Catering Scotland

Offshore Uncovered

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Offshore Uncovered

October 21
20:07 2013
Offshore Uncovered

Like many other industries, offshore exploration has changed a lot in recent years. As Shell and BP have divested, the traditional model of large, operator-based contracts has in part given way to an increased number of small- to medium-sized operators. New entrants from the UK, US and Canada have entered the sector, and with them have come different demands for the workers on the platforms. Because of the specialist knowledge needed to operate a unit in such a potentially hostile environment, the market has always been the preserve of caterers who have the expertise, equipment and resources to deal with the unique demands of coordinating a contract hundreds of miles away from dry land.
However, with a total worth of around £150m per year in the UK alone, there’s a lot to play for in the offshore catering market, and one operator in particular knows the rules well…
Catering in Scotland meets the management from ESS Support Services Worldwide, and examines what the industry is doing for clients and operators the current economic climate…

2009 has seen has a new senior management team in place at ESS in the shape of Alain Morize, Managing Director and Business Development Director John Wigglesworth. They know the catering and oil and gas market and arrive with the necessary enthusiasm and know-how to take ESS to its next stage of development as a world-class offshore catering provider.

‘There has been a marked increase in caterer-led services on board rigs and drilling vessels in the North Sea in recent years,’ says John Wigglesworth. ‘Nowadays, pretty much everything that doesn’t pertain to pumping or drilling is taken care of by a dedicated team of skilled and safety-aware outsourced staff, relieving resources and freeing up time for the core crew to concentrate on their core activities.
‘The catering and hotel sector has adapted to this change by developing new relationships and contractual arrangements. The focus of the last few years has been on developing the quality of the food service offshore and the range of services as a key aspect of morale and welfare of the workers on board the platforms’.

Ronnie Kelman, Operations Performance Manager for ESS, believes that offshore catering is constantly evolving in response to consumer and market trends: ‘As the high street has evolved to offer tastes and flavours from all over the globe, so the offshore food market has followed suit. ESS has been at the forefront of these changes, our team of development chefs ensuring we provide a varied and healthy bespoke food offering which exceeds the expectations of a wide range of customers. The offshore attitude to food in particular has changed in terms of expectation; people are more sophisticated and expect to find items they would buy in supermarkets, delis, etc.’

Alain Morize, Managing Director of ESS, has noticed a correlation between the rising cost of food and raw materials in recent years, and the food budgets that clients have allocated during the tender process: ‘The supply chain has, to an extent, driven the meal choices provided by the client,’ he says. This is the nature of the industry during a period of high oil price.
‘However, 2009 presents new challenges, as the oil price drops to its lowest level in two years and the cost of production increases to a level that makes exploration and production in the North Sea less viable for some operators. During this downturn, we will continue to focus on maintaining high standards and on offering scenarios that enable us to support our clients’ reduce costs.’

Alain is confident about ESS’s position during the current economic turmoil: ‘Our clients do not need to be worrying about the credit strength of their suppliers when looking at costs,’ he says. ‘Our size, resources and financial strength are key USPs, and our customers know that we can be flexible with the cost of delivery without impacting on our ability to deliver.’

Meanwhile, ESS have been focussing on the training and development of their chef team to ensure consistency of delivery across all units: ‘The variety and quality of the food offshore has now reached the levels of the best catering units onshore,’ adds Tom Clarke, Operations Performance Manager for ESS.

The range of food on board ESS-operated contracts is also a source of pride for the team: ‘The choice we offer is unrivalled,’ adds Ronnie. ‘We have a 35-day menu cycle, which is the widest range of food choice on a daily basis compared to any other industry.
‘Healthy eating has become a big part of the menu evolution, but choice is still the key aspect. The offshore workforce requires a high-energy diet that is one third higher than that of the average onshore workforce. Healthy eating inevitably has a different context offshore and the emphasis is on ensuring an appropriate nutritional balance is offered. That said, although we do of course offer chips at meal times, they are not on the menu perhaps as frequently as they would have been a few years ago. Instead there are alternatives, such as a variety of potato dishes, salad bowls and roasted vegetables, all with an assortment of dressings to suit the individual’s taste.’

ESS were rewarded for their efforts last year when they scooped gold and silver medals at the Culinary Olympics in Germany. Overall, Compass Group won more than 20 medals in total.

As it happens, ESS are in the midst of a comprehensive customer research programme, the results of which will help to shape their food and service offerings in the future.
‘We have been contacting the end users directly to ask their opinions through online surveys on their opinions of what we provide,’ says Ronnie. ‘It’s a big benefit of being part of Compass Group, who undertook the same research through the ‘insight’ programme with the aim of gaining a better understanding what the end user wants.’

ESS are currently rolling out the six-week survey across the entire client base, and by the end of February they’ll have a complete account of what the industry actually wants.
‘The Compass Group has built its strength over the last three years on understanding its users and clients through independent market research,’ says Alain Morize. ‘We identify the three areas which matter most to users and customers, and we make sure they are delivered. It’s our ‘Can Do’ value.’

The values he mentions are an integral part of everything ESS does in the offshore arena: ‘Integrity, passion, teamwork, quality and ‘can do’ are our unique selling points,’ adds Alain. Our great people ensure we deliver a great service and achieve great results every time.’

So, what of the future of offshore catering? It would appear that the industry is permanently evolving and that, nowadays, a large number of catering and hotel-services contracts are sourced through the contracting sector, rather than direct to the operator of the oil field as it was before. ‘The sector needs more choice of food suppliers and distributors,’ concludes John. ‘Competition is important and the lack of it will impact on all catering companies if not addressed on an ongoing basis.

Despite this warning, ESS seems well-placed to weather any storms on the horizon, and that’s down to their celebrated ‘can do’ attitude.

This article has been edited from its original version. For the complete feature, please see Catering in Scotland magazine February/March 2009.

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