San Francisco Int'l Takes Healthy Concessions Beyond California Dreamin'

Rebecca Douglas
Published in: 

It's one thing for airports to encourage tenants to promote healthy practices; it's another to insist on it. San Francisco International Airport (SFO) is straddling that line with its new Terminal 2 concessions program.

Facts & Figures

Project: New Concessions Program

Location: San Francisco International Airport Terminal 2

Focus: Vendors must comply with 16-point health and environmental policy

Size: 30,000 sq. ft. of retail and food/beverage space

Project Architect: Gensler

Unique Element: Post-security hydration stations that encourage travelers to refill reusable bottles.

New food and beverage offerings will officially debut in the first or second quarter of 2011, when the newly renovated domestic terminal re-opens after more than a decade of dormancy and $383 million of renovation. The program, however, already set new high-water marks for both health and environmental consciousness when spaces were leased earlier this spring.

In order to conduct business at the airport, concessionaires had to comply with the airport's "Sustainable 16" policy. Five elements, including appropriate portion sizes and displays that promote healthy eating and environmental stewardship, are non-negotiable requirements. Others, such as the use of biodegradable containers and hormone-free meat, are strongly encouraged.

"We realize that you can't always get fresh local produce twelve months a year, even here in California," explains associate deputy airport director Cheryl Nashir. "So some of the points are to be followed to the greatest extent possible."

See box on page 29 for full lists of SFO's requirements and fervent suggestions.

"The overall goal," says Nashir, "is to promote healthy food practices - for humans and the planet."

Even though SFO's Sustainable 16 list added new hoops for vendors to jump through, operators lined up for the chance to jump. Response to various requests for proposals issued last August and September was "excellent" reports Nashir. "We were so pleased to encounter no opposition to the new requirements - none," she marvels. "No one had a problem with any of it."

Many of the respondents, she notes, are incumbent vendors from elsewhere in the airport. The vast majority are also local companies already accustomed to the health-conscious, environmentally aware Northern Californian market. Nine of the terminal's 12 food and beverage outlets are operated by local businesses or are new iterations of local concepts.

"They know what it takes to do business at the airport, and it's often no different than what they do at their (non-airport) storefronts," she explains. "Many, for instance, already serve organic free-trade coffee."

A La Carte Allure

Nashir is especially enthused about Napa Farms Market, a group of different types of concessions presented in a Dean & Delucas style format. "It will feature the best of everything in one central place," she explains. "There will be a cheese counter, a bakery, a wine bar and possibly even fresh fruit and vegetables from local growers. Travelers will be able to assemble their own gourmet picnics to take with them on the airplane."

Ferry Building Marketplace (a local staple for health-conscious home chefs) and Vino Volo wine bar are already on board; discussions with celebrity chef Tyler Florence and several local artisan cheese and chocolate makers are in the works. "It will be an exciting, upscale way to shop," she predicts.

Nashir also has high expectations for The Plant Café Organic, a counter service location that will feature vegan, organic and gluten-free selections as well as Pinkberry frozen yogurt and fresh fruit.

Other counter options will include sushi and noodles from Wakaba, Mexican fare at Andalé and two locations of Peet's Coffee & Tea, which hand-roasts its own beans.

An emphasis on options that are high quality but quick, says Nashir, should make the overall food and beverage mix a hit with travelers.

"We don't want to use the word 'slow' to describe anything in the airport, but it's our antithesis to fast food," she explains.

The table service restaurant, The Grill by Lark Creek, will highlight health-conscious Northern Californian dishes.

No Food Court?!

Designers from Gensler eschewed the ever-popular food court arrangement in favor of a more relaxed approach. "It can be a bit overwhelming," explains Gensler principal Jeff Henry. "You walk in and you're surrounded by a circle of Conestoga wagons with food options. We went for a more café-like environment with smaller, decentralized concessions."

Vendors, tables and club-style seating are interspersed throughout the "departures lounge" area to promote a less-hectic, more comfortable atmosphere. A floor-to-ceiling glass curtain wall allows passengers to stay visually connected with the ramp while ordering and eating.

"We didn't want people to have to grab some food, rush to their gate and eat it on their laps," notes senior design associate Melissa Mizell. "Being able to see the gates and airplanes from the concessions really helps them relax."

