Coffee used to be served in flimsy plastic cups along with a cold, staid sandwich, and a samosa or two. This just about summed up the food seen at domestic and international airports in India till about 2005-2006. Today, food retail at the airports has a winning flavour (with a gastronomic fare to satisfy the most time-crunched or finicky flier) thanks to private operators/infrastructure developers such as GMR Group and GVK Group who stepped in to give the airports in Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore and Hyderabad a complete makeover. Joint venture consortiums followed, and airports were modernised, upgraded, and redeveloped, putting India on the high-end global aviation map.
For food service operators at the terminals, it was a flying start. Their focussed approach began with a sound infrastructure, backed by an eclectic mix of cuisines represented by the best brands to offer quality food and service. For fliers, these airports have become a preferred destination for food and beverage in the travel domain.
“Airport operations are longer gestation businesses, and the hospitality business is no exception. Whilst getting major brands and incurring premium investments are critical to creating the best-in-class passenger experience, they ensure generation of robust top line which is critical for healthy operations,” says Romy Juneja, Chief Commercial Officer (Non-Aero), Delhi International Airport Pvt Ltd (DIAL), and adds, “On this basis, all the operators at our airport are already seeing the benefits of their investments yielding profitability. Over the next few years, the value creation from these operations would be even more significant.”
Platters fly high
Airport retail has been expanding due to the efforts taken to develop revenue from non-aeronautical sources. Though it is fairly nascent in India, it has grown over the last 3 to 4 years after airports were privatised. Airports are captive places for food consumption and attract high footfalls. They provide a business opportunity to churn out revenue when flight delays compel passengers to wait endlessly at the terminals. This has created a demand for ‘food travel retail’.
While the focus is on convenience and value for money, today’s discerning and well-heeled passenger is willing to experiment with world cuisines offered at competitive rates. “Airports have understood the need to transcend from a simple food kiosk model to an experience provider model wherein overall ambience, quality of service, and value for money are becoming critical aspects. Best practices on such areas adopted globally are also becoming prevalent across Indian airports with the advent of global operators, ” observes Juneja on the economics of this food retail overdrive. Global favourites like Haagen-Dazs, Mad Over Donuts, Four Fingers Crispy Chicken, and McDonald’s are some of the food retail brands that have checked in at the newly transformed airports.
The culinary-scape of airports is flexibly designed in the form of lounges, hangout zones, cozy corners and contemporary, quick and flexible service outlets. While formats range from QSRs to fine dining, QSRs by nature of their positioning, click at airports. The fact that they offer quick bites in easy-to-consume portions, have made them a popular choice among travelers crisscrossing security-sensitive airports.
“Food retail at GVK CSIA (Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport) in Mumbai is evolving to tap into and accommodate this latent need of the passenger of today,” says a GVK CSIA spokesperson. “With extensive planning and customer research carried out by GVK CSIA, the assortment of food retail outlets promises to be exceptionally creative and engaging with national and international brands being introduced for the first time at any Indian airport. This will include a mix of both gourmet and fine dining options, which not only offers indulgence but also convenience,” he adds.
After Terminal 2 at Kolkata Airport became operational, its Terminal 1 was shut down, following which, all the F&B outlets that were present in it were relocated to the new terminal. These included Cafe Coffee Day, Subway, Mithai, etc. A spokesperson at the authority informed that henceforth, additional, upcoming outlets will be opened only through a master concessionaire. The total area marked for F&B outlets will be granted to him, and the onus will lie on him for allocating space to the respective players. The master concessionaire will deal with them directly without involving the AAI, and the AAI will deal only with the master concessionaire.
Bangalore International Airport is also in the process of expanding its terminal, and the frequent flyer is no doubt looking forward to a host of treats, from retail stores to F&B outlets.
Flavour of F&B operators
Airports have a pivotal role to play in ensuring that the global F&B operators create the right ambience, monitor quality investment and outlet infrastructure and robust systems governance among other processes, and create top class dining destinations.
“We have hospitality majors as our partners for operating food outlets at the terminals. With this we have ensured the availability of right brands and right formats such as the QSR, coffee, bar, and fine dine, and have put in place robust processes to enhance overall passenger experience across the food outlets,” says Juneja.
The presence of HMSHost Services India bears testimony to this. It is present in many places including Hyderabad, Bangalore and Delhi. “We operate across many formats including fine dine, quick casual, QSR, bar, lounge express and kiosks,” says the company’s spokesperson.
At DIAL, Devyani International Limited (an associate company of RJ Corp) runs its signature brand Masala Twist and Vaango, alongside Pizza Hut, KFC, Pepsi and Cream Bell.
