Home / Beauty Tips / Flying high: the businesses that sell to airlines at 35,000ft

Flying high: the businesses that sell to airlines at 35,000ft

Long-haul flights can be dull, bumpy and cramped. Once you’ve exhausted the inflight entertainment, there are precious few ways to amuse yourself on board. Inflight products and food, however, can help break the monotony, whether it’s those neatly packaged flapjacks with your meal, or the complimentary moisturiser in your travel pack.

Selling your products at 35,000ft on planes across the world is a first-class marketing opportunity and can help businesses expand into new markets by attracting the attention of passengers from overseas. So how do small businesses get their products in the air? We speak to several who made it happen.

Solley’s Kentish Ice-Cream, Qantas

Solley’s has been producing ice-cream in Kent for the past 30 years: the farm was originally a working dairy but diversified into ice-cream production after supermarkets started to drive down milk prices. The dairy was first approached by Qantas at a trade show and its ice-cream is now served in both Emirates and Qantas’ business class cabins.

Keith Morrison, Solley’s general manager, says they’d never intended becoming an international business: “It wasn’t something we were specifically working towards at the time, but when the opportunity arose we grabbed it with both hands. It’s certainly a market we’re looking to grow and expand in now we’ve made those initial contacts.”

With a product such as ice-cream, packaging and transportation needs careful consideration to ensure it arrives in good condition. “We supply our ice-cream in 120ml cups that come with the spoons in the lid, so these are already very user-friendly for the airline and the customer. In terms of transportation, we use our refrigerated vans to deliver the ice cream by pallet to a depot, who then deliver it on to the airlines.”

The airline only wanted one major change to the product: “We were required to provide extensive evidence that our ice-cream was suitable for Halal passengers, as Qantas has a partnership with Emirates. It was an education, but a very useful process for us,” says Morrison.

Demand for ice-cream is usually seasonal but, when your product is being flown all over the globe, supplying to an airline removes the barrier to year-round business success. Morrison says: “As an ice-cream producer, having our product served on airlines has really helped take the seasonality out of our business. More importantly, it gives the Solley’s brand wonderful exposure; we have had messages and pictures via our website and social media channels from people who have enjoyed our ice-cream at 30,000 feet!”

Voya spa products, Aer Lingus

Mark and Kira Walton launched organic beauty business Voya because they felt the products offered inflight should be better quality and didn’t represent the “first-class experience” that people expected. The pair, who travelled regularly, developed a luxury bathing product inspired by the seaweed baths in County Sligo which were founded by their family back in 1912: to bring the product up to date they became committed to the air.

Aer Lingus stocks the full range of spa products in Dublin’s business-class lounge and on board. “It makes us feel proud: seeing people enjoy our products in first-class lounges and inflight is rewarding. The exposure has helped us build awareness on both a national and international level and we’ve received lots of inquiries from spa owners worldwide who sampled our products on board. Seeing repeat purchases coming in from countries we don’t already supply to is very fulfilling.”

That said, Walton emphasises the importance of having an extremely good logistics system in place. “[Supplying to airlines] is a long-term project that can take up to two years to implement. We would also advise having a very good finance system in place due to the lengthy process of the project. From initial design and manufacturing to delivery, it can take a year to see a return on revenue.”

Launden’s chocolates, BA first class cabin

After leaving IT consultancy, Stephen Trigg and his wife Sun decided to start a chocolate company, selling chocolates made with “rolls royce” ingredients. They were first approached by a BA menu designer at a trade show: “We didn’t know who he was at first because his name badge was concealed. The tasting and discussions were going well when he requested samples and handed over his name card. It took some time to get featured in the cabin, but when we did, we received a lovely email from him saying: “From that first taste I knew your chocolates had to fly in first class – I’m just sorry it took so long.”

Unlike Solley’s ice-cream, featuring as part of a cabin menu was something Trigg and his wife had aimed for from the start. “When we were sitting around the kitchen table at the beginning of our venture, we both said we wanted our chocolates to sit in first class for BA and Singapore Airlines.”

The best thing, though, is having the global reach. “We’ve received so many emails and phone calls from passengers about their experiences. We’re both so humbled when you think these people have paid for a first-class ticket and they take the time to call or email about our chocolates.”

Trigg’s favourite memory is getting a call from a Middle Eastern number from a man in Harrod’s saying he was in London and wanted to buy their chocolates. “I asked him what he wanted and said I’d FedEx them over to him – we got into a discussion about where he’d come across our chocolates and he said BA’s first-class cabin about three months earlier.”

One consideration food businesses need to bear in mind is that tastes alter slightly on a plane, says Trigg. Studies by Fraunhofer Institute for Building Physics have shown that as our bodies adapt to the pressurised cabin, so do our tastebuds: we lose 30% of our tastebud functionality when we’re in-flight.

It’s a long road to being featured by an airline, says Trigg . “I’d suggest persevering and making sure [businesses] manage their cashflow plan very well.”

Sign up to become a member of the Guardian Small Business Network here for more advice, insight and best practice direct to your inbox.

About Fashion Brief