Produce Abounds On Cruise Ship Menus

Cruise Ship

Originally printed in the March 2018 issue of Produce Business.

“The volume is not like‭ ‬anything on land‭.‬”

A daily rum ration spiked with lime juice as a scurvy preventative is as close to fresh produce as many sailors got during months-long voyages in the 18th century. Fast-forward to the age of steam ships and recreational cruising, and fresh fruits and vegetables really got onboard. Indeed, grapes, apples, cabbages, green peas, lettuce, tomatoes and asparagus numbered in the thousands of pounds or pieces aboard the Titanic during its ill-fated maiden voyage in 1912, according to “History in Numbers” at titanicfacts.net.

Today, 25.8 million passengers cruise, with demand for this type of travel having increased 62 percent in the past decade (2005-2015), according to the Washington, DC-headquartered Cruise Lines International Association’s (CLIA) State of the Cruise Industry Outlook 2017. At the same time, there have never been more culinary options available onboard, such as vegetarian, vegan, dairy or low-cholesterol, lactose-free, gluten- or wheat-free, low-fat/no fat, diabetic, Kosher and Halal. What’s more, cruise lines now collaborate with chefs such as Guy Fieri, Nobuyuki ‘Nobu’ Matsuhisa, Thomas Keller and Geoffrey Zakarian to bring these celebrities’ concepts on board as alternatives to the main dining room. With this buffet of selections comes plenty of fresh produce.

“The number of menus depends on the vessel,” explains Colista James, senior director for food and beverage supply chain management and brand protection for Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd., based in Miami. “For the Escape, which has a guest capacity of 4,266, there are 20 different menus from the main dining room to restaurant concepts, and up to 30 menus if you count room service and special events.”

The supply chain of how fresh fruits and vegetables travel from land to sea is fascinating. It’s also instructive for produce suppliers. Consider that 26 new cruise ships were on order as of December 2016 and according to the CLIA report, Plus, half (48 percent) of non-cruisers expressed interests in taking an ocean cruise in the future. This signals a rising tide of demand for fresh produce to this market.

VOLUME AND VARIETY

“Cruise ships are small cities,” says Joe Lavi, vice president of Global Business Development at Salinas, CA-headquartered Produce Alliance, who spent 27 years in the procurement department of Carnival Cruise Lines prior to his present position. “The volume is not like anything on land; you are delivering enough produce to feed 4,000 to 6,000 people for seven days. Restaurants on cruise ships feed 100 percent of their guests, since the guest does not have the option of walking down the street to a restaurant.”

Chefs on the four 800- to 1,350-passenger ships in the Ipswich, UK-based Fred. Olsen cruise lines serve approximately 38,850 meals to guests and crew in a seven-day period. This does not include extra meals such as late-night suppers and afternoon tea. To do this, approximately 12.5 tons of fresh fruits and vegetables are provisioned, according to Thomas Rennesland, head of food and beverage.

More specifically, using Miami-headquartered Celebrity Cruises’ 2,850-passenger Equinox as a benchmark, the highest volume produce items consumed in a week are: watermelon (4,500-pounds), baking potatoes (4,400-pounds), pineapples (4,150-pounds), cantaloupe (3,900-pounds) and tomatoes (3,500-pounds).

“These numbers are consistent with the annualized consumption of the fleet, with honey-dew melon edging out tomatoes for the No. 5 spot when viewed from an annual fleetwide perspective,” says Mario Fuentes, manager of sourcing and commodity market analytics for the hotel, food and beverage procurement department.

Demand for organic fruits and vegetables is something that Nicholas Oldroyd, executive chef on Southampton, UK-based and Carnival Corporation-owned Cunard Line’s Queen Mary 2, which serves 15,500 meals daily, hears from guests. “Although we would prefer to use all organic, it would be impossible with the logistics and amount of produce we consume per voyage, which is actually 35 tons. At present we don’t use the word ‘organic’ on our menus, but some fruits and vegetables are.”

As for variety, “we get requests for dragon fruit, Cape gooseberries and Asian fruits, where in the past the most exotic fruit requests were peaches, nectarines and plums,” says Rich Dachman, vice president of produce at Denver-headquartered Sysco Corporation.

“While cruise ship dining often takes place far away from land, cruise lines like to be able to promote freshness and to the extent that items can be identified as local to a port of call or home port, this can be a positive.”

