Airport Retail – Virgin Territory for CPG

As you might imagine, I spend a lot of time at airports. With clients on three continents I have racked up 100,000 miles already this year and that translates to hours sitting in lounges, standing in security line-ups and waiting for baggage.
Many of you know exactly what I am talking about thanks to your clients being spread out from Overwaitea in Vancouver to Sobeys in Stellarton, Nova Scotia.
Surprisingly with the amount of time CPG professionals spend in airports, there has not been more of an attempt at expanding the brand experience and purchasing to this high traffic, relatively affluent and dominantly male environment.
For instance there are over 30,000,000 passengers that use Toronto’s Pearson airport each year. That is almost the entire population of Canada and doesn’t include airport staff, flight crew, taxi / limo drivers and non-passengers dropping off or picking up people.

Canadian Airport Passenger Traffic

There are some interesting opportunities:

Brand Activation

Airports are boring, especially in Canada. Even for those of us that have access to airport lounges there is not a lot of stimuli with the exception of a big screen television or our Blackberry.
What about creating some retail-tainment in the terminal? Once people are inside security they have lots of time and are starving for entertainment options.
My client, L’Oreal Travel Retail held a fabulous brand activation in support of their Men Expert line-up at Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport during World Cup 2010. They set up a brand experience zone where travelers could interact with the product, get free samples, have a skin consultation and watch soccer “tricksters” strut their stuff.
It got a lot of attention by being relevant to the audience and had the additional benefit of immediate sales at nearby travel retail boutiques.
The opportunity to experience the brand is even better if you have a legitimate link to airport lounges such as Air Canada’s Maple Leaf lounges.
Companies like Pepsico, who is an Aeroplan sponsor with its Quaker and Tropicana brands have a fabulous opportunity to connect travelers with their products while they are on the go.
Retailer sponsors such as Sobeys, Rexall and Uniprix have equal opportunities. What about traveler health checks while you wait for your flight, sponsored by a drugstore?

Airport Vending

Another opportunity lies in making our products available to the traveler when they need them. We have all been sitting at the gate and remember that toiletry item or other product we just can’t do without.
Imagine a Shoppers Drug Mart “On The Go” vending machine in the departures area. In fact, vending machines in American airports already sell everything from Cosmetics to iPods.
Or what about a roaming golf cart that pulls up to the departure gate for Sun destinations selling essentials such as sunscreen, aloe vera and lip balm?

Local Foods

The opportunities are not just for the big CPG companies. Travelers love the opportunity to bring back a unique gift and souvenir and local foods are right up that alley.
One of the best airport activations in Canada has to be Clearwater’s seafood shop in the Halifax airport. We have all seen the well branded “lobster boxes” as soon as any flight from Halifax touches down. I have seen Clearwater boxes in Hong Kong and London!
What about Alberta beef at Calgary or Edmonton; Ontario peaches at Hamilton or Toronto; and Produits de Terroir at Montreal or Quebec airports?

Airport Supermarkets

Whether you are travelling for business or pleasure, chances are you are coming home late or coming home to an empty refrigerator (or both). You might need a quick dinner solution or cereal and milk for tomorrow’s breakfast.
The last thing you want to do after being on the road is order another pizza for dinner or make a stop at the store on the way home.
What about being able to pick up a roast chicken and side dish, or even your favorite cereal at a supermarket right at the airport?
Imagine being able to send an order to the airport supermarket from your iPhone and simply collecting your order when you arrive (maybe even at a drive through window).
Recently, I was in Vienna and there was a Billa supermarket located right on the access road to the airport.
And Tesco has developed its first airport format for Glasgow Airport in an effort to further expand their reach in the UK market.
This could be a good application for the Sobeys Express format?


There are obvious challenges such as security clearance, restrictions on liquids, and exclusive contracts between travel retail providers and airport authorities.
But we are a smart group of people. We need to analyze the opportunities for our brands and build the business case to make it work.
Next time you are in the airport – start thinking about how your brands could come alive for travelers just like you.


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