The world’s largest independent airline caterer has announced plans to make most of its dishes halal compliant.
GateGourmet, which provides inflight meals for the likes of Cathay Pacific and British Airways, says it wants to standardise production to ensure most meals meet with the strict Islamic rules. This decision would be based on the drive to lower costs rather than on religious grounds.
Guy Dubois, chief executive of Swiss-based Gategroup, said: “My aim is to make our large hub operations halal compliant. If I produce everything according to halal standards, I will reduce complexity and increase cost effectiveness. It isn’t driven by social or religious considerations.”
Most carriers currently offer halal dishes, but these are more expensive to supply as they need to be prepared, stored and transported separately in order to comply with Islamic dietary laws.
The catering giant is opening a dedicated halal kitchen at Heathrow – where meals are prepared for 14 airlines including BA – and marks the first stage in a gradual switch.
The move follows the sharp growth of Middle Eastern carriers including Etihad and Emirate which require all meals to be halal.
Emirates and Etihad use a smaller Austrian-based caterer, Do & Co, at Heathrow, while many other all-halal carriers use Gategroup’s rival, LSG Sky Chefs, part of Germany’s Lufthansa group.
However GateGourmet caters for numerous airlines from non-Muslim countries. The company prepares more than 200 million meals a year from its 100 flight kitchens in more than 25 countries.
British Airways played down the significance of the catering firm’s proposals.
A spokesman said: “British Airways has no plans to change its current menus or halal meal process.”
Peter van Niekerk, head of GateGroup in the UK, said: “We are at the moment competing for some more halal business and when we make that, the scale tips.”
He said the company would consult with customers such as BA and Cathay Pacific to “manage perceptions and manage such a transition”.
Care must be taken to ensure kitchen cleaning products contain no alcohol. The large industrial dishwashers used by caterers have to be drained and disinfected after washing equipment from a western airline before they can wash an all-halal airline’s utensils, a process that takes up to four hours.