Mine’s a passion fruit martini’

21 August, 2017

"I’ll have a couple of passion fruit Martinis, love. Actually, make that four."

It’s 7.30 in the morning on a packed holiday charter flight to Cyprus and the inflight trolley service is doing a roaring business. While caffeine is what I need to stay awake after a long drive to the airport, the lads crammed in the seats behind me bound for Ayia Napa are determined to get into the holiday spirit.

Unsurprisingly, it turns out to be a long and sometimes rowdy start to my holiday. I am intrigued that a group of strapping twentysomethings are opting for a 25cl RTS cocktail in a can at £4 a pop over a cheaper can of beer. It’s a sign of how mainstream cocktail culture has changed and what opportunities there clearly are for airlines to get holiday-bound passengers to trade up in alcoholic drinks.

The Passion Fruit Martini, it transpires, comes from Tails Cocktails, a UK-based company started by entrepreneur Nick Wall in 2008. It recently gained listings with charter airlines Monarch and Thomas Cook for two of its 8% abv premixed craft cocktails— Mojito and Passion Fruit Martini. The company has also worked with Dutch flag carrier KLM to create a bespoke onboard cocktail. The Flying Dutchman is a blend of gin, blackberry liqueur and lemon juice and is available to business class passengers.

“The pre-mixed cocktail category is perceived as cheap and poor quality, but we’ve changed that,” Andrew Notcutt, Tails Cocktails general manager, tells me later during a phone interview. “We’ve got a good NPD process and are able to produce high-quality craft cocktails.

“To have a high-quality cocktail onboard your flight makes your holiday more fun,” he adds. “It’s more of a fun experience than just the usual one spirit and one mixer [served onboard]. Both cans are selling very well. We like to think we are getting the holiday started on the plane.”

If my holiday flight was anything to by, the typical inflight trolley service still does a pretty good business. Along with those RTS cocktails, plenty of mini bottles of prosecco and wine were being sold even at such an early time of day. The airline has a captive audience eager to get into the holiday mood. What was disappointing, however, was to see so few people buy anything from the inflight shopping catalogue.

With the odd exception, the inflight retail sector continues to struggle. Several major airlines in the US have pulled their duty free programmes completely. The widespread perception is that it is becoming an old-fashioned way of shopping for the millennial traveller. Indeed, a recent industry report forecast that airline duty free/travel retail sales are set to suffer an annual decline of 1.5% between 2016 and 2025.

Many in the industry are now convinced the long-term future of the sector lies in the digital realm as more airlines offer passengers seatback entertainment and onboard wifi. With most passengers carrying mobile devices, the idea is that airlines can become online retailers, offering relevant products and services to what is a captive audience.

It’s a great idea in theory, but comparatively few airlines worldwide currently offer free wifi and the cost to get online with some carriers can be exorbitant. Download speeds are often poor and the biggest European low-cost airline, Ryanair, is reluctant to invest in the expensive technology.

I’ve no doubt fast (and let’s hope affordable) onboard internet access will come eventually. Let’s hope that when it does, the airlines can quickly find a way of using it to unlock the potential inflight retail still has. Then it might just be time for the inflight duty free trolley – the least glamorous retail point of sale in history – to retire forever.

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