The Russian onboard catering industry is on the verge of big changes, as the country’s leading airlines, among which are Transaero, Aeroflot and VIM Airlines, have announced their plans to invest more than USD$100 million each in a significant improvement of catering services provided onboard their aircraft.
It is planned that a significant part of these funds will be invested in improving the quality of food and expanding menus, as well as tightening of control for safety.
In accordance with the plans of the airlines, in-flight menus will be revised at least two or three times a year, even more often in the case of first and business class. The majority of menus will also be expanded, through the inclusion of national dishes.
Aeroflot, Russia’s flagship carrier, plans to give its passengers the choice to order special food. The company has already designed several menus, among which are dietary, children’s and vegetarian, as well as menus designed in accordance with religious beliefs.
To implement these goals, the airlines plan to strengthen cooperation with their food suppliers and have not ruled out the possibility of the establishment of their own caterers. Some of the airlines also plan to expand their food departments in the airports they service, as well as strengthen cooperation with restaurants.
According to analysts of the Russian Association of Airlines, the public association that unites the country’s leading airlines, the establishment of catering companies is a good initiative, as currently Russia experiences a shortage of reliable catering companies, which forces many domestic airlines to work with foreign partners. The Association views the establishment of such companies as an acute need, which will attract foreign airlines to Russian destinations.
Alexander Avdeev, CEO of the Russian Association of Service Providers for Passenger Transport, commented:
“At present more than 40 foreign airlines, which use Russian airports, regularly offer onboard meals only in four of them. Among these airports are Moscow’s Domodedovo and Sheremetyevo, St.Petersburg’s Pulkovo and the Krasnoyarsk. The reason for this is the fact that the majority of existing local catering companies do not comply with the requirement of airlines for safety of in-flight catering services. So far, the majority of Russian catering companies have been able to ensure the compliance of their production to simple requirements of industrial hygiene and sanitary regulations, which did not allow them to supply food to foreign airlines.”
Ryana Mursekaeva , CEO of VIM-Avia, says that usually food accounts for 4–6% of the ticket price and, so far, the cost has varied from USD$6 to USD$37, depending on the menu, the service class and duration of flight. However, due to the airline’s plans for a significant increase of the quality of offered meals and the range of the menus, this will possibly increase significantly, starting from next year.
The same position is shared by Aeroflot. According to an official spokesperson, until now, the company has not paid enough attention to the issues of onboard catering and hospitality. This is reflected by the fact that over the last ten years its costs on catering have decreased by almost two times from US$20 per passenger in economy class in the 2000s to about US$10 in 2013. Aeroflot plans to increase its spending on catering and hospitality up to fourfold from 2015.
Russian analysts believe that a lack of legislation in the field of in-flight catering has been one of the reasons for the provision of cheap and low-quality onboard catering services in Russia in recent years.
According to Julia Fedotova, corporate affairs director of Koltsovo Airport, the international airport of the city of Ekaterinburg, at present the procedure for the provision of onboard catering services in Russia is stipulated by state instruction, which was adopted as far back as in 1979. The majority of its norms have already become outdated. Airlines have repeatedly called on the national government to design a new legislative base for the industry and there could possibly be some progress in this case in the near future.
This is reflected in the recent statements of an official spokesperson of the Russian Ministry of Transport, according to which the government plans to design a package of laws, aimed at regulating the provision of on-board catering services and to design a system of state certification for on-board food production.
In terms of market structure, the majority of Russian operators in the field of in-flight catering are located in St. Petersburg and Moscow, which account for more than 80% of the entire market.
Among the leading players of the market are Domodedovo Air Service (45,000 – 60,000 meals a day), followed by AeroMar, which is a joint venture of Aeroflot and LSG Sky Chefs, (15,000 – 47,000), Restaurant in Vnukovo (15,000 – 25,000), Pulkovo (8,000 – 14,000) and Aerofud (3,000 – 5,000).
Alexander Polyakov, chief technologist of Domodedovo Air Service, states that most customers prefer to operate on the basis of full cycle catering, which profitability is estimated at 15 – 20%.
Most domestic carriers offer on-board meals with no extra charge, with the costs included in the ticket price. At the same time many carriers offer additional in-flight food and drinks for cash.
Restaurant in MA Vnukovo provides in-flight catering services for more than 88 airlines, flying from Domodedovo as well as Vnukovo-1 airports. At the same time the company also provides in-flight catering services in Vnukovo-2 airport, Russia’s official governmental airport and the airport Vnukovo-3, the largest airport of business aviation in the country.
“Among the biggest customers of the company,” says Ilya Platonov, director of department of cooperation with airlines, “are currently such leading Russian airlines as Transaero, UT-Air, Gaspromavia, Aeroflot, Turkish Airlines, etc.
“The quality of food supplied by the company complies with all the existing international standards. The company has the capacity to produce 25,000 meals a day ready and more than 800 employees.”
In the meantime, despite the airlines’ intention to significantly improve the quality of provided onboard catering services, many Russian analysts remain sceptical about the prospects of its fast implementation. According to the Russian Air Transport Association, due to deterioration of economic situation in Russia, caused by the recent sanctions imposed by the EU and the US, as well as the devaluation of the ruble, many airlines may consider suspension of their investment plans.
Ilya Platonov says “Western sanctions have already resulted in the restriction of supplies of some raw materials and ingredients from abroad, which are used in the production of our meals. At the same sanctions have also affected the business of airlines, which are our customers and this can also have a negative impact on our business, as a whole.“