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Interview: Brands in Transit

Well-known foodservice brands and concepts are becoming ever-more visible at travel hubs, from airports and rail stations to motorway services. Bruce Whitehall talks about latest trends to Walter Seib, CEO of HMSHost International, part of the internationally diversified HMSHost travel hub catering business within Italy’s Autogrill group. Seib is in charge of extensive airport catering operations in the Netherlands, the Far East, Middle East and North Europe.
”Time has become an everyday currency which people want to spend meaningfully.”
Walter Seib
Travel catering has changed a lot over the past two decades. What for you have been the key factors?
Seib Taking airports, market expansion has been led by the airlines, with low fare operators in particular opening up new routes and encouraging people to fly to destinations rather than driving. But there have been negative changes, too. The widespread introduction of nosmoking from the mid-2000s cut catering sales at some airports and that took two years to recover.
Also during the 2000s, greater security in the wake of the September 11 attacks in the USA increased dwell time from 30-40 minutes to two hours or more. That increased the time available to spend on catering and retail but we also had to deal with the greater stress, which meant that people were not in a buying mood. Security checks also affected purchase of water and other liquids.

How much have passenger expectations changed?
Seib Twenty years ago, you got the same offer everywhere, mainly coffee and sandwiches. With shorter dwell time, there was a lot more fast food. As market leader, we helped change the business from generic to branded outlets and also encouraged more fast-casual dining concepts with higher average checks. That grew to include chef-driven concepts (like Wolfgang Puck and Todd English at US airports) and also versions of restaurants by famous local restaurateurs, like Anthony’s Restaurant and Fish Bar at Seattle Airport.
In the past five years we have had to respond a lot more to people wanting fresh, healthy foods, backed by more transparent information, and also more interesting selections of drinks. Our own innovations at Schiphol include Café Chocolat and Bubbles Seafood and Wine Bar.
What has driven the big increase in branded foodservice at travel hubs?
Seib When people travel they don’t typically want to make experimental choices. That’s why brands tend to drive more sales than non-branded. You see the name and you know what you get. It’s maybe not the same choice as you would make when out with the family but it’s a safe one.
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| 14 August 2014 | Bruce Whitehall |
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