– Joe Lavi, Produce Alliance

Celebrity Cruises’ Fuentes agrees, citing the use of more than 250 varieties of fresh fruits, vegetables, herbs and even edible flowers across its global deployment. “We do supply some specialty items for use in shipboard restaurants or to support a local flavor while sailing internationally. These include hydroponically grown microgreens like Brocco Cress or Daikon Cress, edible flowers like Jasmine and Hibiscus, and an assortment of baby vegetables like Baby Candy Cane Beets.”

Suppliers often look to bring new and innovative items to the attention of their cruise line clients.

“Growers often come to us and suggest something new, in which case we will make sure a sample is sent to where it can best be tasted and tested by the cruise line chef,” says Produce Alliance’s Lavi. Another trend Lavi sees is locally grown produce.

“While cruise ship dining often takes place far away from land, cruise lines like to be able to promote freshness and to the extent that items can be identified as local to a port of call or home port, this can be a positive,” he says.

Cunard’s Oldroyd agrees. “We tend to use wording on the menu for fruits and vegetables that illustrates the region and seasonal aspect of the produce used.”

SOURCING‭ ‬&‭ ‬SPECS

Cruise ship companies rely on one or more provisioning companies to fill and deliver produce orders.

For Norwegian, which currently has 15 ships under the Norwegian, Oceana and Regent brands, with a 16th ship, Bliss, due to launch this May for the Alaskan and Caribbean market, it’s one company.

“This single point of contact, which has oversight and responsibility for all our distribution centers, is easier than for us to manage all the distribution centers nationwide. We give this company the responsibility for everything, from filling orders, following specs, choosing suppliers and adhering to food safety and quality to the delivery logistics,” says Norwegian’s James.

For Celebrity, with 13 ships, it’s typically two produce companies that serve vessels in a single port or region, each contracted to a group of produce items for which they have the best quality, price and service, says Fuentes. “Based on 2016 Annual Consumption, we purchased produce from 48 different suppliers globally. In addition, Celebrity sourced produce and other food items in more than 100 ports globally.”

Most cruise lines, especially if on a repeating itinerary such as weekly, 3-night/4-day or 4-night/5-day cruises and operating out of the same home port, are on contract and most are six months long, according to industry professionals. This helps to control budgets, lock in prices, secure availability and ensure reliably and responsibly sourced items are available in consistent supply, price, (other than Extreme Market Situations) and uninterrupted service level that is expected week in and week out.

Many of the main items sourced for cruise ships come from the bigger packers, because of their ability to provide consistent product and availability. However, there is an effort to partner with suppliers that employ sustainable practices, such as crop rotation, energy conservation, pest management, waste and water reduction, and recycling, says Produce Alliance’s Lavi. “We strive for contracts that will cover us and our distributors for the length of the contract with the cruise line, but we also partner with vendors who share our view of the importance of environmental stewardship. When we can, we may select local growers who can offer quality and/or price that may be attractive, and may offer some of the greener modes of delivery and a broader array of organic offerings that fit with our goals of promoting environmental responsibility within our industry. Sourcing locally may also extend shelf life for the cruise ship. Then, there are times when we must go to suppliers outside the United States due to lack of availability, items out of season, etc. So basically, we are always looking at all the available options.”

Cruise lines do plan for seasonal unpredictability on menus.

“We might not call out a specific ingredient in a dish on menus to allow flexibility and not having to reprint the menu if we don’t have to. For example, a Fresh Berry Shortcake may have strawberries or blueberries based on what is available and the best quality. Another example is that we’ll list ‘seasonal vegetables’ on the menu. This enables us to have the freshest product,” says Norwegian’s James.

As for specs, cruise ship chefs stipulate mostly whole or uncut product since shelf life is better, and on-board labor is available for the prep.

Yield is important, says Produce Alliance’s Lavi. “The cruise lines look for sizes in items such as apples, honeydew, cantaloupe that will ensure getting the perfect number of pieces or slices to maximize yield, and will also look good on the plate.”

A good sizing example is the specs for oranges by the Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines. “Two sizes of oranges will be sourced – one for juicing and one for serving,” says Rennesland.

With certain items, such as bananas, tomatoes and avocados, the delivery will be made up of different stages in the products’ life.

For example, Cunard’s Queen Mary 2 specs for bananas are in three stages: ripe which should be a vibrant yellow skin, no spots and firm; semi-ripe; and slightly ripe — or green for ripening during a longer voyage.

