CANADA. The sixth Airport Food & Beverage Conference and Awards – the best attended and arguably the best FAB event yet – concluded on Friday in Toronto. It was organised by The Moodie Davitt Report/The Foodie Report and hosted in superb style by Toronto Pearson International Airport. [In related news the 2018 event will be hosted Finavia/Helsinki Airport, with dates to be confirmed soon].
The conference was studded with many exceptional presentations that showcased the variety and ambition of the airport F&B business worldwide today. A key feature too was how candidly many speakers addressed the shortcomings of the industry and how it engages with consumers, even against the background of progress over recent years.
An excellent example was the opening address on day one, where Greater Toronto Airports Authority (GTAA) Vice President of Customer and Terminal Services Scott Collier said that GTAA aimed to be “the best airport in the world”: but admitted that there remains a long way to go to achieve that goal. He said the company planned to leverage the image and reputation of the city of Toronto to build its reputation among consumers. There is investment too, with 90% of its F&B outlets having been updated since 2012 and a +40% rise in sales per enplanement in that period.
“We acknowledge that GTAA has been difficult to work with at times,” he openly told business partners. “But we are listening and we are changing. We are looking in the mirror and challenging the status quo. If we chase perfection, we might just reach excellence.”
Collier’s vision of lifting the airport environment into something memorable, comfortable and user-friendly were mirrored later in the day by a top-class presentation by OTG CEO Rick Blatstein, who addressed how the industry needs to better understand the consumer and focus on creating fresh experiences.
A major highlight of day one was an audience with celebrated Canadian chef Lynn Crawford, in which she discussed her life, career, values and the challenges of the airport market.
There were a number of outstanding panel discussions, among them an airport-focused session on morning one featuring Copenhagen Airports Head of F&B/Convenience John Lungstrom Khan, Greater Toronto Airport Authority Director Commercial Development Mike Ross and AIRMALL USA President & CEO Ben Zandi. Another highlight panel involved Smart Design President & CEO Nick Baker, London Gatwick Head of Retail Rachel Bulford and Emirates Leisure Retail Chief Operating Officer Kevin Zajax, who each addressed new influences on the business, from design to a new generation of travellers.
Among the most striking presentations of the day came from HMSHost North America President & CEO Steve Johnson, who assessed what he sees as the next wave of innovation in the dining scene and its impact on our environment.
Areas Worldwide Chief Executive Pedro Fontana offered some personal, candid views on the shortcomings of the concession model and the future for airport F&B in North America.
In a first for FAB, SSP memorably hosted a live cooking demonstration on stage blended with a walk-and-talk interview led by GTAA’s Scott Collier. The session, introduced by SSP America CEO Michael Svagdis, featured chef Massimo Capra and Wahlburgers’ Norm McLennan with a lovely cameo appearance from sous-chef Justin of the Wahlburgers’ company. The session managed to beautifully evoke the passion for cooking from each of the chefs, alongside an open discussion of the challenges of the airport space for brands.
Day two also began on a high note, with a showcase of the next generation of airport commercial environments in North America and a conversation around partnership and driving progress in the channel. This featured New York JFK T4 (JFKIAT) VP Concession Management Ed Midgley, Paradies Lagardère CEO Gregg Paradies and Westfield Airports Vice President Leasing Iris Messina.
Later, San Francisco International Airport Director Revenue Development & Management Cheryl Nashir and Toronto Pearson International Airport Manager of F&B Programs Suzanne Merrell outlined their views on the key dynamics that will drive the market in future. Among the influences are the rise of healthy food as a trend; concepts that connect with people emotionally (such as Joe & The Juice at San Francisco Airport, noted Nashir); the continuing importance of breakfast – but often eaten at different times of the day; pop-ups and street food.
There was also an unforgettable contribution from Leon Co-Founder John Vincent, who appeared alongside business partner Walter Seib, CEO of HMSHost International.
Vincent memorably articulated how “the purpose of business is to do good” and to “maintain our humanity”. Citing how the Leon team and location were caught up in the recent London Bridge terror attacks in London, he noted: “We are the fourth emergency service”.
Day two also featured a breezy round-up of the latest developments in technology that are affecting the channel, featuring GRAB CEO Mark Bergsrud, HMSHost Executive Vice President & Chief Information Officer Sarah Naqvi and Kallpod COO Steven Barrow Barlow. Later, we heard how small can be beautiful in the evocative stories of three brands aiming to make their mark in the airport environment. Speakers included Marqette General Manager Michael Thornton, EMCAT – Airport F&B Alliance Managing Director Lars Crone and Mango Tree Managing Director Trevor MacKenzie.
The importance of making a connection between food tourism and airports was neatly illustrated by Culinary Tourism Alliance President Rebecca MacKenzie, who noted how the airport environment can and should be an incubator for local brands.
As always, the social and networking side of FAB was an important element. Major highlights included the Autogrill/HMSHost-organised Welcome Cocktail at the Hockey Hall of Fame, and an SSP-hosted After FAB Party in the Historic Distillery District of Toronto on Friday afternoon.
The FAB Awards and Gala Dinner, hosted in classy style by OTG and Toronto Pearson International, was the centrepiece of the event, with the award winners announced in our story here.
Full coverage of the FAB Conference and Awards 2017 will appear in a special edition of The Foodie Report e-Zine soon.