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BLOG: F&B Sustainability at Sea a Work in Progress

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David Yeskel, with over 25 years of experience covering the cruise industry, shares his thoughts on the sustainability initiatives he's experienced on board several recent sailings.

Cruise industry F&B sustainability programs (incorporating both front- and back-of-house measures) are making a difference that isn't always obvious in what is often considered one of the travel industry's most environmentally-challenged sectors.  At the recent Tourism Cares Summit in Victoria, B.C., I observed hotel chain reps proudly touting the success of their recent sustainability efforts, while the cruise sector’s progress was barely mentioned.  Part of that disconnect is due to the relative opacity/obscurity of galley initiatives, which actually deserve more notice.   

But what was made abundantly clear at that conference was that responsible environmental stewardship is directly proportional to business success, since the industry’s cutting-edge protocols aren’t just environmentally beneficial; they’re also factoring into satisfying guest expectations re: verifiable sustainability vs. merely paying lip service to the concept, aka “greenwashing.”  

Industry-wide use of biodigesters is helping to reduce the environmental impact of food waste, while front-of-house programs like individually-plated dishes on buffets, smaller portion sizes and recently-imposed surcharges for 3rd and 4th entrees ordered in main dining rooms all aim to make a difference.  Yet despite those and other measures, organic waste on cruise ships still exponentially dwarfs that of land-based resorts, principally due to scale. 

So now that the easy, low-hanging fruit like single-use plastics have largely been eliminated aboard, here’s what some leading industry players have moved on to in the suddenly hyper-topical, F&B sustainability ecosphere. 

Beneficial Microorganisms Feasting at Carnival 

Due to megaship realities, no segment of the industry confronts food waste challenges on a scale even close to mass-market cruise lines, where leftovers from 8,000 - 9,000 humans (guests + crew aboard the industry’s largest vessels) present enormous logistical hurdles.  But the COVID-19 operational pause gave Carnival Cruise Line the opportunity to install over 200 biodigesters across the company’s 24 ships.  Using beneficial microorganisms (helpful bacteria) - along with good friends oxygen and warm water - the units convert food waste at an accelerated pace:  up to 142,000 pounds of food per week, per vessel.  The process ultimately emits a fine, silt-like material which is subsequently released at sea. 

Celebrity Experimenting With Pelletizer 

Despite supply chain disruptions over the past 3 years, Royal Caribbean Group is committed to getting back on track with sustainable sourcing of F&B products across its three North American-facing brands (Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity Cruises and Silversea Cruises).  The company aims to source 90% of wild-caught seafood from Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certified fisheries and 75% of farm-raised seafood from Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) certified fisheries. 

Royal also believes that its goal of acquiring a 100% cage-free egg supply by 2025 is attainable, along with a similar target of 100% gestation-crate-free pork. 

The company is also experimenting with novel waste management solutions, like a pelletizer used aboard Celebrity Apex that converts paper and plastic to fuel pellets for offloading at port.  

Baked-in Recycling From Galley to Bar on NCL 

In 2019, Norwegian Cruise Line became the first major cruise line to eliminate single-use plastic bottles, introducing its own line of water in paper cartons, aptly branded “Flow Water.”  Since then, the cartons have become ubiquitous aboard NCL’s ships.  

But how about leftover banana peels, watermelon rinds and day-old croissants - in your cocktail? Digging into the details of Norwegian Prima’s groundbreaking, zero-waste cocktail lounge, the Metropolitan Bar, isn’t as unappetizing as it may sound.  Instead, it’s a fascinating deep-dive into what Norwegian calls the first sustainable bar program in the industry. The Croissant Mai Tai turns almond croissants into syrup, while the Watermelon Twist uses watermelon rinds blended with sugar and strained, before being mixed with spirits produced with renewable energy, of course.  And while the Metropolitan’s stated, sustainable mission may not yet be making a serious dent in our otherwise-wasteful imbibing habits, it does show that there’s hope for us yet, while providing a reason not to devour that last croissant - at least in its natural state.  

NCL Croissant Mai Tai  NCL Watermelon Twist

Rudi Sodamin Goes “Wild for Alaska Seafood” at Princess 

After being tabbed as Head of Culinary Arts at Princess - while also serving as HAL’s Master Chef - the talented and apparently tireless Rudi Sodamin dove right into the challenge of creating an immersive, destination-dining experience for “The Love Boat” line’s 6 ships sailing in Alaska this summer.  The “Wild for Alaska Seafood” program will feature 30 distinctive Alaska seafood dishes that will appear on menus in main dining rooms and select specialty restaurants. 

The program was developed in partnership with three local firms (Pacific Seafood, Alaska Seafood and Alaska Leader Seafood) that all share a commitment to environmentally-responsible practices in sustainable fisheries.  Meghan Rider of the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute notes that “In choosing Alaskan seafood, Princess is not only choosing a world-class product for their guests, they’re also supporting the thousands of harvesters and the diverse coastal communities that make up the world-leading sustainable fisheries of Alaska.” 

Princess Alaskian Seafood Appetizer

To-Go Stays Right Here on Virgin 

With their start of full operations not occurring until late 2021, industry disruptor Virgin Voyages did have the benefit of hindsight - and the knowledge of their peers’ experience in F&B sustainability efforts - in establishing a baseline performance standard.  Thus, they didn’t have to retool to eliminate single-use plastics; those were never an option from the start. 

But the additional F&B protocols that Virgin has layered on top of the aforementioned steps are more intriguing - and innovative.  In place of the iconic cruise ship buffet is The Galley - essentially an upscale food court with 7 individual stations (salads, American diner, Mexican, bakery, sushi, etc.) where all dishes are prepared to order, significantly reducing waste.  In addition, cold grab-and-go selections here are displayed in reusable clamshells, while the food delivery service operation, aka “ShipEats,” employs ingeniously-designed, stackable and compartmentalized containers, all delivered in a sturdy bag that then unfolds like a puzzle - with virtually no disposable components.  

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