CORONAVIRUS

Some people miss travel so much they are ordering airplane food

Lotus Biscoff Cookies are given as on-flight snacks by Delta. (Washington Post)
Lotus Biscoff Cookies are given as on-flight snacks by Delta. (Washington Post)

Imperfect Foods, an online surplus-stock grocery delivery company aimed at eliminating food waste, has begun is offering JetBlue Airline cheese and snack trays — $2.99 for three ounces of mixed cheeses, dried cherries and crackers.

Imperfect Foods CEO Philip Behn says the cheese and snack trays were an early casualty of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Almost two months ago, before it became a nationwide pandemic, this catering and airplane meal supplier said they saw a decline in economy and business-class seats,” he said. “This was one of our first COVID-19 food waste recovery opportunities. We could only take a fraction of what they had.”

Behn said his company has sold 40,000 cheese and snack trays.

“We call that ‘breaking bulk,’” Behn said. “We have stepped up with co-packers to try to repackage some of those products — it’s hard work and it’s slow, given the importance of food safety.”

Yet there are bright spots. Imperfect Foods is a budget-conscious company, so high-end products such as pineapples are usually too expensive to offer their customers.

Where do people eat pineapples? Hotels. And with hotels stalled, Imperfect Foods has been able to buy and offer them for a fair price.

It has redistributed popcorn kernels previously destined for movie theaters and broccoli florets usually reserved for restaurants. Since the beginning of March, Imperfect Foods has doubled the volume of food it was previously buying, the JetBlue snacks among many.

Julianna Bryan, communications specialist for JetBlue, said the airline has had to dramatically reduce its in-flight food and beverage service to minimize contact between customers and crew members.

“We have temporarily suspended the sales of buy-onboard products including our EatUp Snack Boxes, EatUp Café fresh food items, beer, wine and liquor,” she said.

JetBlue has donated leftover inventory of snacks to Feeding America and other food banks, as well as hospitals.

JetBlue has worked with its business partners to sell unused inventory, such as the cheese trays, at a heavily discounted price with the goal of moving it quickly and minimizing waste, Bryan said.

JetBlue is not the only airline to have to find new outlets for its in-flight overflow.

Delta has had to unload its Biscoff cookies — and it serves 80 million to 85 million of these spiced shortbread favorites each year.

At United, the Dutch stroopwafels have been piling up.

In addition to selling some of their excess, airlines have put donation programs in place. Southwest has donated more than $400,000 in snacks and other in-flight items to not-for-profit organizations and nearly 13 tractor-trailers full of groceries to 15 food banks that are a part of the Feeding America network.

Delta has donated 500,000 pounds of food around the world in the past six weeks. Front-line workers and hospitals get the Biscoff cookies along with coffee and other in-flight beverages, while other perishable food has gone to Feeding America’s partner agencies like Georgia Food & Resource Center and Missouri’s Carthage Crisis Center.

And United has donated 173,000 pounds of food to food banks and charities, pulling from airport lounges and catering kitchens. United volunteers have also processed more than 428,000 pounds of food and household goods for the Houston Food Bank.

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Our most important Coronavirus coverage is free to the public.

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All donations are tax-deductible.