As part of its £200 million investment into the Irish Sea market, Stena Line has launched a number of new food concepts for its luxury Superfast vessels
During 2010, Stena Line transported 15.1 million passengers, as well as 3.2 million vehicles and 1.6 million freight units. Clearly the company’s reputation as one of the world’s largest ferry operators is well gained. Based in Sweden, Stena Line operates internationally through Europe’s most comprehensive route network, which offers connections between eight countries, and 19 routes around Scandinavia and the UK.
On the Irish Sea, one of the most recent significant improvements to the route network came in December 2010 when Stena Line announced it was to acquire DFDS Liverpool to Belfast, and Heysham to Belfast routes for approximately £40 million. This purchase enabled Stena Line to dramatically progress its Irish Sea service by offering several different transportation alternatives between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and marks a key part of its ongoing investment into this market over the last ten years.
A year on and Stena Line has been working hard to integrate these routes into its current portfolio having gained the approval of the Competition Commission in June. This has brought the number of Stena Line routes on the Irish Sea to six. On November 25th, the company officially opened its new route between Belfast and Cairnryan, Scotland, which has been supported through a £200 million investment package, including new port and terminal facilities, and the replacement of three existing vessels with two superfast ferries. Known as the Stena Superfast VII and Stena Superfast VIII, the vessels have undergone major upgrade and refurbishment works in order to become the largest and most luxurious ferries operating in the Irish Sea.
Running exclusively between Belfast and Cairnryan, both vessels boast a crossing time of just two hours and 15 minutes, with 12 sailings per day. Paul Grant, route director Cairnryan- Belfast, describes the features of the new vessels: “The new vessels, which offer free Wi-Fi, have been designed to offer a unique range of facilities for the leisure and freight market. Both ships have been reconfigured to provide over five-metres deck height to ensure that freight vehicles of all sizes can be accommodated, and a dedicated truckers lounge provides drivers with a range of facilities including reclining chairs – a first on the Irish Sea.
“Leisure passengers can choose from a wide variety of onboard facilities including The Living Room – a dedicated TV and magazine relaxing lounge with Barista Coffee House serving fresh coffee, hot and cold snacks; The POD – a multi-sensory interactive experiences with iPads, Xboxes and surf stations; Taste – an all new food experience; and The Nordic Spa – with onboard Jacuzzi and sauna, which is another first for the Irish Sea,” he adds.
Offered as part of Stena Line’s Premium fare package, Stena Plus is an exclusive lounge for 150 premier guests offering a series of comfortable leather seating, including sofas and sofa chairs, across two levels to suit all requirements. Guests are invited to help themselves to a selection of complimentary coffees, speciality teas, soft drinks, juices, wines and snacks throughout their journey, with magazines and newspapers available. There is also an in-lounge waiter service with a premium menu choice of speciality seafood dishes and traditional favourites, enabling guests to order at their leisure.
Whether its breakfast, lunch or dinner, Stena Line can offer a superb selection of fresh and tasty meals at its all new quick food experience – Taste. This service also includes complimentary refills on tea and coffee. “Taste represents ‘Quick, Fresh and Tasty’ food designed to satisfy all palates and pockets at all times of the day from a wide range of breakfast products to light lunches and hearty dinners. Good value for money and a choice of quality products are at the heart of the concept,” highlights Paul.
He carries on: “When designing the menu for Taste onboard the new Superfast ships we conducted an extensive customer research programme to establish what our customers valued and wanted. As part of this programme, we conducted a one week ‘live test’ onboard followed up by 300 one-to-one interviews, as well as an online survey involving approximately 3000 customers. As you can see, we take our menus very seriously indeed as food is a very important aspect of the overall journey experience.” The vast majority of the fresh, chilled food products sold through Taste, Barista Coffee House and Stena Plus are all sourced locally in Northern Ireland though a Belfast based supplier – ‘Deli Lites’.
In its quest to offer the best possible service to its guests, this season Stena Line has teamed up with Annabel Karmel MBE, children’s nutritional expert and author, to create a selection of children’s dishes. Each recipe not only meets the nutritional targets for children over four, but are also delicious withoptions ranging from fruity chicken curry and fish pie to spaghetti Bolognese and chocolate cake.
As one end of this route, in 2010 Stena Line announced its intention to invest approximately £80 million into a new ferry port facility at Loch Ryan, just two miles north of Cairnryan. These investments have continued to be made in the midst of a very challenging economic environment. Coupled with this is the rising price of fuel, which is not only a major cost to Stena Line’s business, but also to its customers across the freight and leisure markets.
Whilst it may not be plain sailing ahead, with the recent completion of this £200 million investment into the Irish Sea routes the company remains optimistic about the future and the potential to grow its business in the year ahead. “In particular the introduction of our two new Superfast vessels gives us greater opportunities in the freight market as we are capable of carrying all types of freight vehicles,” says Paul.
“We have increased our capacity on the route and are confident that the market will respond positively to the investments we have made. We believe that the combination of a new port, new ships and a new route will give us the competitive edge in 2012 and beyond. On a wider level Stena Line is currently deploying a three-year strategic plan under the banner Actions for Growth. The company has a clear strategy, and as has been demonstrated on the Irish Sea, we’re leading the way in ferry travel,” he concludes.