Robert Dalboth from En Route has just been appointed to the role of managing director of the global airline catering business. He talks to Katie Pathiaki about what’s hot in the sector and his future plans for the business
The airline catering industry is quite diverse. Tell us what you do at En Route International.
We provide airlines and customers with a range of tasty snacks, hot meals and indulgent treats, such as cheese or afternoon tea. We’ve been doing this for about 15 years and work with a wide range of airlines across the world.
Airlines often come to us and ask how they can get a restaurant-quality cheese board consistently across Europe in premium cabins, or how can we make sure their cabin crew get their perfect meal every time, or even how they can get great bread at every place their airlines flies to. We help them solve these problems.
You’ve taken over as managing director from the founder of the business – does this make your role more difficult?
To be honest, I’ve been with the business for more than eight years, so I’ve been a part of the culture and company for some time. Throughout this, I’ve learned so much from Alison Lessmann [founder of the business] that it was a pretty smooth transition when I fully took on the MD role.
People will always like to introduce their own personality into a leadership team but, fundamentally, our culture will not change. We are all foodies and we are entrepreneurs. That will never change.
With the restrictions around airline catering, how do you differentiate yourself from your competitors?
Our business is pretty unique in the industry. Our strapline is ‘design, deliver, delight’ and, operationally, our business is built around this. We have creative food design teams, exceptional operations teams and a close focus on partnerships and relationships. Of course, there are other great businesses out there, but I don’t think many are as equipped as we are in our areas of strength.
You’ve just signed two exclusive arrangements with Nando’s and KraftHeinz. Is this the direction in which the industry is heading?
The industry is definitely seeing more movement and influence from retail brands. We are very proud to say that these two partnerships are the first of their kind for these businesses, so it’s incredibly exciting for us.
As a progressive business, we are always looking at how we can not only innovate our products, but also our commercial partnerships.
However, it’s not just through retail partnerships where we see growth. We’ve had lots of success with other products, such as handheld hot snacks, so there is a huge market out there. The industry is moving quickly, so it’s a great time to be on board.
What’s your vision for the business?
I’ve always said, culture is at the heart of any success story. I want En Route to continue being a business people want to work for and a business that many admire. We have such a talented bunch of people who are truly passionate about what they do.
I want to make sure we continue to channel this passion and create a culture where we are constantly pushing ourselves to innovate, but do it by doing the right thing by our teams, our clients, our suppliers and the wider industry.
What are the major challenges facing airline caterers at the moment?
The industry did have a challenging period but, we are seeing lots of activity from carriers and increasing catering budgets across most regions. Confidence is back in business globally so this is having a positive impact on the sector. It’s a really exciting time to be in this industry.