Chris Brooke, Daily Mail (London), September 13, 2010
The company behind airline food on some of the world’s major airlines has announced plans to make the majority of its meals halal.
GateGourmet, which caters for all long-haul British Airways flights from Heathrow, wants to standardise production to drive down costs and boost profits.
The caterer has been tempted into the switch by lucrative business available from Middle Eastern and Asian airlines.
Most carriers currently offer a halal option, but these meals need to be prepared, stored and transported separately in order to comply with Muslim dietary rules–making them more expensive.
Removing halal meals from the menu is not an option for a company serving airlines across the globe, but managers at the Swiss-based catering giant believe it makes financial sense to ensure most meals meet with the strict Islamic rules.
‘My aim is to make our large hub operations halal compliant,’ said Guy Dubois, GateGroup.
Mr Dubois said the plans were not driven by social or religious considerations, but simply by cost.
He said: ‘If I produce everything according to halal standards, I will reduce complexity and increase cost effectiveness.’
The catering firm is about to open a dedicated halal kitchen at Heathrow–where meals are prepared for 14 airlines including BA.
The specialist kitchen will be smaller than the main kitchen that already exists at the airport, but could be the first stage in a gradual switch.
The move follows the sharp growth of carriers such as Emirates, of Dubai, and Etihad, of Abu Dhabi, which require all meals to be halal.
But GateGourmet caters for numerous airlines from non-Muslim countries, which would also be affected by the changes.
The company prepares more than 200million meals a year from its 100 flight kitchens in more than 25 countries.
Compelling customers to eat food prepared in accordance with the Muslim faith could be controversial in some countries, including the UK.
Yesterday British Airways played down the significance of the catering firm’s proposals.
A spokesman said: ‘British Airways has no plans to change its current menus or halal meal process.’
Peter van Niekerk, head of GateGroup in the UK, said: ‘We are at the moment competing for some more halal business and when we make that, the scale tips.’
He said the company would consult with customers such as BA and Cathay Pacific to ‘manage perceptions and manage such a transition’.