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Murray Hilborne, managing director of Marco, has considered how providers in the airline catering industry can improve profitability and productivity by adopting Marco-Trac-IT.

The first airline meals were reportedly served on a London-to-Paris flight in 1919.

More than 1.5 billion airline meals are served annually, ranging from multi-course long-haul delicacies to more humble snack offerings on short-haul flights.

The major changes in air travel over the last decade have had a marked effect on the airline catering business.

With increases in fuel costs and travel taxes, profits have been squeezed and every penny spend by the airlines has to be scrutinised while still trying to maintain market share.

Although budget airlines charge for every conceivable part of their product offering, most of us still expect a ‘free’ meal on our flights.

It is not surprising that the pressure on airline food suppliers from airlines to minimise costs while maintaining quality is continually increasing.

Airline meal suppliers have to meet ever-changing schedules to meet fluctuating demands.

Most meals are hand-built and as a result meal consistency is highly dependent on operator dexterity and performance.

With the quantity of meals produced annually, it is clear that any unnecessary giveaway in terms of extra ingredient quantities in the meal has a major impact on suppliers’ profitability.

Airlines’ catering costs are based on the quantity of meals they purchase, whereas those of suppliers are affected by a complex range of factors, including the costs of the individual ingredients, wastage, and labour.

However, controlling meal build-up in this fast-paced industry can be a nightmare and suppliers typically concern themselves more with ensuring the meals are delivered on time rather than controlling the consistency of the meals.

In such environments, it is not unusual for companies to have giveaways ranging from 5-20 per cent.

Having the ability to control this, while also improving productivity, is clearly of major interest for catering companies, especially if this can be achieved without adversely affecting productivity and scheduling.

Marco believes that there are important areas where airline catering companies can improve their processes.

Marco-Trac-IT comprises software and hardware designed to being real-time control to food manufacturing processes.

Visibility is the key to success for these hard-pressed companies, according to Hilborne.

Deskilling the processes and creating accurate templates for the catering teams to follow will ensure all flights leave with the correct inventory each and every time.

In parallel, by measuring what actually happens throughout meal assembly processes, Marco’s systems can reduce giveaway to fractions of a gram, reduce waste and improve overall product consistency.

All this can be achieved with return-on-investments of less than 12 months.

The by-products are increased efficiencies and profits, with right-first-time deliverables.

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