers Italian cured deli meats; turkey, beef and pork roasted daily on-site; handmade meatballs; seasoned chicken cutlets; a selection of cheeses; white and wheat vegan hoagie rolls; gluten-free wraps; and fresh vegetables – all combined to create a gourmet sandwich experience for travelers.
Sandwich establishments aren't the only concepts with premium meats and cheeses that are elevating in-terminal dining. HMSHost’s Barcuterie in George Bush Houston Intercontinental Airport offers European-inspired charcuterie options including aged Prosciutto di Parma, Soppressata (hot spiced, dry-cured pork salami), Brasaola (an air-dried Italian beef), and Grafton cheddar.
Trends Translate to Terminals
—Frank Sickelsmith, Vice President of Adult Beverage and Restaurant Development for HMSMost Corporation
“Travelers are willing to pay – they know about meats and cheeses, about European-style and craft products, and are willing to
splurge on quality.”
The airports’ “push” has put Quick Service Restaurants (QSRs) and their vendors in a position to play on a field previously dominated by low-price, fast food options.
As Joseph says, the type of foodservice vendors that airports now seek “is pretty exciting! They’ve become more diversified in what they’re offering because guests are demanding better quality – they want fresher, healthier, more unique food.”
Concepts featuring premium, gourmet sandwiches are among the most popular vying for in-terminal spots.
“Travelers are willing to pay – they know about meats and cheeses, about European-style and craft products, and are willing to splurge on quality,” reports Frank Sickelsmith, vice president of adult beverage and
restaurant development for HMSHost Corporation, a leading provider of food, beverage and retail concessions in over 200 travel and entertainment venues.
Sandwich shops, in fact, are especially popular since they offer convenient, portable product in what Sickelsmith calls “hand-held environments. Even in airport steak houses, the burgers are the most popular items,” he says. “Any restaurant brand we bring in is required to have pre-made sandwiches and salads.”
With a spotlight increasingly focused on “fresh,” the way product is prepared plays an important role, not only to flavor but also to customers’ perceptions of the cuisine. How restaurants handle food prep, including slicing, varies by company and type of concept, the experts say.
Concessions International generally prepares sandwiches in the airports, using a combination of pre-sliced and sliced-on-site product. For example, the company might order pre-sliced ingredients for a bar and grill that menus deli sandwiches, but not for restaurants that require on-site slicing at their non-airport stores. “We replicate their process and do the slicing on site,” Joseph says.
Slicing meats and cheeses in front of guests is what HMSHost prefers for the company’s own brands. “At Barcuterie in Houston there is a center island with a red, showpiece slicer,” Sickelsmith says.
When it comes to more “standard” product, HMSHost relies on pre-sliced product. “For most of our deli meats and cheeses we use pre-sliced. It is better for us from a quality perspective to have fresh but line-ready product. And since we go through food pretty quickly, there are no shelf life issues,” Sickelsmith adds.
Shelf-life issues, however, have given way to other hurdles unique to airport foodservice.
Space is at a premium, making menu development, food prep, delivery and storage especially challenging.
“The restaurants must find ways to operate in smaller spaces,” Sickelsmith notes. That might mean handling production tasks in a commissary a few miles away, then navigating airport security to deliver the products, he says.
The Methods and Challenges
“Design is critical because of space constraints,” Joseph echoes, noting that most concepts have to modify their menus in order to streamline the operation. A concept with 50 to 60 items might have to trim the menu to 20. That’s a tough task under any circumstance, and one made tougher considering many concepts have to address a part of the day they haven’t before.
“Breakfast is very important in airports, and since many concepts don’t have breakfast items they usually have to develop them,” Joseph says.
With more and more airports overhauling terminals – the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA), for example, recently announced that more than 20 additional new food and restaurant options are coming to Reagan National and Washington Dulles in Summer 2015—the opportunities deli retailers and vendors can tap continue to soar.
Perhaps Steve Baker, vice president of business administration for MWAA, sums up the state of airport foodservice today best in the statement he made when announcing the D.C. airports’ overhaul: “Whether passengers are looking to recharge themselves or their cell phones, we are providing bright, enticing opportunities with exceptional service for our customers’ shopping and dining pleasure.”
Getting to the Terminal
The types of foodservice venues a particular airport seeks drives the process of filling available spaces.
“An airport will say they have an ideal mix of categories and then put out an RFP. They might say they want a gourmet deli or a coffee shop,” Anthony Joseph, president of Concessions International, explains. “We go find the brands, put together a proposal, and secure a space through a competitive bid process. That’s how brands make it into airports.”
According to Joseph and Frank Sickelsmith, vice president of adult beverage and restaurant development for HMSHost Corporation, airports today are charged with marketing the region in which they operate. Consequently, they’re seeking a balance of national brands and regional concepts.
When working with Reagan National Airport, Concept International’s mission was to find restaurants that reflected what was happening in the District’s metropolitan area. “We looked at opportunities and spent time in D.C. to check out the market,” Joseph says.
His team wanted a concept that would convince the leasing agent it could elevate the airport’s brand; had the supply chain, plus marketing and merchandising programs in place to enable it to translate into an airport environment; and could operate efficiently and profitably.
“Taylor Gourmet Handcrafted Hoagies met all those marks,” Joseph says of the sandwich company that has nine locations in the metropolitan area. “It was a growing company, with unique, high quality products – all things guests want.”