February 2 2024  |  Catering

​WTCE uncovers latest challenges and trends in onboard product sourcing

By WTCE in partnership with PAX International

Inflight dining faces acute challenges in supply chain, product sourcing and procurement

Like supply chains, product sourcing and procurement for onboard suppliers has recently been affected by a number of factors including labour and skills shortages. This has resulted in significant challenges for many companies that have had to adjust the way they operate to meet demand. In the travel catering world, these challenges are even more acute.

WTCE spoke with Benjamin Kammer, Senior Category Manager for Food, Beverage and Retail at Retail inMotion and Tim Uebersax, CEO of Panoramic Gourmet plc, to find out how they manage these issues.

“For the procurement department at Retail inMotion, the key task at hand is to source innovative products for its airline customers”, explains Kammer. “The team at Retail inMotion discovers new products and suppliers through its network of colleagues who are well-versed in detecting on-trend items that can be sampled and followed up accordingly.”

Tim Uebersax, CEO of Panoramic Gourmet plc

When it comes to rail catering, Panoramic Gourmet plc is an expert, caterer to the world-famous Glacier Express, the Rhaetian Railway, and the Matterhorn Gotthard Railway dining cars. With the need for both to provide products across a range of categories for multiple carriers/operators, product sourcing relies on strong logistics and communication.It’s no surprise then, that according to Tim Uebersax, CEO of Panoramic Gourmet plc, “our biggest challenges are logistical.”

Supplying onboard catering to three unique railway operators requires the company to balance rigorous processes and be flexible to meet changing demands. The same is true for Kammer, who states that there is no such thing as a typical day in the life of a buyer for onboard services, though there are subjects that regularly come up. For example, ongoing sourcing tenders involving hundreds of product SKUs, negotiating cost prices and marketing deals with suppliers, supporting operational issues, adapting or optimizing processes with airlines and managing internal initiatives or specific airline requests.

These are all part of daily life for the Retail inMotion procurement team. Some of these subjects ring true across the whole of the onboard industry. Uebersax, for example, is also no stranger to optimizing processes. “In Chur, at the Panoramic Gourmet site, all trains are loaded in all directions. This has to be planned very meticulously because we don’t have any other logistical possibilities in the Alpine environment.”

However, meticulous planning equally relies on strong communication for these companies to remain agile.“Communication among the companies is ensured through various “communication vessels” such as weekly and monthly meetings, digital channels as well as daily briefings and exchanges with our operational staff which are crucial for a successful daily routine.”

The Retail inMotion team also holds dedicated briefings with every airline customer at the start of each cycle. This helps to ensure the procurement team is listening to their individual needs before making use of the different sources in place to find the appropriate items. These range from targeted market resources and trend scouting to exchange with market-leading research institutes.

From a product point of view, whilst the team at Retail inMotion is highly skilled in ensuring a smooth roll-out for its customers, it’s not to say the process is without its challenges. Certainly, the past couple of years have been tricky for anyone working in procurement. Drastic price increases due to inflation and tight supply chains have resulted in items being out-of-stock and solving these issues at short notice is something we have had to deal with.

Suppliers and product sourcing

Inflight dining, Süsskartoffel-Gemüsetopf

All of these challenges beg the question, how do suppliers of travel catering and onboard products reliably source interesting, quality products whilst mitigating logistical issues? Considering that as much as 90 percent of a company’s total environmental footprint can be made up across its supply chains, reliably sourcing ethical, local and exciting products in an Alpine setting appears ever more impressive.

“What ends up in our pots and on our plates is the best that the region we travel through every day has to offer”, says Uebersax. “To achieve this, we work closely with producers from the region who make their products with care, enthusiasm and passion and who share our philosophy as passionate craftsmen.”

Benjamin Kammer Senior Category Manager for Food, Beverage and Retail, Retail inMotion

For Kammer, output and feedback from continuous interactions are passed to the procurement team so they can source unique and special products that match their needs. “We track the progress of the different sourcing initiatives that we are steering, as well as moderate any strategic issues we have with suppliers and drive different internal and external projects to help develop our sourcing capabilities even further.”

This drive appears to be paying off, too. LSG Sky Chefs and Retail inMotion reported revenue growth of 75 percent to €1,960 million in 2022, a recovery to 85 percent of its pre-pandemic sales. Though alongside financial growth, it’s clear that the real goal still boils down to enhancing the passenger experience.

Passenger experience

Inflight dining, Chicken Tikka Masala

Annually, Panoramic Gourmet “hosts serve over 200,000 guests with culinary delights from the on-board kitchen on wheels”, says Uebersax. “We accompany our guests with culinary delights on their journeys through the magnificent Swiss Alpine world.”

The creation of something bespoke is a sentiment Kammer echoes. “For us as a procurement department, it’s extremely important to provide exclusive products to our airline customers. The overall aim is to create a unique customer experience onboard and this is what lies at the heart of our daily routine.”

For Uebersax, “the main focus of Panoramic Gourmet is to provide our guests with an indescribable Alpine railway experience and a culinary journey through our regions with a lot of passion from our staff.” So, in the creation of these experiences — sourcing everything from onboard talent to ingredients, where do companies like Retail inMotion and Panoramic Gourmet start?

The importance of trade shows
WTCE is designed to make the lives of onboard buyers and companies working to source new and innovative products for airlines, rail operators and catering companies as easy as possible. “Attending WTCE helps me to keep up to date with the latest trends in gastronomy, food and catering” says Uebersax.

Likewise, Kammer believes that “exhibitions offer the best way for us to track and screen the market.”

But it’s not just theoretical; Uebersax adds that products (digital, software, logistical inventory, etc.) are equally important to me to equip our staff with the latest support to make their job easier.

“WTCE is unique”, says Kammer, “in that it has such a strong focus on one specific industry. Having visibility of such a large range of new products is a big plus and we wouldn’t usually be able to review the market that efficiently from a procurement perspective.”

And for rail operators, travel catering companies and airline suppliers alike, the show cuts out a lot of the logistical work both Kammer and Uebersax are all too familiar with.

As Kammer notes, “we often have to explain our specific needs to brands in terms of product size, package, quality, etc. because it is different from what they will provide retail buyers. At WTCE we don’t need to ask this, and the exhibitors already know more or less what we are aiming for. This is hugely beneficial and makes the process very efficient for us.”

Advice for WTCE suppliers and attendees

Inflight dining, Aprikosenkuchen

For those considering attending the next edition of WTCE, Kammer shares his advice:

“Have a target list of the companies in mind that you want to talk to, as well as an idea of what you want to achieve.” Free-to-use tools like WTCE Connect can help you streamline this process with personal recommendations and the option to book meetings.

Likewise, Uebersax offers: “Take advantage of the network that WTCE provides. Attend the events with curiosity, interest, without prejudice and with open eyes.”

To do this, he suggests making a list of current challenges to look at how WTCE can help you overcome them. He adds that to ensure efficiency, “your trade fair visit must be well planned, otherwise, you will quickly be distracted by many other suppliers and products” (with 250+ and 1,000s on the show floor, respectively).

Kammer, on the other hand, highlights also the need for flexibility at show. “Keep a loose agenda in mind but also be open to new ways of looking at different products and issues, because then you can really make the most of your visit. If you are keen to improve the issues you face within your business and understand the new solutions on offer, you will leave the event in a much better place.”

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