Cater­ing to the masses

How Con­rad Smith has im­proved flight

Business First - - FRONT PAGE -

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

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