“Travel with taste” is the slogan of aviation food solutions provider Monty’s Bakehouse. Group editor Colette Doyle visited the company’s Surrey HQ to find out how the company puts its motto into practice

    Monty’s Bakehouse has big news to share: after a number of years collaborating with SATS, a leading airline caterer and provider of food solutions in Asia, the Surrey-based airline food solutions innovator, manufacturer and distributor has become a wholly owned subsidiary of the Singapore-based company.

    According to Monty’s CEO Matt Crane, the move makes strategic sense. “Partnering with SATS lets us open up Asia to the products Monty’s Bakehouse is renowned for. We can expand more quickly with a multimillion-dollar business behind us and innovate within their catering and manufacturing network.”

    In line with this, the two entities are to set up an innovation centre in Singapore as a centre of excellence for packaging and product design for aviation catering, buy-on-board retail and adjacent markets. “This means we can bring products to market globally and very quickly, as we have product development and testing capabilities including packaging engineering, brand design, culinary expertise and product testing laboratories all bound together by our innovation processes and deep consumer and market insight,” explains Crane.

    Having access to on-site testing laboratories means packaging and product recipes can be adjusted to reflect the challenging and varying conditions cabin crew work to.

    Monty's Bakehouse's innovation centre

    The trick is to go for “simple, honest bold tastes and enticing packaging and brands,” advises Crane. “Crew are the vital final ingredient in the chain – if a product doesn’t work for the crew and if it is not enjoyed by passengers, it won’t be a feature of an airline’s menu for long.”

    When it comes to innovation, the company works on both a client-driven and strategic independent basis.  “Clients’ briefs can vary from a simple recipe change for an existing product to a complete re-design of a cabin’s service, and it’s here that we really add value by bringing insight and strategic product development to the fore.”

    Many strategic opportunities currently revolve around the environment and sustainability, something close to Monty’s heart; the company is actively involved in developing new sustainably sourced and biodegradable packaging. It also keeps a watchful eye on macro trends affecting developments within the supply chain, including how airline food will be delivered and purchased in the future, and evaluating industry disruptors like the Grab app that allows passengers to pre-order food before boarding.

    Rather than viewing such businesses as competition, Crane says he would prefer to innovate alongside them. “Good innovation is not linear but collaborative. Our approach is to team up rather than dominate.” The Monty’s CEO adds that the company takes many of its cues from non-food environments, referencing the tech industry as one where he has previously sought inspiration.

    With dietary requirements such as veganism and coeliac conditions on the increase, Crane highlights the importance of staying on top of consumer trends, noting that there is increasing synergy between the foods and brands passengers consume in their everyday lives and on board. One instance of this is the growing tendency for consumers to eat less meat, resulting in vegetarian meals becoming more mainstream.

    In addition, now that affordable international travel is available to more countries and societal groups, the provision of airline food and beverage appealing to everyone on board is more of a challenge. Monty’s Bakehouse’s stated culinary aim is to respect where a flight departs from in order “to appeal to a broad demographic without alienating other passengers.” An in-depth culinary knowledge is clearly required, so it comes as no surprise that several of the company’s in-house team of six chefs are Michelin-trained.

    It’s not all down to the recipes of course: the packaging is vital. “You buy with your eyes, and in an airline environment you have to have good brand appeal. The packaging needs to lend itself to the product and be visually different,” asserts Crane, giving the example of the company’s bao bun packaging created to resemble a traditional bamboo steamer.

    Monty's Bakehouse bao bun And the concept goes way beyond pretty pictures: functional benefits are essential too. “It’s a confined space, so passengers need to eat from the packaging, plus it needs to work for the catering-handling teams and crew – you have to think through the supply chain very carefully, right through to waste disposal.”

    Talking of which, Monty’s Bakehouse will remove all plastic packaging from its product range within six to nine months: “Airline food often comes in plastic flow wrap that is very difficult to segregate and recycle – our focus is on new substrate forms of paper that are sustainably sourced and biodegradable.

    “Six years ago, we were one of the first suppliers to introduce biodegradable ovenable paper board into the airline market,” recalls Crane. He continues: “Cabin waste is a serious environmental issue. As suppliers, we can often put forward sustainable packaging solutions capable of segregation and recycling, but are prevented from being allowed to operate to a circular model as they are classified after use as international bio-waste that, by law, must be disposed of via landfill or incineration.”

    He notes that in 2017, 4.1 billion passengers generated 5.7 million tonnes of cabin waste, of which 30 per cent was single-use plastics. Last year, Monty’s Bakehouse brought together other airline suppliers together with packaging producers, airlines, caterers and waste management handers in a working group to discuss the problem. Together, they established the Airline Sustainability Forum, which is now represented on the Advisory Committee of the Global Tourism Plastics Initiative, led by the UN Environmental Programme and UNWTO in collaboration with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.

    The group aims to publish its research later this year, and to put forward recommendations to the entire airline industry, governing bodies and government legislators. “Imagine a world where all cabin waste supply chain stakeholders and governments work to a common model of substrate sourcing, segregation and recycling that results in a circular economy for cabin waste. It’s a big goal, but we have to try, and passengers are quite rightly demanding that we do so,” points out Crane.

    Looking at future food trends, Monty’s CEO says scenarios such as the coronavirus outbreak and uncertainty over environmental issues could well result in long-term behavioural change – how we travel and how often, the foods we eat, their source, packaging used and environmental impact. Every business needs to build these trends into their future, or risk finding themselves on the wrong side of the consumer.

    “For many, airline travel remains the transport method of choice for leisure and business, so as an industry it is in the interest of all of us to work together to reduce our individual and combined environmental impact,” concludes Crane.