The global inflight catering market size was valued at USD 12.24 billion in 2022. It is estimated to reach USD 32.13 billion by 2031, growing at a CAGR of 11.32% during the forecast period (2023–2031). The primary catalyst for growth in the inflight catering market is the recovery of the airline sector following the disruptive effects of the COVID-19 epidemic, increasing air passenger traffic. Consumers demand high-quality and healthy food during their flights, another growth driver for the global inflight catering market.
In-flight catering, airline food, or in-flight meals refers to the provision of food services by airlines to passengers during flight. These meals are often given to passengers utilizing an airline service trolley and are prepared by specialized airline catering services. Catering has become an essential aspect of business, particularly for long-distance Network Carriers. Meal planning and meal design are essential catering service procedures.
Depending on the airline and travel class, these meals vary greatly in quality and quantity. They can be as simple as a snack or drink in short-haul economy class or as elaborate as a seven-course gourmet meal in long-haul first class. The types of food offered vary greatly from country to country and frequently incorporate elements of regional cuisine, sometimes from both the country of origin and the country of destination. During the regulation period of domestic American ticket rates, airlines mostly distinguished themselves by providing food services.
|Market Size||USD 32.13 billion by 2031|
|Fastest Growing Market||Europe|
|Largest Market||Asia Pacific|
|Report Coverage||Revenue Forecast, Competitive Landscape, Growth Factors, Environment & Regulatory Landscape and Trends|
In 2020, there was a global decline in air passenger traffic due to COVID-19, resulting in a substantial decline in the demand for airlines and the industries associated with the aviation sector, like the inflight catering industry. The global passenger traffic recovered modestly in 2021, with the number of passengers worldwide reaching about 2.3 billion or 49% below pre-pandemic (2019) levels, up from the 60% drop seen in 2020, according to the ICAO.
In response to the onset of COVID-19, supplementary measures were introduced inside the cooking facilities to uphold stringent quality controls, hence mitigating the risk of any potential contamination of food items onboard. Such developments helped the recovery of the revenues of the inflight caterers supplying to the airlines, thereby supporting the market growth.
Consumers opt for pre-booked, wholesome meals via online booking platforms when they travel. This has prompted airlines and caterers to establish robust in-flight food management systems in collaboration. Regardless of their assigned seating class on the aircraft, all passengers are also expected to be provided with nourishing meals and promote good health throughout the trip. Health-conscious travelers most frequently request healthy, nutrient-dense, and low-calorie meals. Many passengers invest in premium in-flight catering, fueling the market growth.
Providing freshly prepared food and complying with food quality and safety regulations have always been challenging for catering service providers and airlines. However, the pandemic has brought new dynamic and essential safety protocols to professional commercial kitchens as heightened safety has become a focus for world travelers and flyers traveling for business and pleasure.
Airline catering kitchens faced several challenges in developing new protocols and abiding by them while maintaining the same standard and taste of the food. Likewise, there were instances in the past where flights got canceled as the caterers were stopped from catering due to food quality issues. Thus, if the food from inflight caterers does not comply with safety regulations, it may be a huge loss to them and the airlines. Such factors currently challenge the catering providers and the airlines.
Due to the heightened automation of in-flight cuisine and the progress made in catering management, airlines can offer their passengers an enhanced experience. The leading market participants are adopting cutting-edge production management categorizations and systems to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of processes and systems. IT management systems, inventory management systems, lean manufacturing, and just-in-time manufacturing are among the most essential tools catering companies use to enhance their offerings.
Air New Zealand, FlyDubai, and Japan Airlines offer digitally-enabled food and beverage services. Using the in-seat IFE system, passengers can place orders with these companies. Emirates has just issued meal ordering devices to every flight attendant serving business class. As a result, these factors are anticipated to create opportunities for the in-flight catering services market's growth.
Based on region, the global inflight catering market is bifurcated into North America, Europe, Asia-Pacific, Latin America, and the Middle East and Africa.
Asia-Pacific is the most significant global inflight catering market shareholder and is anticipated to exhibit a CAGR of 11.99% during the forecast period. The growth of international travel and tourism, fast urbanization, a soaring standard of living to complement aspirational travel, and a resurgence in discretionary spending all contribute to regional growth. Moreover, the number of airline operators in the region is anticipated to generate substantial growth opportunities for in-flight catering providers. The region is expected to grow quickly due to substantial increases in international air travel and tourism in developing nations such as China, India, and Vietnam. Likewise, an increase in the budget allocation for improving airport infrastructure and establishing new airports may support the growth of the aviation sector over the next decade.
Europe is estimated to exhibit a CAGR of 7.94% over the forecast period. The European market for in-flight catering services holds the second-largest market share. The German market for in-flight catering services held the largest market share, while the British market is the fastest-growing in the European region. The region has witnessed a rise in the number of legacy carriers entering the low-cost market, which is expected to increase demand for catering services on low-cost flights. The increasing willingness of travelers to spend money on purchasing healthy and organic meals and the collaboration between airlines and food professionals with real-world experience are also anticipated to generate significant growth opportunities in the coming years.
In addition, it is anticipated that the presence of major airlines such as Virgin Atlantic, British Airways, TUI Airways, Lufthansa, EasyJet UK, Eurowings, and Easyjet, which are expanding global connectivity by introducing new destinations, will result in new menus onboard the aircraft. British Airways announced an additional 13 new routes in 2021, of which 12 are from London and one from Germany. Such new routes will encourage airlines to introduce destination-specific meals.
