United Airlines has been around for 90 years, and yet it's still not sure of the most efficient number of Coca-Cola cans to board for each flight.
this recently, after someone at United forwarded me catering news. "To help reduce unnecessary soda overstock, beginning Dec.1, we will reduce the amount of soda provisioned on all single-segment domestic flights," United told employees, while promising it still seeks to "provide the right balance of beverages to meet customer demand."
I bring this up because this week we published an interview with Anne De Hauw
, vice president of innovation for Gate Group, the world's largest caterer and airline retail company. Part of her job includes bringing true innovation to airline catering and retail, but much of it has another purpose — to help carriers reduce costs. On each meal served to a passenger, she said, "every penny [airlines] can reduce is significant." That includes drinks.
We spoke about how some U.S. airlines have resumed free food service on longer domestic flights
. But mostly, she said, the trend is going in the other direction, with airlines charging for meals. Her research tells her passengers in their 20s and 30s — the next-generation of important executives — don't mind. "Millennials want to have great food," she said. "It can be simple, but it needs to be good. They would rather pay for good than get free food which isn't good."
We also discussed sodas. It's a topic I've found fascinating since I interviewed then-Frontier Airlines President Barry Biffle a couple of years ago in Denver. He and I spoke about how passengers dislike paying for sodas, since most assume a Coke costs an airline 20 cents or less. But because of the supply chain expenses, he said, a Coke costs Frontier a lot more than passengers pay at Costco.
How much? This is an answer I tried to learn from De Hauw. She declined to give exact numbers, but defended Gate Group's pricing.
"The cans need to be sorted in the catering unit at the airport," she said. "They need to be sorted into trolleys. It is all planned in advance how much Coke goes into each trolley. The catering then needs to be driven by the high-loaders of the caterer at the airport and loaded on the airplane. That area is a highly secure area. And the price of a high-loader is around $200,000 — of one high-loader."
For more catering tidbits, including her thoughts on the recent Listeria scare in at Gate Group's Los Angeles facility, read the interview