Comair invests ZAR30 million in own catering operation

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Comair Limited on 31 May 2017 showcased its Food Directions catering operation as an example of its ongoing diversification as a full-fledged travel enterprise.

Food Directions was established to provide catering to Comair’s two airline brands, British Airways and kulula.com, flying within South Africa, sub-Saharan Africa and the Indian Ocean Islands.

“Comair has harnessed lessons gleaned from 70 years of uninterrupted, profitable airline operation to develop Food Directions as a subsidiary. Food Directions now prepares around 3.6 million meals a year and has expanded its clientele to health-food outlets and dieticians,” says Erik Venter, Comair Chief Executive Officer. 

Since establishing Food Directions in 2012, Comair has invested ZAR30 million in HACCP-compliant, ISO-standard bespoke kitchens in Jet Park and Cape Town, employing around 220 staff, who prepare around 10 000 airline meals a day. The facilities aim to combine maximum productivity and exceptional hygiene standards, with cost-effective and nutritious, tasty fare.

“Having our own catering operation allows us to simplify processes, increase control, develop our own products and reduce costs. It allows us total control over food quality and improved logistical efficiency and economies of scale,” says Venter.

Almarie Botha, Catering Operations Manager at Food Directions, adds that airline catering is seen as an integral part of passengers’ perceptions of their flight.

“The food is a strong component of an airline’s entire brand experience. We believe passengers look forward to our meals and enjoy our fresh good quality ingredients as a part of their overall experience. Many clients have very busy schedules and depend on our meals for breakfast, lunch or supper, so our catering needs to be both healthy and of an adequate quantity.”

She notes that airline catering brings its own specific criteria apart from needing to still be fresh and palatable after it’s been transported through airport security, bonding and – in the case of international flights – customs.

Menu selection must take into account the fact that the taste of food and drink is affected by altitude and the pressurisation of airliner cabins.

“Our bodies change in the air to adapt to the atmospheric pressures surrounding us and our sense of taste decreases by about 30% when we’re at high altitudes. Also, our nasal passages dry out when flying, which also affects our sense of taste.”

Operations must also accommodate the constraints of storage, the demands placed on cabin-crew during serving, and serving-space on board: no serving can be higher than 4cm, for example, says Botha.

Menus change periodically and are developed and then presented to a panel for assessment. Renowned wine expert Michael Fridjohn develops wine-lists to ensure tipples retain their appeal on board. 

Special dietary requirements which are accommodated include gluten-free, diabetic and low-fat, vegan, Hindu, Kosher, Halaal and children’s meals.

Venter says the versatile and scalable nature of the Food Directions operation mirrors Comair’s evolution as travel business.

“In the same way that Food Directions now also supplies CemAir with airline meals, and health foods to DisChem and other outlets, the other aspects of our business are expanding their markets.”

“Examples include the Comair Training Centre, which offers training to other airlines and, among other entities, to the Indian Air Force. Another is the SLOW Lounge brand, which provides comfort and refreshment for local and international passengers, and is expanding into Africa,” he concludes. 

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