Travel Retail and Duty Free Business Intelligence    Friday 31 October 2014

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The Foodie Interview: Qatar Duty Free Senior Vice President Keith Hunter

Published: 06/02/13

Source: ©The Moodie Report

By Genevieve Knevitt, Editor, The Foodie Report*

"We have created a totally flexible model that is organic and will grow, move and adapt to the ever-changing passenger mix"
Keith Hunter
Senior Vice President
Qatar Duty Free

Qatar Duty Free has created a Food & Beverage division to lead the F&B offer at Doha’s new Hamad International Airport. Qatar Duty Free Senior Vice President Keith Hunter speaks to Genevieve Knevitt about the unique commercial model the company has chosen for its dining debut.

Qatar Airways’ rapidly evolving retail subsidiary Qatar Duty Free will take its first step into food & beverage when Doha’s new Hamad International Airport (former working project name New Doha International Airport) opens later this year.

It is an ambitious first project for the new F&B division – in Phase 1 the new facility will boast more than 6,000sq m of F&B space across 20 outlets – but the company has adopted an innovative approach that will allow it to learn as it grows.

“Moving into F&B was a natural progression for Qatar Duty Free, and a part of the growth strategy of our parent company,” reveals Senior Vice President Keith Hunter. “We have created a totally flexible model that is organic and will grow, move and adapt to the ever-changing passenger mix.

“This is crucial in order to stay in line with Qatar Airways’ incredible and ambitious growth plans, and guests’ ever-increasing expectations.”

The chosen model combines three commercial approaches. Some outlets will be run directly by Qatar Duty Free, some concessioned and some run by a powerful joint venture between Qatar Duty Free and an as yet unnamed global F&B operator.

As a result the Phase 1 offer will include five outlets run directly by Qatar Duty Free; four concessioned and 11 run by the joint venture (including a food court and casual dining area).

“This allows us to have a say in how the business is run,” Hunter explains. “Rather than compromising the portfolio, Qatar Duty Free committed to being operator, partner and landlord in order to deliver a truly world class offer.”

And, as The Foodie Report Founder Martin Moodie observed after a visit to the new facility: “The beauty of the model is that the traditional conflicts between an airport’s operational and commercial activities, and between airline and airport interests, are largely negated by common ownership.”

Qatar Duty Free describes its dining offer at the new Hamad International Airport as a “renaissance in food & beverage”
The over-burdened Doha International Airport handled more than 21 million passengers in 2012 – a +16.9% year-on-year increase putting immense pressure on the operation. That will all change when Hamad International opens; its initial capacity will be 28 million passengers, with a second phase lifting it to 48 million a year.

The Departures landside check-in area will feature a café, possibly complemented by a multi-food offer. The high-traffic central Departures duty free area will include a Voucher restaurant (international), Seafood Bar, international food court, casual dining concepts and a premium café (not operated by Qatar Duty Free). Additionally Hamad International will have two cafés in the Arrivals landside area and a café in concourses A, B and C.

The North Node (Phase 2) will also feature a range of full-service, café, casual dining and food court options.

Hunter says that in order to ask potential tenants and partners for the best brands and concepts, Qatar Duty Free had to understand the business; it therefore created its own Food & Beverage division.

“We are now in an excellent position to understand the dynamics of the business, thus ensuring continuity in standards, hazard analysis and critical control points, and the overall offer,” he says.

“We’ve invested huge resources in ensuring we have the right people at all levels in order to deliver our vision, and we have embraced technology that will allow us to understand all aspects of the business in real time. We have decided to implement best practices in everything we do.”

Hunter says the company is creating an innovative offer with character and authenticity
The ‘cookie cutter’ approach was avoided at all costs, Hunter insists, and accordingly Qatar Duty Free has created bespoke concepts and brands specifically for Hamad International. The company will even launch its own coffee brand at various locations in the airport.

As mentioned, in addition to Qatar Duty Free’s branded concepts, the company formed a joint venture with a major global F&B operator to introduce an international portfolio of brands and concepts. The most obvious benefit, explains Hunter, is being able to tap into a recognised portfolio of established, popular brands and the expertise that such a partner brings.

The last part of Qatar Duty Free’s F&B model is enhancing the offer with concessioned concepts, which Hunter says is aimed at bringing uniqueness to the airport – including a strong Sense of Place.

“There is a fine line when deciding the mix, as you are looking for something different; but at the same time the international traveller also seeks comfort in a certain element of familiarity, especially in a foreign country,” says Hunter.

“We were amazed at the length and breadth of the concepts available, both locally and internationally. We were able to cherry-pick from a wonderful selection to introduce innovation, character and authenticity through concession agreements.”

Qatar Duty Free will have to cater to a remarkably diverse passenger profile at Doha: a crucial consideration and the starting point when deciding on the mix. Key considerations were ethnic and cultural foods, modern and traditional foods, formal and casual dining, and offers for every price point, for families, business travellers, varying age groups and different cultural backgrounds.

There is also a focus on healthy, Fairtrade, gluten-free, organic and calorie-conscious options. Hunter says the breadth of the new dining options ensures everyone is catered for.

“With our retail background, we can draw on historic data to truly understand our guests. It is only when you understand your target market that you can think about exceeding their expectations. The unique benefit we have is a view of every area of the airport operations, so our decisions are always made with the best interests of the group and the guests.”

Qatar Duty Free will have to cater to a remarkably diverse passenger profile at Doha

Managing a diverse and unique portfolio for both retail and F&B provides endless possibilities for Qatar Duty Free, including cross-merchandising, dual promotional activity, connectivity between the operations, providing consistence in service, standards and innovation, and historic passenger data sharing.

Convenience and efficiency are priorities for Qatar Duty Free. The company has attempted to connect retail and F&B activities, allowing them to work together as part of the overall commercial experience. This is an area that will be further explored within the North Node, says Hunter.

So what have been the challenges with this approach to F&B? “Creating a unique offer and coordinating the various parties to ensure that each entity retains its own identity while offering consistency to our guests has been a challenge,” Hunter responds.

“To simply concession spaces is a relatively easy and viable option, but to embrace three models within one airport presents unique problems. By taking this route we expect to present the very best in each model, providing choice, flexibility and concepts that have something different to offer.

“Often when brands move from the parent company there is a level of dilution; it could be interpreted as cultural considerations, product availability or attitudes. However we expect authenticity and the retention of core brand values to be part of our portfolio. If you buy a brand you expect it to be true to its values.”

The task was daunting, but the execution promises to be spectacular. Qatar Duty Free’s unique three-pronged commercial model is set to deliver a compelling dining offer for passengers travelling through the new airport.

*NOTE: The Foodie Report is the sister title of The Moodie Report. Published monthly within The Moodie Report e-Zine, plus regular coverage on this website, The Foodie Report covers all revenue-generating travel-related food & beverage. For your free subscription please e-mail Genevieve.Knevitt@TheMoodieReport.com.

For advertising details, please e-mail Mike.Sawicki@TheMoodieReport.com. Both titles also organise the annual Food & Beverage (FAB) Conference & Awards, covering both airport and railway F&B.