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For long-haul flights SAS lacks the size and scale to compete with its much larger European competitors. On short-haul routes the airline can't compete with the cost structure of the continent's strongest low-cost-carriers. But there's one place it probably does have an edge: its onboard food.

In 2017 SAS unveiled its New Nordic by SAS concept, introducing passengers on some 80,000 short-haul Scandinavian and European flights to seasonal dishes made with ingredients sourced from regional farmers.

New Nordic by SAS this month expands its vision of healthy, sustainable eating with the addition of two regularly featured vegetarian or vegan dishes on the airline’s 10 different menus in rotation.

Customers can now choose from such imaginative plant-based creations as Camelina-roasted cauliflower with a Gotland lentil, black bean, and beet-flavored wheat salad, or dill- and horseradish-cured Hällestads mushrooms with a rutabaga, Slätte Gård field pea, radish, and Persula Gårds roasted turnip-rapeseed salad. Spreads of golden beet and Vreta yellow pea, as well as nigella seed pickled onions and Fagra slätt quinoa are also incorporated into the dishes.

Skift spoke with Alexander Lund, product manager, food and beverage, who oversees menu development and design, and Linnea Malmberg, head of onboard concept and service. They discussed SAS’s devotion to a greener lifestyle, how customer commentary can lead to operational change, and the importance of minimizing food waste.

Skift: SAS serves meals made with sustainable seafood and humanely raised chicken, and the café selections include Swedish potato chips fried in cold-pressed rapeseed oil, energy bars from an all-natural Danish chocolatier, and juice from a Norwegian farmer’s apples. Why was giving plant-based meals a permanent spot on the menu the next green step undertaken by SAS?

Alexander Lund: We listened to our customers and their feedback when shaping our concept. They say they have a healthy lifestyle and they want to choose what they eat. They care about animal welfare and where their food comes from, so there was already a huge emphasis on plant-based dishes. Even in our meat dishes, the meat protein is only about 20 percent. We live with more flexitarian eaters now and healthier meals are more in demand.

Linnea Malmberg: We did a trial of green, plant-based meal options in November and it was well received. The customer is finally there, appreciating this excellent kind of food. There is always going to be a customer who doesn’t want a vegetarian meal, but it’s also a sustainability issue, and it is kind of a bold move from SAS to be in charge of this development.

Skift: What is the process for creating the menus?

Lund: I design them with our suppliers. If you’re a traditional fish or meat eater, you should not notice that it’s a vegetarian or vegan dish by its composition. All the components make the meal so flavorful but clean in perception.

Skift: How often do the dishes change?

Lund: It’s a full-scale operation running on the four seasons. We are never importing produce from other areas of the world, only working with what we have available. A lot of our customers are frequent travelers, flying twice in one day or several times a week, so they require variety. We change the menu about four times a week.

Skift: From an operational perspective this is a massive commitment. Why was this the right time to introduce such thoughtful dishes to quick flights that often revolve around a simple bag of pretzels?

Malmberg: For SAS it’s something we need to do because short-haul flights are our majority. This is where so many of our customers are, and we want them to taste these menus.

Skift: Pre-ordering is a cornerstone of New Nordic by SAS. For customers who pay for SAS Plus [premium economy] tickets, their meals are included. Those in SAS Go [economy] have to pay for them in advance. How do you promote preordering?

Malmberg: Preordering on Go is communicated in the flow when you book your flights. It pops up as an option as something to add. We also work with CRM in emails 18 hours before your flight departs, and you can add it through our app.

Skift: Has preordering meals been successful so far?

Lund: By enabling preordering we offer a better selection to our customers, as well as reduce food waste, which in traditional airline catering is quite massive because of the one meal for everyone approach.

Skift: Packaging also plays a huge role in cutting down on waste. SAS was daring in this realm with the compact Cube a few years back. What other initiatives is the airline taking?

Malmberg: We can’t yet talk about it, but there will be some launches in late summer or early fall. We are asking ourselves, ‘Do customers really need this? And if they do, can we change the material?’ We are changing the drink stirrer from plastic to wood and we are stopping with the hot towel service on short-haul flights because it’s a waste. We also work closely with the cabin crew to reduce usage and not hand out everything.

Lund: We also have to take into consideration weight. Sometimes disposable can be better. We were glad when the EU plastic ban happened because it puts pressure on the market and makes it easier to be more proactive and find more sustainable solutions. What was good yesterday is not always good today.

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Tags: airline food, airline passenger experience, sas airlines

Photo credit: Scandinavian Airlines unveiled its New Nordic by SAS concept about two years ago. It recently updated it, adding featured vegetarian or vegan dishes. Scandinavian Airlines

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