On its part, Travel Food Services (TFS) set up its travel retail wing with regard to F&B. That was around four years ago and it ranks among the early entrants to this segment. TFS and CSIA have entered into an agreement for being the concessionaire for a significant part of the F&B operations at the international and domestic airports in Mumbai. “Since we already had experience in food retail with brands like Copper Chimney, we could corporatise our operations. Yet, the standards of operations and systems had to be scaled up. Notwithstanding that, an airport presence requires precise planning due to paucity of space,” says Varun Kapur, Executive Director, TFS. “The toughest part is that timelines are short because of tight security zones, ” he adds.
It’s a difficult balancing act, which, according to Kapur, requires a scientific approach. However, TFS understood the needs of the passengers and set up a separate section to cater to this emerging need in several airports including those in Mumbai and Delhi. Total area occupancy in CSIA is 3,158 sqm spread across 61 outlets in the domestic and international airports, and in DIAL, TFS manages 23 outlets across 2,694.32 sqm. It caters to approximately 7,04.637 passengers in Mumbai and 3,22,158 in Delhi, per month. Thanks to its business acumen, attractive food zones sprung up at strategic locations. At the outset, TFS decided to maintain a uniform approach across both domestic and international airports, as the passenger profile was somewhat similar in both the sectors.
“Wherever there’s a passenger requirement, we try to fulfill it, be it with a KFC or a Domino’s for those who want to grab a quick bite. At the other end, customer preferences revealed an inclination towards south Indian staples, so we incorporated an idli outlet, which is doing well,” Kapur informs.
HMSHost has taken a hands-on approach and tweaked processes depending on customer feedback. “Menu planning is based on regional and local dishes, besides considering popular pan India and global traveler preferences. At Rajiv Gandhi International Airport’s (RGIA) Idli Factory, Guntur idli is a favourite, while Hyderabadi biryani is a top seller at Indian Paradise, also located at RGIA,” reveals HMSHost spokesperson. “We plan as per the air traffic load and time of day. Each format is based on availability of space and specifics of the location,” he adds.
Airport eateries offer a sumptuous fare. Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf outlet is one such success story, with products that are of international standard and cannot be replicated locally. “They’ve got the basics right; even something as simple as chocolate frozen ice blend is simply divine here,” describes Kapur.
Transforming F&B experience
TFS decided to raise the aspirational level of consumers and create a mall like excitement. The Spice Bazaar at Mumbai T2 conducted an Awadh Festival last year. The festival sprung up surprises in the form of a live sarod-tabla music with a contemporary twist. Taking a risk, TFS decided to treat passengers to a street food concept in the ‘Dilli Streat’ outlet at DIAL with counters dishing out chaat and stuffed parathas. Following its success, the company created Summer Coolers festival in Delhi and Mumbai, churning out aam pannas, lassis and sherbets. An Oktober Fest at all the bars in Mumbai and Delhi terminals is on the anvil this October.
“After whetting the market, we are planning an Irish Pub theme, with dishes like shepherd’s pie. We are still mulling over the operational feasibility, and will decide on the location once things fall into place. We are also considering working closely with DIAL on this project, as we want to make it a complete experience for the travellers,” reveals Kapur.
An emerging trend is of business travelers opting for one-day trips. Because of this, flights that operate between 5 and 7am are generally packed to capacity. This has led to breakfast opportunities. The TFS in-house outlet at Terminal F (food court) 1C in CSIA offers eggs for breakfast.
High-end formats like lounges which overlook airport runways and offer views of planes landing and taking off are becoming popular. The other highlights at these lounges include an Internet kiosk, well-stocked newspaper racks, and comfortable seating. TFS announced that it has won the bid to manage the lounge operations at Terminal 2 of the GVK CSIA, Mumbai, which will be operational later this year. Considered as one of the largest business opportunities at the new terminal, the lounges will provide bespoke products and services to deliver a premium passenger experience. TFS will manage the lounges in partnership with Performa, a gategroup company and a worldwide leader in designing, managing and servicing of airport lounges.
Quick bites and small servings are other trends. DIAL is focussing on getting more popular brands into the domestic sector, and wider selection of cuisines in the international. It is developing the ‘Grab and Go’ concept for the value and time-conscious traveler across various locations.
“Indian airports are fast catching up with European and American airports with respect to best practices in the F&B business. All major global operators have a foothold in India, and are looking to grow their operations. With their presence, global best practices will be adopted in India’s F&B sector, which will also be transferred to Indian airports,” opines Juneja.
