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6 – 8 June 2023
Hamburg Messe

Your Guide to Getting Products Onboard Airlines

Discover everything you need to know about how to become part of the onboard experience including:

  • How to pitch your product
  • Insight on what airlines look for
  • What to ask once at a meeting

“These are just a sample of the launches and refreshes taking place across the aviation industry that could be waiting for your product. This comprehensive guide takes you through all the key things to consider when planning to target this area, including finding the right contacts and considerations before you pitch your products to an airline buyer. We’ve compiled it in association with Brand Consultant and former British Airways Global Wine & Beverages Manager Kelly Stevenson, and four independent brands, all of which have exhibited at WTCE and are now stocked onboard.

We hope you find the report thought-provoking, useful and inspirational for your brand in the future.”

Polly Magraw, Event Director, WTCE

Kelly Stevenson

Ready for Takeoff?

Before you even approach your first airline, give careful consideration to how your product will fit into the airline environment, which is significantly different to a traditional hospitality or retail environment.

If you have something different, and a very good reason to be in the air, that’s going to appeal to an airline buyer.

Kelly Stevenson

Economy or First Class?

The airline industry is complex – ranging from private jet companies to commercial airlines, most of which have four different cabin classes: First, Business, Premium Economy and Economy. Where will your product sit best? What customer market are you targeting?

Questions to ask yourself:

  • Do I want to sell for a margin? If yes, then buy-onboard is a good option. Some airlines’ short-haul flights are buy-onboard. This is something to consider when deciding what airlines to pitch to first.
  • Do I want to sell for brand awareness? If yes, which customers do you want your products in front of? A small but very select audience in First class or even on private jets for instance, a slightly larger audience mainly travelling for business reasons, or a mass-market audience?
Ask yourself, are you selling your product for consumption and brand awareness or are you selling it for profit? There’s never much profit in small quantities, but over time the volume of orders you can get from selling to an airline is significant.

Kelly Stevenson

Be Prepared

Do your research and equip yourself with the right information and questions to ask before your meeting with an airline buyer. This includes understanding what types of products and services they currently have on their flights and ensuring your brand will slide into their offer seamlessly.

Deals are made with a lot of people in the room. If you’re going to be a component part of an airline’s food and beverage programme, you have to play ball, and knowing who you play ball with is one of the most important things…I’d say it’s an absolute priority to know the airlines because at the end of the day, they’re going to say yes or no to what goes on board their planes.

Kelly Stevenson

Is the Price Right?

Price is very sensitive and mainly driven by the fact that most big commercial, long-haul airlines still give away food and beverage as part of the package. That’s why large suppliers offering very good deals for the mid- to long-term, are often the successful distributors. They have the marketing ability to significantly bring down their unit price.

80% of the people you contact never respond or give you feedback. So, every single week you need to call them again, send them a recap of what you’re offering. Ask again if you can schedule a call. It’s a long-term process and you have to be consistent because even if they don’t need you today, when they need you tomorrow, you have to be there waiting for them.

Alberto Topan, SVP of Sales, The Perfect Cocktail

Form vs Format

The size and format of your packaging is a vital consideration and nailing the right format will depend on whether you are selling onto a private jet, or into a First-Class cabin, Business or Economy cabin. If it’s a beverage you’re selling, does it come in glass, plastic or aluminium? This is when understanding what an airline currently offers is important – i.e. mini bottles or full-size – they are unlikely to change just for you. And don’t forget how your product will be stored onboard; a 250ml tall can doesn’t fit upright in a standard cabin trolley drawer.

Airlines welcome suggestions but ensure you have a solution that fits with what they already have. If they are already stocking mini bottles of wine, you need to offer them your products in a mini, but you can ask if they’ve considered a can because it’s better for the environment.

Kelly Stevenson

Get the full guide for even more expert advice

Find out more about how Airlines are focused on sustainability when it comes to onboard products, how items can taste different at altitude, and special requirements you should be aware of.

WTCE is the event that brands know airline buyers will attend and they don’t mind having those meetings. That’s where the business gets done.

Kelly Stevenson

WTCE – A Trade Show Like No Other

Launched in 2012, the World Travel Catering & Onboard Services Expo (WTCE) is now the go-to event for airline buyers looking to learn about the latest trends, find new products and collaborate with new brands.

Boasting over 850 onboard buyers in attendance at each show, A LOT of business happens because it’s the event that buyers – and third parties, such as contract caterers – put it into their diaries to do just that. Buyers are often tricky to get hold of over the phone or on email, but you are guaranteed that the most important names across the onboard industry will be at WTCE each year.

Here’s why airline buyers love WTCE

  • It’s home to innovative product launches they won’t see on rival airlines
  • They’re looking for brands they’ve seen advertised or those that have been in touch, but they’ve not had time to meet with at another time of the year
  • They love to explore and discover new brands
  • They’re in the right frame of mind to be sold to
In 2017 we were starting to see ready-to-drink cocktails break through. I saw that category for the first time at WTCE and now it’s huge. And I didn’t know I was looking for RTD cocktails. Now in 2022, I’ve been working with a RTD cocktail company, and we’ve made airlines aware of it and sent out samples. At WTCE in June this year, some of those airlines were able to taste it on the stand…we had face-to-face conversations and really explored opportunities. Less than two weeks after WTCE, a major commercial airline listed it.

Kelly Stevenson

Kelly Stevenson’s Top Tips for speaking to airline buyers

  • If you sell products in different categories put space between them to make it very easy for each buyer to see and understand the product that is appropriate to them
  • If you a meet a buyer responsible for one category, ask them who is most appropriate for your other product categories and ask them to introduce you. People are friends in this industry
Be sure to contact everyone you meet immediately after WTCE. I’ve seen brands wait three or four weeks and by then you’ve been forgotten.

Barry HenkenSier Disposables

Special thanks to the following people for sharing their expertise and insights in this report:

Kelly Stevenson
Aviation & Travel Retail Consultant and Founder, JetVine

Barry Henken
International Sales & Buyer, Sier Disposables

Eric Carlier
Travel Retail Director, 
Saveurs & Nature

Joshua van den Hurk

Alberto Topan
SVP of Sales, The Perfect Cocktail

Take the next step

Take your place at the next WTCE by enquiring about a stand. With a range of options to suit every business, find out how you can showcase your products.

Exhibitors success stories

For 10+ years WTCE has been helping businesses get onboard by introducing them to the right buyers. Read more of their stories and the find out how you can join them.