Catering to the masses
How Conrad Smith has improved flight
The flight experience needs to be as relaxing as possible. From first class to economy, there are expectations that must be met; friendly hosts, a diligent pilot, entertainment options should all be to a customer’s satisfaction. If not, brand loyalty and repeat custom is on the line. Crucial to the comfort of passengers is food supply. How many times have you been on a quickly turned around flight and the cabin has run out of snacks, let alone meals? It’s frustrating. Sometimes it’s unavoidable. However there are companies such as Alpha Flight Services, led by Conrad Smith, who not only ensures that you get your meal, but that the meal is a satisfying one.
Conrad’s father, Peter Smith, had the foresight to recognise emerging trends and create a successful and sustainable business, founded a flight catering business, now Alpha, over 35 years ago in Tasmania.
When Conrad took over the running of the business in February 2013, he had a strong base to work from. The
‘ Alpha’s success has been evident with numerous awards including Best Global Caterer for airlines including Etihad, Malaysian and Cathay Pacific.’
business had started with two customers, the now defunct TAA and Ansett; it now supplies catering services to airlines throughout the UAE, UK, Europe and Australia.
Through the collapse of Ansett, Alpha acquired ten kitchens around Australia, which put the company in a position of strength.
Conrad began his apprenticeship in cookery when he was just 15 and grew up in the business. He worked in different areas, took a sabbatical from Alpha to work in another of the family’s businesses – a hotel – and when the company sold out of pubs in 2006, he moved back into the swing of inflight catering.
“We were a domestic caterer, serving two individual airlines that relied on service and offering to win customers,” Conrad says of the industry at that time.
The airline industry has changed dramatically with the influx of low cost carriers. However, Conrad believes the service mentality is making a comeback.
“The introduction of Virgin and low cost airlines in this country changed the mindset of carriers and passengers. Cheap flights took priority as service was seen as less important to cost. However as Virgin has grown and become a true competitor, service is back on the menu and a full service offering is once again a sales point.”
In Australia this is a point of difference, with many overseas carriers offering nothing but a paid for snack – although, this also needs to be supplied.
There are other challenges in this very volatile and changeable industry. Price wars, financial hardships and supplier competition all affect business. Yet Alpha is doing something right. They are the number one caterer internationally and sit at number two domestically.
“There is a great deal of volatility in air travel, particularly in pricing and each airline is looking for the lowest costs and this affects all suppliers including caterers. We have to accommodate that and that is a challenge to manage. With international travel there is a lot more capacity on the market, so the airlines look at suppliers to reduce costs and improve their bottom line.”
“The Alpha Group is dedicated to providing customers with wonderful meals while inflight. They ensure this by looking at every aspect of inflight catering, from the quality of the produce through to the effects of altitude on tastebuds. It has been a privilege to support the growth of the Alpha Group since its inception, providing a total fresh meat solution.” Haverick Meats