Stay Cool, Caviar: How Airlines Procure One of the World’s Most Expensive Foods


Image: Marcelo Cáceres

APEX Insight: Transporting caviar at the right temperature in varying conditions is a costly endeavor – but one airline is willing to maintain its first-class reputation.

Caviar – glossy black pearls with the subtle saltiness of the sea, usually served in a little mound with a piece of buttered toast or atop another dish – is one of the most expensive foods in the world. It’s considered even more exquisite when served in flight because of the journey it endured to get on an airplane.

Be that as it may, Lufthansa, the world’s largest caviar customer, considers the delicacy intrinsic to its first-class long-haul experience. Procuring it is no easy feat, the airline’s CEO, Carsten Spohr, told the Globe and Mail. “The further up the class of service, the more we invest per passenger,” he said. “Caviar service on every flight in Lufthansa first-class is difficult for us to get.”

“Caviar service on every flight in Lufthansa first-class is difficult for us to get.” – Carsten Spohr, Lufthansa 

Here’s the hard part: Sturgeon roe can only be kept between 28 and 39 degrees Fahrenheit. Since the only preservation of fresh caviar is a bit of salt in an airtight container, the freshness of the roe relies on artificial ice to stay cool – even through prolonged airline-catering red tape. “The problem is when you cross the border,” Sergio Segura, deputy general director of Innocentro’s aerospace division, says. “The time in customs can be anywhere up to 24 hours.” Segura’s even heard of a trolley that was held for 36 hours over a product traceability investigation.

Because the conditions of caviar cannot be guaranteed during transportation, LSG Sky Chefs uses time-temperature indicators (TTIs) to track the temperature of the caviar. “The TTI indicates when the caviar shall not be served anymore,” Josefine Corsten, senior vice-president, Corporate Communications and Marketing at LSG Sky Chefs, says. 

Innocentro estimates that airlines lose millions each year in spoiled caviar, given the product’s price tag of $35,000 per kilogram. So, the company is developing a transport case specifically for caviar that can stay cool longer than the conventional trolley “icebox” for commercial airlines. 

Using a composite material with thermal and structural properties, the design enables a pre-chilled container to stay cool through the natural convection of the trapped air for 12 hours – Innocentro has tested this successfully – but the goal is to reach 24 hours without the aid of cooling agents.

“Caviar is our target market, but it is not designed only for caviar,” Segura says. “It can be used with any perishable product.”  

“Stay Cool, Caviar” was originally published in the 8.3 June/July issue of APEX Experience magazine.