Arrival, departure and food in between
Globally, airports reflect the culinary expertise of the country, and ideally, airport food zones should have something for everyone, and which takes care of their wallet and palette. Food outlets at airports have to cater to a diverse captive passenger profile that includes individuals and families, where each taste bud differs from the other.
“This year too we are gearing up with new offerings in the restaurant space with the stated opening of our new integrated terminal. Considering the overwhelming passenger response to the recently introduced Starbucks outlet at the domestic terminal, we see great excitement building up with regard to new spaces for restaurants,” explains GVK CSIA spokesperson.
Upscale comfort food is a must-have at airports. Long ticketing lines and strenuous airport checks make travelers exhausted and thirsty. This has encouraged food outlets to craft menus which satisfy hunger, are high on calories, and give in to cravings for something. Burgers, French fries, soups, salads, coffees, thick milkshakes and ice creams do the rounds 24/7 at cafes and at the confectioners.
“Across world’s leading airports we see Michelin star chefs operating restaurants, and luxury brands offering exclusive promotions. Taking a leaf out of the international airports, Indian airports need to offer a dash of luxury keeping the budget-conscious Indian traveler in mind,” feels the GVK CSIA spokesperson.
On a roll
Rolls are a popular takeaway among hungry flyers. Kaati Zone, which has a presence in Bangalore and Delhi airports, is positioned to meet this requirement. In Bangalore, the 400 sqft outlet is positioned as a QSR. In Delhi, a franchise model has been adopted. “At airports, people are rushed for time, so we thought rolls work best. Besides, if the food is dry, it’s easy to pack,” says Kiran Nadkarni, CEO, Kaati Zone.
It’s also got to do with the fact that the travelers’ needs go beyond grabbing a bite. Having smelt an opportunity, Nadkarni decided to transform the kaati roll, which till then was a street food, into a contemporary meal. He also decided to bring variety, and added parathas, which could, like the kati roll, be hygienically and conveniently packaged. And both are at very affordable price points.
Nadkarni has set up a centralised kitchen for rolling out frozen parathas and an assembly line for kaati rolls. The greatest challenge for an airport outlet that must cater to consumers 24/7, was retaining a staff strength of about 25, who worked in shifts, and providing accommodation for them – not an easy task considering that rentals in an airport vicinity are fairly steep.
GMR Hyderabad International Airport Ltd (GHIAL) which manages the Rajiv Gandhi International Airport (RGIA) at Hyderabad, has put together a variety of F&B options that go beyond burgers. Value additions like multiple billing counters and LCD menu displays deal with the rushed traffic hours.
“We have completely transformed the domestic security hold area within three years of our operations. A primary objective was to enhance the F&B experience. Our new outlets at the domestic terminal provide a comprehensive range of options to the passengers from a fine dine option (Monsoon Bar and Café) to a steaming plate of hot idly’s (Idly Factory). Spacious seating and a great ambiance complete the experience,” says Ramesh Krishnamurthy, Chief Commercial Officer-GHIAL, and adds, “We believe that F&B outlets at the airports can become brands in themselves as is proven in the case of Idly Factory with its five types of chutneys, and our specialty restaurant Taste of India, which serves local delicacies like nalli ka ghosht and theplas.”
The food-court at the arrival area, which caters to visitors and the passengers has been tansformed with F&B offerings such as Kholani’s Biryanis, McDonald’s, KFC, Vaango, and a 24-hour bar. In the coming months, the international terminal will be redeveloped, which means that the F&B section is set for a revamp.
G Pulla Reddy has evolved into a successful home-grown brand. Arguably, one of Hyderabad’s signature offerings is its cookies, with Karachi Bakery being a prominent player. It has five outlets at RGIA stewarded by a staff of 38, and a well-stocked warehouse for unexpected traffic inflow. Four outlets have been planned at CSIA in the coming months, and later in DIAL. Obviously, a presence in the airport is a viable option. “Branding opportunities that the airport offers is amazingly immense as the passengers are of different backgrounds, with most from the corporate world,” says a spokesperson from Karachi Bakery.
“The airport has a distinct ambience, smell and flavour. Also, unlike the malls where you are at liberty to go anywhere, here the zones are defined and there is thorough check at the entry points. Being a highly secured zone, it’s vital for us to have staff backup at all times,” he reasons.
It is apparent that food retail at airports is becoming very visible and a very viable business proposition, given the volume turnout. For food operators, the thrust is to get a mix of good brands which have the potential to cater to an onrush of travelers. The sector is promising as more and more airports are getting privatised. The revenue generated from airport retail is also estimated to become substantial once an established mix of international players and desi brands fill this space to cater to a high footfall of quality conscious discerning consumers.