Calmac – On board with healthy Scottish food

12 April 2019

Calmac Ferries are to be applauded for their efforts in championing healthy Scottish produce on board their fleet of vessels, of which the majority hold the healthyliving awards and the Taste Our Best Award, enabling their customers to eat both healthier choices and local produce.

Calmac Ferries provide lifeline and tourist ferry services to the Islands and communities around the west coast of Scotland. They operate from Ardrossan in the South West and as far as Ullapool in the upper North West of Scotland.

Their fleet of 14 major vessels, all offering food and retail services onboard, carried in excess of 3.5m passengers in 2017.The outlets and services vary by vessel size however most ships have a Mariners restaurant onboard which is where the majority of the food service is focused. The restaurants are buffet service style with menus based around hearty, crowd pleasing dishes focused on utilising Scottish ingredients.

Gordon Smith, Retail Development Manager at Calmac Ferries is involved in menu planning and development of the onboard food offering and spoke to us about Calmac’s commitment to the two awards and what it took to achieve them.

Why did Calmac get want to achieve the healthyliving award and Taste Our Best?

Shipping is quite a traditional industry and we could see that a fair proportion of the cooking was based around traditional techniques and methods. Given the Scottish Government’s commitment to improve obesity rates we felt that there was a part that we could play in helping to change how people viewed and looked at healthier diets. Also, as all our crew eat and live onboard, any such improvement in diet and cooking practices could also have a tangible effect on the health and wellbeing of our workforce which can only be good for everyone.

Calmac sails to some stunning destinations in Scotland and as such we are uniquely placed to be able to appreciate and understand the depth and breadth of great quality produce that Scotland has to offer. We felt that it was, therefore, a natural progression to be in a position to celebrate and champion not only local island produce but also the produce across Scotland as a whole.

Who has been involved to successfully achieve both accreditations?

There were many other people helping to make both achievements a reality. In regards the healthyliving award the on-board catering teams were especially important, without their buy in and support then there was a real chance that we would not have succeeded. The shore based On-board Sales team played an integral part in gaining Taste Our Best as they liaised with suppliers and distributers in getting the Scottish produce we needed.

What difference do you think holding these accreditation has made?

The healthyliving award has helped change the way we cook and prepare meals. We consider cooking methods now as an integral part of any dish development. This opens up new possibilities for the kind of food we can cook and serve to our passengers.

The Taste Our Best award helps the company demonstrate its commitment to helping and supporting the communities we serve. It is also an excellent showcase for a lot of the great produce Scotland has to offer. In conjunction with the healthyliving award our focus remains on cooking the best Scottish produce in line with healthy production guidelines. This really helps showcase the produce at its best.

Were there any challenges specific to achieving both accreditations together?

Healthyliving award

The style, size and age of the ships in our fleet are varied. As such all our galleys are different and somewhat unique. This causes differences in what type, size and capacity of cooking equipment is available and as such there were real challenges in achieving consistency of cookery method across the fleet. Where one vessel had enough oven space to oven cook most food another ship would not. To overcome this we had to give a fair amount of consideration to each and every menu item to make sure that we could achieve our goals.

This continues to be a challenge for us as when developing a new dish we need to be constantly mindful of what the vessels can achieve given space and equipment.

Taste Our Best

We were lucky as we have a good wholesale supplier who works with us in finding suitable Scottish products. It can be frustrating when there is a product that you would like to use but does not meet the healthyliving guidelines. On the whole though we did not find it too difficult to achieve both awards side by side as Scotland has so many great products that there was always an alternative if needed. Sometimes simply asking your suppliers for a different spec of product can be the easiest way.

What do you need to do differently now?

We think differently. You have to consider the awards at the start of any menu changes and make any changes based on these. Before the awards we would start with an idea or see a product that we liked and then simply come up with a dish based on the idea or product. Cooking method was not something that would hinder us either as we could work round it.

Now we work from the start by keeping the criteria in mind all the time. You have to be a bit more focused with your ingredient choice as it needs to fit the overall criteria. It makes the development a lot more structured as there are always the overarching award rules that help guide decisions each step of the way.

What’s next?

We run a menu development exercise every year. Sometimes we change a lot and sometimes very little. Whatever we do change though we consider both the healthyliving award and Taste Our Best from the outset. This year we are focusing on presentation and service as we feel that in the interim this year, we have achieved a good balance on the menu and are happy to bed this in for a while longer. Having said this though we always end up making a few tweaks here and there…

What do your customers say?

We get a lot of good feedback from customers. We cook all our food fresh and in small batches to make sure that the quality is always where we want it to be. Customers are always very complimentary about the use of Scottish produce and as we see the trend in specific diets growing we are also finding that we are much better equipped in terms of the knowledge and skills required to be able to cater for these. Having the healthyliving award running side by side with Taste Our Best simply provides the best of both worlds.