How to supply for airlines: Advice from the expert at Retail inMotion

Retail inMotion

Retail for airlines


The number of passengers in the air has tripled over the past 10 years, according to the International Civil Aviation Organization, mounting up to 4.4 billion airline passengers in 2018. This dramatic increase is mostly due to the many new players on the market offering more direct lines and lower costs. This number is only expected to rise in the upcoming years.

Stakeholders in food and drink have been keeping a close eye on the booming airline industry because it’s become an impressive opportunity for suppliers as well. The airline food and drinks industry hit a total of $13 billion in 2019 with an 8% annual growth since 2014. However, even though there is great potential, meeting the standards and requirements of the industry can be challenging.

Advice from the expert

To find out more about supplying for airlines, we asked expert, Aoife Ryan, supplier manager for Retail inMotion. Retail inMotion is a sourcing company for industry-leading airlines. They work with companies like American Airlines, Eurowings, Ryanair, Icelandair, Aer Lingus and Air Asia. Retail inMotion manages every aspect of onboard retail solutions from food and drinks to duty free products, as well as training, technology and support to help airlines effectively sell and market their products.

Ryan, has the challenge of selecting the best food and drink product brands that will be offered to their customer airlines. Ryan looks for main characteristics when purchasing: recognizable brand, small & light weight, lightly packaged, great shelf life, no air and flavorful. Here’s why:

Recognizable brand

Ryan explained, “Airline companies and flight attendants have little time to try to sell a new brand or increase brand awareness, that’s why it’s important that people already know the brand and like them.” This doesn’t mean that brands need to be discouraged if they aren’t Lay’s or Coca-Cola, but it does mean that brands will have better luck with airlines that are based in their country or area.

Small & light weight

It’s not hard to believe that airlines prefer small products because they just don’t have a lot of space. The real shocker is how much the weight of food products cost in fuel. The cost of a 12-oz can on one plane over a year is $26 in fuel. These costs add up; Delta claims they saved $250,000 in one year by shaving off an ounce from their steaks.

Lightly packaged

Lightly packaged products help in limiting weight, but they also reduce waste. On average, airline passengers create 3 pounds of waste per passenger per flight. “Airlines already have so much to manage, extra package waste is one thing that airlines are really starting to try to avoid,” stated Ryan.

Great shelf life

Along with reduced packaging, an extended shelf life also helps airlines reduce waste and increases their likelihood of purchasing. Being able to keep a product long enough to ensure it will be consumed is a clear value for airlines. They also have limited space for refrigeration so any non-refrigerated food is a plus.

No air

No one wants to see their pretzel bag at the brink of explosion. Even though aircraft cabins are pressurized, they still experience air pressure levels equivalent to 1800–2400 meters outside. Ryan stated that suppliers must be able to package their products with little to no air inside to avoid expansion.


Airlines are looking for products with great quality and flavors. According to one study, your ability to pick up sweet tastes drops by 15-20% and your perception of saltiness drops by 20-30% percent at high altitude. This creates an extra challenge for airlines to wow their customers with their food and drink ranges. Any supplier going above and beyond in flavor could have an advantage.

The challenge of Retail inMotion

Ryan shared her challenge with us in finding proper suppliers: “We want nothing less than perfection for our customer airlines, and as you can imagine, it can be difficult to find new brands that can meet all of these requirements.”

Ryan travels all over the world to search out products for her customers at trade shows and at the Wabel Summit. Wabel puts buyers in contact with compatible suppliers for 30-minute qualified B2B meetings to start a potential partnerships.

“Wabel has been a much more pleasant experience than a trade show. I don’t have to walk all over the place to find one supplier or fight for space to talk to the wrong person. With Wabel, I’m able to get in contact with the best suppliers in the best way possible.”

Aoife Shortt Ryan, Supplier Manager at Retail inMotion

If you are a supplier interested in supplying for airlines or Retail inMotion, contact us for more information.