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"Airport put to taste: Massport tests to see if vendors' food flies"
Sunday, May 7, 2006
Airport put to taste: Massport tests to see if vendors' food flies
By Jennifer Heldt Powell
The Boston (MA) Herald
A soggy sandwich may seem like a small thing in the big scheme of life, but
it can loom large for a hungry, weary traveler looking for a break.
Stale bread, wilted lettuce, bland cheese, leaky packaging - it all matters,
according to the quality control captains at the Massachusetts Port
They frequently cruise Logan International Airport checking on vendors,
hoping to knock down the bad reputation airport food has earned. They even
put their own taste buds on the line.
In an effort to see and taste what airline passengers face, Massport
officials have launched a taste testing program to sample everything from
muffins to pizzas. Pre-packaged sandwiches were the latest wares under
Testers were sent out in the morning to anonymously pick up sandwiches from
10 different shops. They were brought to a large group of Massport officials
to be sampled and rated.
"It's an inexpensive way for us to make sure that we're providing the
highest quality possible," said Sal Amico, Logan's airport concession
Vendors are required to hold their prices down to what they charge in other
non-airport locations, but officials want to make sure they don't skimp on
the product to keep costs down, he said.
Offering a high-quality experience is fundamental to operations, say airport
officials. It helps attract travelers, which helps attract airlines, which
brings in more travelers.
"Passengers associate concessions and their whole airport experience with
the airline," Amico said. "If we can do anything to make it a positive
experience, they're more inclined to come back."
It also helps the bottom line. The vendors' fees to Massport are based on a
combination of a flat payment and a percentage of sales. Logan's 130 vendors
report annual sales topping $49 million.
Airports could sell more food as airlines cut back on what they offer on the
plane, which is part of why Massport is testing the food.
This is serious business," said Jack Hemphill, Logan business general
manager. "The goal here is to improve the percentage of passengers who buy
food before they get on a plane. If it's stale, if it's soggy, you'll lose
them for life."
The taste testers rate the sandwiches based on how appealing they look, how
well they're packaged, how good they are and their value.
Logan officials will work with those who don't score well to find ways to
improve their product.
The results are kept private, but it was clear that Lucky's was a favorite.
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