Airport restaurants are hubs for innovation within the industry because of their high-end, well-traveled clientele and demanding airport rules, according to Anthony Joseph, president of Concessions International.
Atlanta-based Concessions International operates about 40 different restaurant locations at seven airports, including the Atlanta International Airport, which is among the busiest travel hubs on Earth. The company’s portfolio includes Boar’s Head Deli, Caribou Coffee, Nathan’s Famous, New Belgium Hub Bar & Grill and Panda Express.
Joseph spoke with Nation’s Restaurant News about what’s next for the concessions company and why going local and going green are trends that are about to take off — both within and outside of the airport.
What’s new at Concessions International?
We’re in the midst of a major transformation at the Atlanta airport. Eighty percent of the airport food and beverage was out for bid the year before last. We were awarded one of the prime contracts. Concessions International is operating most of the food and beverage in concourse B, which is the busiest part of the airport.
We have 11 concepts that we will be operation, and in addition to that we have some sub tenants at the Atlanta Airport. The Atlanta airport designated categories like snack, quick service, and casual dining and allowed the proposers to develop a program.
Lotta Frutta is one of your new concepts at the Atlanta airport. Tell me a little more about it and why it was selected as part of the development plan.
Lotta Frutta is one of our snack concepts. It was founded in Atlanta. It’s a downtown concept; it’s very innovative very different. We thought it was unique and something that would be exciting and different for the customers.
It’s a fruit house. The main things we’re selling in the airport are smoothies and fruit cups and other pan-Latin snacks. There are sandwiches, coconut-based ice cream and fruit bars. It’s based on recipes from throughout Latin America.
We think that in the coming we’re well positioned to take advantage of this local trend. We’ve experienced a lot of success with bringing unique, local concepts to airports.
When selecting new restaurants for various locations do you try to stay local with the brands that are chosen?
We like to have a mix of really internationally recognized names, and then we also want local concepts. One of the exciting things about airport concessions is that they’ve really become one of the hubs for innovation in foodservice. They’re the Grand Central Stations of their regions. Airports are where you see some of the most forward-thinking innovations and concepts.
A large part of what we do is try to identify concepts that fit our criteria and also would be of interest to people who are unfamiliar with it. Part of that is forming a relationship with the local owners and the founders.
What makes airport concessions ‘hubs for innovation?’
The major airports in the U.S. are often the first and last impression of their region. The airports have taken on the responsibility of representing their region.
Because it’s a high profile, generally upscale environment with high volumes, it’s always a challenge for us to see how can we have high quality and relatively quick speed of service because we have very demanding customers.
Most of our concepts now have digital menu boards. Quite a number of well-established franchise brands in the states haven’t developed those systems. The Atlanta airport has also mandated 100-percent compostable packaging.
We recently ran a story about how Chicago’s airport is going green, banning Styrofoam and calling for recycling and composting. How does this impact a company like CI?
The way it impacts us is that it sets that high standard that has to be sustained. We’re excited to see this trend accelerate. I think it actually aids us, because if there are concepts out there that want to be part of our proposal, they have to offer [compostable packaging.] It has galvanized the industry [to become more green].
There is that cost that comes into it, and it just makes it more of a challenge to meet. It comes from the airport, yes, but I think there’s growing appreciation for going green in our customer base.
How is having a restaurant in an airport different from having a standalone unit or one in a strip mall?
You’ve got business travelers who are among the best market in terms of being trendsetters because they experience different concepts from around the world. That’s the customer you want to satisfy. There’s a higher expectation.
It becomes a tremendous opportunity for brands like Lotta Frutta, which get put on that [international] platform and can now be replicated and put in other high-profile venues.