Caledonian MacBrayne - source over 90% of their products from Scotland
Ferry operator Caledonian MacBrayne sails to 25 destinations off the West Coast of Scotland and in the Clyde Estuary, using a fleet of 29 vessels. In the year ended 31 March 2010, nearly 4.8 million passengers, 1.1 million cars, 93,000 commercial vehicles and 11,360 coaches were carried, making the company Scotland’s largest ferry operator.
CalMac has become the first ferry/transport operator to benefit from one-to-one business advice though Scottish Enterprise’s Experiencing Scotland project, which aims to help tourism businesses get more Scottish produce onto menus.
Drew Collier, Retail Operations Manager at CalMac says: “For many of our passengers from elsewhere in the UK and overseas, a trip on one of our ferries is the first opportunity they will have had to sample Scottish food & drink. We therefore recognise that we have a real opportunity to create a positive impression about Scotland through a high quality food offer that meets and exceeds visitors’ expectations”.
“For an operation of CalMac’s size, however, catering presents many challenges. Although our food, beverage and retail operation currently generates a high turnover, labour costs for this area of the business are considerably higher than industry averages, with staffing levels being determined by maritime safety legislation as opposed to strict business need. The financial imperative is therefore to continue to increase turnover levels and improve and drive consistent profit margins”.
“Working through our current food & drink offer with Sandra Reid, Experiencing Scotland’s Catering Consultant, we’ve realised that by promoting our existing relationships with Scottish food & drink suppliers more actively, we can actually achieve higher levels of customer satisfaction and improve profit margins on many lines at the same time – so it’s a win win situation”.
Like many tourism businesses in Scotland, CalMac is engaging almost exclusively with Scottish suppliers and supports many smaller local suppliers through national distribution chains, as well as directly. There are strong links with island-based distilleries and breweries, and bread and milk come from local and Island-based dairies to individual vessels. Key routes use more local product than others – for example 10 of 12 ‘Taste of Arran’ products are available in either the retail or catering offer on routes linked to the island.
The organisation, however, is not always as good as it might be in telling its customers about Scottish or local activity via menus and other promotional activity. Sandra quickly identified that as well as extending regional items on certain routes, there was a huge opportunity to tell passengers about the provenance and story of their food on menus and promotional items. She also suggested introducing new chef-led briefings to better inform catering and serving staff on menus, provenance, dish ingredients and cooking methods, as well as developing a programme of learning journeys for service staff to local and national food and drink suppliers, e.g. island distilleries and breweries, to enable them to better understand the manufacturing process and up-sell using the ‘food story’.
Working with Sandra, Drew and his team were able to identify that the ‘specials’ present the best opportunity to further develop the on-board menu offer and drive improved turnover and profit margin.
Sandra therefore suggested developing a ‘bank’ of specials, which could be made available online for chefs, incorporating seasonality, route-specific produce and traditional Scottish recipes. The bank could also provide guidance on portion sizes, ingredients, approved suppliers, margin and pricing, along with photographs demonstrating standards of presentation for ease of use. To allow an element of local flexibility whilst maintaining central control, Sandra also suggested ships’ cooks could add their own recipes, once approved by the retail development team.
The standard of promotional material, such as menus, promotional flyers and posters, also varied on each of the vessels. Drew says: “Sandra was quickly able to spot a lack of consistency in our promotional materials and branding and drew our attention to simple things such as signage overload in relation to our whisky products. She also identified that promotional prominence was being given to low turnover items such as sweets, rather than to Scottish items such as our ‘Malt of the Month’ promotion. In addition, she pointed out that by signposting visitors to local and island beers, we had an opportunity to apply a premium to these items while giving visitors the chance to sample something of the island they were about to visit”.
“We will certainly be following up on another of her specific recommendations, which was to appoint a signage ‘champion’ on board each vessel, to ensure consistency and quality of merchandising, signage and other presentational material. All of these are areas that we can easily address and will help us to streamline our promotional messages and focus on the areas which will appeal most to visitors and bring us greater financial return”.
“In addition to promoting much more information on the provenance of individual food & drink products, we’ll be looking to reinforce that message by introducing an over-arching statement on signage throughout our ships, telling passengers that we source over 90% of our product range from Scotland”.
Experiencing Scotland information