Dining at airports is now an essential part of the airport experience and no longer just for the reluctant, hungry traveller.

Improved choice, quality and service in airport dining has been a small but significant part of the overall growth in the UK F&B market that has seen a CAGR of 2.1% since 2010, making it worth £61bn last year, a trend followed by many other markets globally.

Companies operating in the travel dining space have reaped the rewards; SSP, the operator of F&B outlets in airports, has seen operating earnings up 44% since its IPO in 2014. Even those facing challenges across their portfolio like The Restaurant Group – operator of Frankie & Benny’s, amongst others – has enjoyed a strong year in its airport sites against a backdrop of slowing sales elsewhere.

Ensuring success in this environment requires an understanding of the F&B consumer, and how this might be applied to the specifics of the airport environment. Our strategic commercial research into the F&B market in England has enabled us to create a customer segmentation model and a prioritisation of key success drivers for F&B brands.

Customer Segmentation
For our F&B clients we segment consumers using responses to attitudinal questions regarding eating out. The four resulting segments – Safe, Experimental, Health Conscious, and Indulgent – provide a framework for airports both for understanding which consumers are underserved by the current proposition and for identifying appropriate F&B brands to meet their need.

While Safe diners are the largest segment of the general population at 42%, the work we have conducted at airports has shown that this dominance quickly falls away when looking at passenger populations. This reflects not only the typically more affluent nature of a passenger compared to the general population, but also regional characteristics; Safe diners are least represented in the South East, and Indulgent diners are typically either from the North or South East.

Measuring the average spend of these groups can help identify where the greatest opportunity lies.Experimental consumers spend an average of £89 per month on eating out (44% more than Safe diners) andIndulgent diners spend the most at £113 a month (82% more than Safe diners). Identifying an underserved segment makes developing a shortlist of brands to optimise an airport’s proposition all the more efficient and measurable.

Success Drivers
We use a specific analytical approach to distil the success drivers of consumer businesses. We analyse the extent to which different elements of a proposition (e.g. speed of service, price, quality) impact overall customer satisfaction. Each aspect is categorised depending upon the extent to which it enhances or detracts overall consumer perception. Those aspects which both drive positive feeling when executed well, and cause most issue when executed badly are the strongest impactors. Alongside the ratings of each individual component, this analysis clearly pinpoints where investment will be most beneficial.

Our analysis reveals that ‘quality of food’ and ‘reliability’, though prioritised by customers, are not strong impactors on advocacy. ‘Value for money’ and ‘a range of food options’ are factors which consumers prioritise and can lead to higher advocacy and brand perception.

The airport environment necessarily leads to a differing set of consumer expectations. Failure to understand which drivers are genuinely additive to consumer perceptions is pivotal if a brand wants to be successful in this increasingly competitive channel.

Michael Little