The North American in-flight catering services market is anticipated to grow at the highest CAGR. IATA reports that although North American airlines' full-year passenger traffic decreased by 65.6% compared to 2019, the region still held the world's largest proportion of passenger traffic (RPK), accounting for approximately 32.6% of global RPKs. As passenger traffic increases in 2021, regional airlines will reintroduce pre-COVID-19-style transatlantic routes and in-flight menus. In addition, the competition in the inflight catering business is leading to the entry of several global brands to deal with the aviation industry's high quality and safety regulations. For instance, in November 2021, Newest First Catering began providing United Airlines catering services in Houston, Texas. Under the contract terms, the company provided catering and logistical services to 427 aircraft flying domestic and international routes. The company anticipates providing up to 500 flights with up to 15,000 meals per day. These aspects are anticipated to fuel the expansion of the North American region during the forecast period.
The United Arab Emirates is the leading Middle East and African revenue contributor. The four major airlines operating in the United Arab Emirates are Emirates, Etihad Airways (Etihad), Air Arabia, and Flydubai. Emirates is a state-owned flag carrier airline. It operates a fleet of 254 aircraft, with 195 aircraft on order as of February 2022. Emirates offers an extensive menu of savories as per the seating class. A constant focus on innovation marks the inflight catering market in the United Arab Emirates for enhancing productivity and product and service quality. In this regard, Emirates Flight Catering (EKFC) partnered with Winnow to introduce an advanced food waste management system with artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning that will allow the company to monitor and control food waste. The partnership is a part of the airline's commitment to minimize food waste by 35% across its central operations in Dubai. All these factors boost market growth.
The global inflight catering market is segmented by food type, flight type, aircraft seating class, catering type, and flight duration.
Based on food type, the global inflight catering market is bifurcated into meals, bakery and confectionery, beverages, and other food types.
The meals segment dominates the global market and is projected to exhibit a CAGR of 10.90% over the forecast period. The airlines serve gourmet meals, like bland meals, child meals, diabetic meals, fruit platter meals, gluten intolerant meals, and Hindu meals, among others, which are served with appetizers, soup, salad, entrée (chicken, beef, fish, or pasta), etc. During the COVID-19 pandemic, most airlines globally temporarily ceased providing food services onboard aircraft as a part of cost-cutting measures and lower the risk of contamination. During early pandemic months, the airlines have provided cold meals for international routes and no meal services for domestic services. However, as the aviation industry recovered from the pandemic, the airlines reintroduced hot meal services for domestic and international passengers.
Based on flight type, the global inflight catering market is segmented into full-service carriers, low-cost carriers, and other flight types.
The full-service carriers segment owns the highest market share and is estimated to exhibit a CAGR of 9.99% during the forecast period. Full-service carriers (FSC) are the airlines that offer passengers an extensive range of amenities, such as checked baggage, meals, beverages, inflight entertainment, and comforts like blankets and pillows in the ticket price. The FSC airlines are introducing new routes and inflight catering menus to cater to the expected growth in demand in the coming years. For instance, Vistara, FSC in India, introduced new inflight meals across cabins on its domestic network and resumed serving hot vegetarian meals (earlier replaced pre-packaged snacks) in economy class. Such introductions by the airlines are anticipated to propel the growth of the FSC segment during the forecast period.
Based on aircraft seating class, the global inflight catering market is divided into economy class, business class, and first class.
The economy class segment is the most significant contributor to the market and is predicted to exhibit a CAGR of 11.11% over the forecast period. The economy class seats yield the highest revenues for any airline, as their number is significantly higher than the other classes. The segment is also expected to dominate the market, as more airlines are likely to upgrade the meal offerings in this segment to meet the increasing demands of passengers. The growing trend of introducing premium economy seats by replacing business class seats by the airlines is also expected to propel the market's growth.
Based on catering type, the global inflight catering market is divided into retail onboard and classic catering.
The classic catering segment is the largest revenue contributor and is predicted to exhibit a CAGR of 8.90% over the forecast period. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, several airlines were forced to stop offering their hot meal offerings as part of the complimentary meals and started offering packaged food to avoid contamination. However, as the virus subsided, airlines resumed their hot meal service as complimentary. Full-service airlines, like Virgin Atlantic, British Airways, and Singapore Airlines, usually offer at least one hot meal, snacks, and drinks included in the ticket price on long-haul flights.
Based on flight duration, the global inflight catering market is divided into long haul and short haul.
The long-haul segment accounts for a large market share and is expected to exhibit a CAGR of 10.26% over the forecast period. The COVID-19 pandemic significantly impacted the long-haul demand, as countries remained closed and quarantine and mandatory testing rules were in place in 2020 and some parts in 2021. This resulted in a drop in passenger travel, reducing the demand for inflight catering on long-haul routes. Nevertheless, as countries reduce the testing and quarantine requirements with a drop in overall COVID-19 cases globally, several airlines are reporting a growing interest in long-haul travel.
For instance, in the United Kingdom, British Airways, Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd, and TUI AG reported surging interest in long-haul travel after the country scaled back coronavirus testing requirements. Such developments are expected to help the recovery of the revenues for the segment during the forecast period.