A boxed-up inflight lunch consisting of individually packed salad, sandwich and dessert

LSG’s COVID-19 food trend update asks big questions

Details and Design banner with text on graph paper backgroundCOVID-19 has reshaped the way airlines deliver onboard food in 2020. Some have stopped entirely, some have stopped on some flights, some have dramatically rethought the way they deliver even first class food. But that work doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and there’s some light at the end of the corona-tunnel. Catering giant LSG, which recently completed the sale of its European operation to gategroup, is looking at the intersection between key wider food trends, how to bring them on board, and how the pandemic context is steering their development.

Director of customer insight Sunbul Dubuni sat down with Runway Girl Network to dive into the latest “trending2020+” update of its trends report. “What we look at, and how we define trends, is not the fashion trends. It’s how our market is developing and how consumer behaviour is developing,” she says.

“This is a document we take into discussion with our customers, and we see what is relevant for them,” Dubuni explains. “Not everything is relevant for everyone. That’s why it’s so important to understand which customer you are talking to: what is the brand promise of the airline… and the passenger expectation?” The expectations of a low cost carrier could be completely different than a legacy carrier, for instance.

For each of its five key trends — which were gathering momentum well before the COVID-19 crisis — LSG has looked into how the pandemic has been affecting people’s sentiments, how that’s likely to continue, and what questions they raise for airlines.

Trend 1: The New NostalgiX

Think of it as authentic comfort food, but with a twist. People are seeking out real food that has real history, real feeling and an X-factor, so is it finally time to say good-bye to the ubiquitously universal club sandwich and tapas box in favour of something authentic that has a story to it?

This is especially true in COVID times, LSG suggests, where so many people have been getting into home cooking and baking, enjoying family recipes and adapting them with modern ingredients. The question for airlines: how to tempt passengers with something that’s both comforting and novel?

A nicely displayed appetizer plate with various delectables, sitting on a pink surface.

What can be done to bring exciting food into every cabin on the aircraft? Image: LSG

Trend 2: Food Technology

Some of this trend is around sharing food digitally and using tech like augmented reality; some of it is the smart use of food technology, like Brussels Airlines’ onboard french fries — which are, of course, Belgian — but some of it is also rethinking and updating traditional methods of food design, production and presentation.

How will this interact with the growing number of connected aircraft, the increasing familiarity with QR codes, and our increasingly mobile and social lives?

A cooking class is seen on a woman's mobile device.

Imagine enjoying an airline’s signature dish while watching a video of its culinary partner chef designing it. Image: LSG

During the pandemic, LSG highlights the growing use of home delivery and click-and-collect services, ghost kitchens, and so on, but also the growing importance of alternatives to meat and dairy in supermarkets and in many people’s daily lives, both for health and for sustainability reasons. Yet few onboard catering options have mainstreamed these. How can airlines get on board with this trend?

Trend 3: Mindfulness

More than ever, people want to know what’s in the food they eat, even on the aircraft, and even when they’re enjoying a treat they wouldn’t ordinarily indulge in. There’s also a growing trend towards health- and wellness-focussed meals, as well as allergen awareness. Can we say the same about inflight options?

At a time when health is very much in the forefront of people’s minds, immune-boosting options are top of the list — but so are the realities of selling, preparing, serving and consuming food safely while maintaining social distancing. What will this look like in the post-COVID world?

An aircraft tray table with a main course of pasta, a side dish and a dessert with champagne and water.

How can airlines leverage both traditional and international comfort food onboard? Image: John Walton

Trend 4: No Plan[et] B

Sustainability in sourcing, production, packaging and consumption is a mega-trend, and aviation is not exempt. While biosanitary regulations and logistical complexities make it harder to reuse and recycle, harder is not impossible. What new methods, new materials and new approaches can aviation use here?

A box containing various plastic-wrapped or enclosed dishes including a salad and sides, plus a bottle of water.

Airlines have adjusted the meals they serve to minimise contact. Image: British Airways

The COVID-19 crisis has pushed the looming climate crisis off the front pages in 2020, but as unprecedented extreme weather events continue to strike, this won’t be the case for long. While single-use packaging for coronavirus hygiene reasons has been a big part of the 2020 story, how can we prepare now to innovate away from these wasteful and increasingly unpopular problems?

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Trend 5: Shareworthy

Passengers are more mobile, social and vocal than ever, and passengers still love sharing their daily lives. Fundamentally, airlines are missing a trick if their food is not Instagram-worthy, no matter which cabin we’re talking about. How can the industry create the wow factor here — both in the food and the story behind it — that makes people open up their cameras and take a shot?

With many people feeling cut off from friends and family during lockdowns, this year, more and more are sharing online: chat groups, new online services, and via video call. What can airlines do to encourage people to share that pic with their family WhatsApp, or their weekly quiz pals, or the watercooler channel on their work Slack?

Fundamentally, nobody yet knows the answers to these questions. But discussing them — across silos, across organisation boundaries and across the industry — will be critical to finding those answers.

A creative dessert, attractively plated. A circular piece of chocolate sides alongside an ice cream bar and three cups with dipping sauce.

How can food tech reimagine familiar items to make them new, exciting and photogenic? Image: LSG

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