Gensler also increased the number of flight information displays in the area to further reinforce the no-need-to-fret vibe. Designers didn't want passengers who are anxious about flight delays or gate changes to have to search for updates.


Human Watering Hole

With the entire Terminal 2 project seeking gold-level certification from the Green Building Council, sustainable design elements figure prominently into the concession areas.

The most visible are two "hydration stations" - public spigots where travelers and employees can fill their re-usable containers for free.

From an architectural standpoint, the stations are "nothing unusual," points out Henry. "It's just standard drain and water lines with a plumbing conveyance," he describes.

Philosophically, however, the stations represent a dramatic departure from business as usual at U.S. airports.

"We thought it was important to provide fresh, local California water that hasn't been packaged in plastic and shipped across the country," explains Nashir. "By stressing the advantages of drinking from reusable bottles or cups that are easy to compost, we're taking the opportunity to educate the public. About 70% of our passengers are visitors to the area, and we want to spread the environmental awareness we're known for."

Much to Nashir's surprise, dampening the profit potential of bottled water sales didn't draw complaints from concessionaires. Their understanding and acceptance may be attributed to the overall business climate at the airport. According to the latest available figures, SFO passengers spent an average of $11.30 per visit between July 2009 and March 2010. Of that amount, $6.76 was spent on food and drinks, which ranks among the highest per-passenger figures in the country.

Gensler found similar cooperation on the design front. "We wanted continuity throughout the Terminal 2 project, so we made lots of presentations, reviewed visuals and had onsite meetings," explains Henry. "Tenants were very acquiescent in order to achieve an overall cohesive look. It's such a great environment to be in, they're willing to do things differently to be there."

SFO's Sustainable 16

Tenants must use or feature:

1. Displays that promote healthful eating and good environmental stewardship

2. Visible food preparation areas

3. Portion sizes that support good health

4. Appropriate children's items and portions

5. Low- or no-phosphate detergents

To the very greatest extent possible, tenants must use:

6. Organic agricultural products from the Northern California region

7. Agricultural products that have not been genetically modified

8. Organic or all-natural meat from animals treated humanely and without hormones or antibiotics

9. rBST-free cheese, milk, yogurt and butter

10. Cage-free, antibiotic-free eggs

11. Sustainable seafood

12. Non-hydrogenated oils

13. Fairly traded organic coffee

14. Bottled water sold in re-useable containers; sparkling and flavored waters from local vendors

15. Products without artificial colors and flavors

16. Un-bleached paper products; biodegradable containers and utensils for "to go" orders

More Green

Educational signs and displays will chronicle the airport's various environmental endeavors. Information about water conservation will appear at the hydration stations, and each food and beverage vendor will present narratives about steps it's taking to promote healthy living and environmental caution.

"We want to help the traveling public understand that they have the power to make change happen through their good choices," explains Mizell.

In early August, Gensler was working with food and beverage vendor to explain its part in the airport's overall efforts.

"We want them to go beyond talking about standard contributions like using low-VOC paints and building materials with high-recycled content," notes Henry. "We want them to describe what's unique to them, like buying local produce or using all organic ingredients. They're doing great things regarding ingredient procurement and food preparation; we want to help tell passengers about it."

A new strategy for air circulation will be less tangible to passengers than the educational display or new recycling and compost containers, but it is expected to make a significant contribution to the terminal's energy efficiency. A displacement ventilation system, explains Henry, allows air to "seep up" from the walls. "It takes far less power to circulate the air when it enters from below eye level, and it's not buffeting like a fan," he explains.

Of all the sustainable design features infused throughout the Terminal 2 project, the hydration stations are one of Mizell's favorites. "They're not just a materials and building issue," she explains. "They convey a sense that we're all in this together; that we can all make a difference."

Nashir considers the hydration stations just one more change in the continually evolving airport concessions environment. "Airports started with gift shops and snack bars, then moved to mall-style food courts," she chronicles. "These days, the changes are more nuanced. Not every airport has to look the same. (At SFO,) we're moving to higher quality food, with more local options. But we, as an industry, still haven't won the perception battle about 'airport food' - despite waging war against it for about 15 years."

The next concessions frontier, she predicts, will be more services and amenities, as evidenced by the XpresSpa location already booked into Terminal 2. "Airport visitors are not a captive audience," she warns. "The customer-service end is very important."


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