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Vienna inflight caterer opens more restaurants to lift revenue

Frankfurt

AIRLINE food may have been the butt of jokes for decades, but the world's third-largest inflight caterer reckons its meals are good enough for restaurant fodder.

Vienna-based DO & CO AG has already opened a handful of restaurants in Austria and plans to begin adding outlets in London next year as part of a bid to boost revenue 77 per cent over the next three years, chief commercial officer Gottfried Neumeister said in an interview.

DO & CO operates at the top end of the inflight-food sector with menus a world away from the hard-to-identify offerings familiar to many travellers. Airline specialties include grilled halibut with chickpea cassoulet and flambeed goats cheese with beetroot and caramelised pears, while the new shops sell Asian stir fries and Moroccan tagines alongside the usual soups, pastas and panini.

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The caterer will supply its UK retail outlets from a 30,000-square-metre kitchen being built near London Heathrow airport to serve British Airways. The 50 million euro (S$75 million) facility will also let it bid for stadium-hospitality contracts with London soccer clubs.

Mr Neumeister, speaking at a conference in Frankfurt, said the restaurants force DO & CO to compete for custom, improving quality across the group. "If our carrot and ginger soup isn't good, people don't queue in the street to get it," he said.

The meal preparer is diversifying as network airlines trim spending as fares fall and discount carriers put less emphasis on food. Gategroup, the market leader in inflight catering, this week agreed to buy the European arm of the global No 2, LSG Sky Chefs, from Deutsche Lufthansa AG, and Mr Neumeister said his company may bid for any kitchens sold off to allay antitrust concerns.

DO & CO, whose Austrian outlets operate under the Henry brand, will open two or three shops in London next year and needs 20 to 50 "to even get noticed", the executive said, let alone compete with the likes of Pret A Manger, the sandwich chain with more than 200 locations across the city.

Other opportunities for growth include home delivery, corporate canteens, and catering for the sports sector. The company already provides food for Formula 1 motor races and soccer clubs including Bayern Munich and Juventus of Italy. BLOOMBERG