Up in the air, wine tastes different. At least, this is what we think because our tastes atrophy slightly with altitude. Though it doesn’t bother thousands of passengers to enjoy wine from their cabin seat every day. If good French wines or champagnes are included with your plane ticket, you might have spent some money when booking your trip and airlines know that the quality of beverages served on board can have affluent customers make their mind up choosing their services. Winalist will explain you the major stakes around wine in the airline industry.
Wine, a great image for airlines
The market. Here we don’t talk about passengers whose limited budget compels them to use flights prices online comparison tools, but affluent clients who choose their airline looking at comfort features. Air carriers attract their customers with products of superior quality, but mostly affluent clients rather than the wealthiest ones. Indeed, the key market to sell a lot of wine cases or to built brand awareness in the air is the Business class. Business men or women, well-off clientele are far more numerous than First class passengers, often celebrities or millionaires. That’s also an opportunity for airlines as they make half of their margin on Business class fares.
How far are airlines willing to invest? On their menus or advertising campaigns, companies’ wine suppliers are brought to the fore. On board, the airline crew is also trained and selected. For example, the Champagne house Taittinger frequently offers staff training to Singapore Airlines and Quantas. Japan Airlines goes even further selecting graduate employees : 30% of its hostess team has a wine diploma. And It’s worth the money as airlines keep on investing more. Looking at figures we have $300,000 for First Class and $1.8 million for Business class for wine investment at Asiana Airlines. At the next level we find Emirates with $140 million in 2015 among $120 million just in France for purchasing and storing wine mainly. These huge figures first shows how the air carrier market is competitive but also represents an opportunity for companies to promote the cultural heritage of their country.
A profitable chauvinism. “France is in the air” is the Air France’s moto. The French airline continuously focuses on providing its passengers with the best French products. This strategy gets them spending the biggest annual budget allocated to wine by an airline, roughly $20 million. In addition, Air France also affords to have the famous chef Alain Ducasse serving its own Champagne “Alain Ducasse brut” on board in First class. In Portugal, TAP airline launched “TAP Wine Experience” to become a premium ambassador “of Portuguese taste of wines throughout the world”.
Hopefully, investments get rewarded. The US Global Travelers and UK Business Travellers magazines are written for frequent business and luxury travelers. They decided to award airlines that have the best wine offer on board, on First and Business classes, while offering them a legitimate advertising boost. This year the Wines on the Wing award was given to Asiana Airlines whose executive vice president Ja-Joon Goo explains “At Asiana we strive to provide our passengers with the best quality of flight and comfort, and that philosophy translates down to the fine details such as the wine we feature on our flights”. The UK version of this award is Cellars in the sky that prized airlines from the OneWorld alliance last year, especially Malaysia Airlines, Japan Airlines, American Airlines and Cathay Airlines.
A useful wine show-case
Passengers can enjoy wines on flights but also find the bottles on the dutyfree section of the airport, lounges or hotels. Once houses and wine producers get a 3-year contract with airlines, their reputation lasts far after.
Which wines? French wines are the inescapable products but except them, the wine offer varies among airlines. You can find English sparkling wine served on British Airways flights, but also wine from America, Australia, South Africa, Chile, Argentina and New Zealand by Hong Kong’s Cathay Airline. Beyond the type of wine, it’s a question of quantity.
Emirates has its wine Fort Knox in Beaune (in Burgundy), near the Mediterranean harbors and Northern Europe, where the company stores 3.8 million bottles from around the world. This quantity can be ensured thanks to a long-term relationship between the airline and the suppliers. According to Emirates’ vice president Joost Heymeijer “This is an important criterion, which allows us to stock wine and to serve older vintages”. House Latour benefits from the partnership with Emirates as well. Louis-Fabrice Latour explains “with increasing prices, we need a clientele capable of selling more expensive wines. Emirates plays this role very well, mixing luxury and consumption”.
What about Champagne? Up in the air, champagne has remained the preferred drink since the origins of commercial aviation, but competition up there is rough! The 25 largest Champagne houses and about 15 challengers are competing on the market. Even if airlines watch out the beverages’ reputation they serve, they are particularly sensitive to costs. Most Champagne houses have to give a percentage discount according to the contracts.
Offers are published by Airlines according to the volume needed and the class the Champagne will be served on. Some Champagne Houses have more negotiation power, such as Laurent-Perrier house, that signed an exclusive contract on all the champagne served on Japan Airlines flights.
Air France is one of the only airlines to offer champagne to passengers of its economy class, thus promoting the French Terroir.
We hope that the market of wine served on planes is no longer obscure to you! At Winalist, we still think nothing is worth a good wine tasting on the ground, where you can find the best atmospheric conditions and also budgetary ones!
Also published on Medium.