In grading, Grade A, Choice, or Export Grade in the United States, and the local equivalent in international ports, is typically sourced for fresh produce.

For certain products, says Celebrity’s Fuentes, “we will specifically ask for Grade B. For example, ships use a lot of Bell Peppers (640,000-pounds annually), but the peppers are never presented whole; instead, they are sliced or chopped as an ingredient in a dish. Because of this, we don’t need to pay premium for perfectly shaped peppers. Grade B product at a lower cost can serve the same culinary application.”

Specs that may differ from land-based restaurants are in display items for buffets, says Sysco’s Dachman. “For example, bananas or coconuts on the stalk or different decorative leaves and other tropical decorative items.”

Orders usually arrive five to nine days ahead of delivery date, explains Produce Alliance’s Lavi. “Items are either trucked in or flown, depending on how perishable they are, and lead time. Trucks get loaded the day before the ship’s loading day, and the truck will arrive at the port around 6 a.m., start off loading around 8 a.m., and will be done by 10 to 11 a.m. The ship usually will leave on its next voyage by 4 p.m. on loading/port day. If you miss the window, you better have a truck that floats, or find a way to recover in the next port.”

On arrival, all food transportation must hand over delivery logs for inspection, which includes starting temperature and full inventory of the delivery including the quantities, which need to be checked by our Chef de Cuisines before accepting, says Cunard’s Oldroyd. “Full HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points) procedures need to be in place.”

Vessels will typically store product for 1 week, although based on the specific itinerary they may be tasked to store product for up to 10 days.

“Whenever a vessel is expected to store for more than 10 days between provisioning, we will offer the vessel a ‘Top-Off’ at some point during their itinerary. This Top-Off enables vessels to pick up additional product for the more sensitive produce items such as herbs, lettuces, berries, mushrooms and bananas. Most other produce is durable and capable of storing for up to 14 days. This includes potatoes, carrots, onions, apples, and melons, which under the correct conditions can be kept fresh for weeks,” says Celebrity’s Fuentes.

Food and beverage items onboard are stored centrally in the provision area, which is overseen by the shipboard inventory manager.

More specifically, “We have two designated storage boxes for fresh produce, and they have a controlled temperature of 34 to 36 degrees Fahrenheit. The fresh fruit store measures 16- by 26-feet and can hold 12 tons. Our fresh veg store measures 26- to 32-feet and can hold up to 15 tons. We are fortunate that our storage areas have been built to carry provisions for extended periods of time for itineraries such as World Cruises,” says Fred. Olsen’s Rennesland.

ON THE MENU

Fresh fruits and vegetables are incorporated in shipboard meals in everything from appetizers to desserts. For example, there is a wide selection of fruits mainly served for breakfast, which are peeled, sliced and presented in the buffets aboard Cunard’s Queen Mary 2. The ship’s main restaurants serve plated fruit plates, and its Princess Grill and Queens Grill restaurants offer a more exotic variety with seasonal berries. In general fruit is served all day in all areas, and also in salads and desserts. As for vegetables, sautéed haricot vert with shallots and lardons of bacon, roasted celeriac macedoine and sautéed shitake mushrooms with carrot brunoise and Gratin Dauphinoise or sliced potatoes baked slowly in thyme and garlic cream with Gruyere cheese are examples of the minimum of three vegetables and one starch served with a single dinner entrée. Menus are refreshed throughout the year, says Oldroyd, using new products they source and new trends, that come available on the market.

One trend he’s seeing is that guests are requesting healthier ways of cooking for vegetables like steamed and grilled rather than regenerated in butter. “As a company, we are using more olive oil than butter,” says Oldroyd.

Other trends follow what’s happening in land-based foodservice operations.

“As more lines make the switch to independent restaurants on board, they will become trendier. For example, instead of ordering 10,000 pounds of Russet potatoes, they will order a mix of fingerling potatoes and purple potatoes, in addition to the Russets,” says Sysco’s Dachman. “Disney has an Italian restaurant where guests can pay a surcharge and experience a different menu every night. The chefs have more flexibility with these menus than the main dining room menu and as a result, we are seeing more trending items being utilized such as baby lettuces, more berries and requests for exotic fruits.”

In the next 12-18 months, Norwegian’s James sees food and wine pairing becoming more popular onboard as well as heightened interest in more ethnic cuisine. The company’s latest launch, the 4,000 guest Bliss, will feature French, Italian and Japanese restaurants.

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