Rachel Bulford, director of retail at Gatwick Airport, was appointed chair of the UK Travel Retail Forum in 2021 All images: Gatwick Airport

Rachel Bulford, director of retail at London Gatwick Airport, spoke to Tara Craig about the airport’s F&B offering, not least how it has tackled COVID-19

Operational challenges

Q How has F&B at Gatwick fared during the pandemic?

It has been an incredibly challenging time for us at Gatwick, not just with the airport itself but for our F&B partners too, with considerably fewer passengers than the 46 million we were seeing pre-pandemic. Due to very low passenger numbers, we have been operating from our North Terminal alone since June 2020. When international travel resumed in summer 2020, North Terminal shops and restaurants began reopening as passenger numbers allowed. Since mid-2021 we have seen virtually all of the outlets in the terminal reopen. We have also welcomed some new F&B outlets to Gatwick, which is great news for us. The demand for airport retail space generally, and specifically here at Gatwick, is still incredibly high.

Q Tell me about F&B staffing challenges experienced by Gatwick during the pandemic

The UK government’s furlough scheme has been really helpful for the airport and many of our retailers. Several of our concessionaires made use of it.

Looking ahead, the South Terminal will reopen on Sunday March 27. It will be fantastic for the airport to once more have the passenger numbers needed to open, particularly as our local communities have been so badly affected by the pandemic. While most of the South Terminal shops and restaurants remain closed for the time being, we face the challenge of having to recruit a lot of people in potentially quite a short space of time, ahead of the terminal’s reopening. We have been getting feedback that recruitment is particularly challenging at the moment and so we are working with our concessionaire partners to ensure we have good plans in place to attract great people.

Q What supply chain issues have you had to resolve?

We have been fortunate that, so far, Gatwick has not faced too many supply chain challenges. There have been pockets of stock challenges but our concessionaires have been working very hard to overcome these as they occur.

Q Tell me about F&B openings during the pandemic

We were delighted to welcome both Tortilla and Juniper and Co to Gatwick last year. They’ve already proven fantastic additions to our North Terminal departure lounge. The Gatwick restaurant is Tortilla’s first airport location, while Juniper and Co is a premium restaurant and bar concept which has been created especially for Gatwick, featuring a centrepiece marbledfinished bar and offering a range of locally inspired dishes.

Opening them during a pandemic has, in many ways, been very good timing. Passengers who are coming to Gatwick now for the first time in potentially more than two years are seeing fresh, new brands on offer – and it looks as if we’ve had a bit of a facelift. Both brands have done very well to date, showing the appetite is there from passengers to return to their pre-COVID travelling habits as soon as possible. Tortilla and Juniper offer very different experiences too – proof that a wide range of brands can succeed with our diverse passenger make-up.

Q How has the way your F&B outlets operate been affected?

Since the number of flights and passengers began to pick up, our F&B outlets are proving as popular as they were pre-COVID. We have measures in place to ensure passengers and staff can enjoy their airport experience safely, such as hand sanitising stations around the airport, including within shops and restaurants, signage to remind people to regularly wash their hands, frequent cleaning of hightouch points and face masks available from our vending machines. World Duty Free, particularly before Christmas, was starting to have that airport buzz again. We are hopeful that, as passengers regain confidence in international travel and restrictions continue to be eased, that buzz will be back for good.

Q What F&B launches will we see at LGW in the next year?

We have to remain tight-lipped on that for now, but we continue to review our F&B strategy to find the most suitable brands for the experience we want to offer our passengers. At the end of January, a larger InMotion store opened in the North Terminal, to complement the store which opened in December. InMotion is a WHSmith brand, offering tablets, digital action cameras and headphones, as well as a wide range of travel accessories, such as adaptors, portable chargers and cases, from leading international brands including Apple, Samsung, Sony, Nikon, GoPro, Beats by Dr Dre, Bose and Fitbit.

Q What other airports’ F&B set-ups do you admire?

As a team we take inspiration from other airports and also beyond – looking at great F&B across the country and the world. The changes which Copenhagen Airport made just before COVID were very impressive – it brought some wonderful downtown F&B names into the airport and created a really local experience. Another place we admire is Indian restaurant chain Dishoom, particularly its Kings Cross site in London. The sense of place is impressive– they’ve made amazing use of the site and its history and have demonstrated how to successfully take an offer from morning to night without compromising the integrity of the concept.

Q What are your long-term aspirations for F&B at Gatwick?

At Gatwick we take pride in bringing to life concepts that delight our passengers. We’re keen to take inspiration from F&B trends such as marketplaces and fast casual dining, and working with more local operators to create new concepts for the airport. Airport logistics make this really challenging, so we are thinking about how we might do this in a way that creates a great experience for our passengers but is also operationally practical. We don’t quite have the answers yet, but this will be something we look at over the next few months.

Eco concerns

Q What environmental initiatives are underway at LGW?

We are currently working on a couple of key initiatives behind the scenes – not necessarily things that passengers will see or be aware of, but projects which will support our F&B partners in their sustainability goals.

First, Gatwick is in the early stages of encouraging F&B and retail partners to use sustainable packaging in their supply chains, reducing the amount of singleuse packaging coming to the airport. The project is particularly focusing on reusable pallets, totes and pallet covers. We are also working to encourage segregation at source. This aims to reduce the amount of general waste leaving the airport, by providing education and training regarding the categorisation and segregation of waste/recycling materials and well managed recycling areas.

Q What progress are you making in terms of F&B waste?

In 2021, Gatwick’s total operations generated 1,938 tonnes of waste and recycling materials and achieved an average recycling/reuse percentage of 53.39% versus 66.94% in 2020. It’s important to note, however, that these numbers are skewed due to the boost from the ‘Business As Usual’ operation and recycling performance for Q1 in 2020, pre-COVID. The drop in recycling/reuse percentage in 2021 was fully expected, due to the reduced operations. Pre-pandemic we hit reuse and recycle rates of 70% – among the highest rate of any airport in the world. We hope to achieve that again and it will provide a solid foundation for Gatwick to focus on becoming a zerowaste airport.

Q Tell me about your long-term environmental goals within F&B

Our Decade of Change sustainability policy includes a goal to achieve zero waste by ensuring that, by 2030, all materials used in operations, commercial activity and construction are repurposed for beneficial use. In other words, repaired, reused, donated, recycled, composted or converted to fuel for heating and transport. We publish an annual Decade of Change report on our progress.

F&B technology

Q Does LGW make use of food-ordering apps?

A number of operators already offer their own order and pay at table capability, among them JD Wetherspoon, The Restaurant Group and Wagamama.

Q Do you offer food delivery?

This is an area we are actively considering, but we are prioritising launching a more comprehensive clickand-collect offering before we move into delivery to other areas of the airport. The requirement for this service and the operational challenges of delivery in a UK airport setting are complex, but we do feel it has potential, especially when passengers have flight delays and have already reached their gate.

Q What types of F&B technology have you adopted?

As a VINCI airport, we have a strong commitment to innovation and improved passenger experience, and we are planning on launching a click-andcollect pilot on the Servy platform in spring 2022. This will offer passengers the opportunity to preorder across brands such as Shake Shack, Tortilla and Sonoma airside. It will be heavily promoted landside so that passengers are aware of it prior to arriving in the departure lounge. We are also planning to launch this with our staff. Based on the success of this pilot, we will look at adding more brands to the platform.