The superyacht industry proudly boasts seven stars standards for guests in all aspects of the onboard experience. Expectations are high, extending from the quality of the amenities offered to the provenance and safety of the food onboard. But what about when it comes to the suppliers to the yachts themselves? Do chefs have the peace of mind that they know the provenance of the food they order? It turns out that, until now, this has been one of the biggest challenges facing yacht chefs.
As the owner of one of the largest suppliers in the business, Ian Jarvis of Superyacht Supplies has borne witness to the shortcomings of food health and safety in yachting for almost two decades. Explaining the lack of oversight, he says: “With a background supplying some of the largest supermarket chains in the UK, I was astounded when I started in this business in 2003. Most suppliers to supermarkets, restaurants and hotels onshore would not be able to do business without a full audit, which works to protect both the businesses and the consumer.
"We are miles from onshore practices at the moment. One can have the highest standards on the vessel, but sourcing goes all the way back to the delivery, the producer, the farm. You need to have transparency back through the whole system, and the majority of suppliers to yachts are not able to do that.”
Joost van Gorsel, co-founder of the Dutch supplier, We Supply Yachts, agrees: “Food safety is incredibly important, and it just isn’t controlled in the yachting industry. We invest millions of euros into building these amazing yachts, but almost nothing is invested in food health and safety - no one is taking care of the most important thing. Especially in light of the Covid-19 pandemic, we as an industry should invest more into raising standards to the level which many yacht clients take for granted.”
Recognition of quality
The Maritime Food Authority (MFA) understands that crew need development and support to ensure high standards and can prove due diligence. With the aim of professionalising the yachting industry’s approach to food safety, the MFA has a solution.
Offering recognition to suppliers who meet the required standards, the MFA’s founder Georgie Mainey explains more. “Unless you are a chef or you have worked in the industry, it’s hard to understand how quirky things are in yachting. It’s amazing how, until now, there is no “go-to authority” to support and monitor standards for the supply chain for the yachting industry. The Maritime Food Authority is offering recognition to approved suppliers that meet the standards that all chefs are striving for.”
With information on approved suppliers made publicly available and the option to ask the MFA to check them out before using them, such a system provides recognition for quality suppliers and provides a valuable resource for yacht crew. “It’s instilling the knowledge of having a go-to reference for good suppliers with support from a trusted source,” Mainey continues. “The MFA addresses the full circle of food safety in our industry.”
Comprehensive oversight may seem like a simple solution, and indeed it is. This is standard practice within onshore industries, but somehow yachting has slipped through the net. “Hotels and restaurants already have an audit trail because it’s a legal obligation. I’m surprised that with most vessels, or indeed management companies, it is not standard practice,” Jarvis states. “It’s essential to have due diligence all the way through the supply chain. We don’t need more regulation in yachting, but there is a difference between regulation and good practice. I am certainly encouraged to see recognition of the need to move from where we are now, where effectively anybody can become a provider.
In the relative wild-west of superyacht supply regulation, the MFA’s supplier approval will work to highlight those companies that work hard to meet high standards and can prove that they are following standard health and safety practices. From start-ups to international companies, the aim is to raise the bar in yachting, offering owners, chefs, suppliers and crew complete peace of mind when it comes to the health and safety of everyone on board.
Local markets and food stalls
There’s nothing more charming than buying fresh produce from local suppliers in exotic destinations, and such purchases cannot be expected to be MFA approved. From busy market stalls on a remote island to the father and son selling fresh fish from the back of their boat, such exchanges enrich the yachting experience. But as Van Gorsel says, this can be problematic. “We see a lot of yachts that think buying local is better - fresher, healthier and more environmentally friendly. But when you buy local, you don’t know the history of the produce.
Fresh fruit at the market sounds lovely, and a lot of yacht guests want to hear that. But no one knows if the fruit has been sprayed with water to keep it cool and if that water is contaminated. You have to monitor everything and have someone back on the yacht with the proper knowledge. Many clients assume this is the case.”
The MFA’s Manager in Charge program addresses this problem too. By raising the level of food safety awareness among the crew, when the stewardess or the chef is going ashore to a market, they can make an informed assessment of the market stand, the conditions the food is stored in and the quality of the product.
Mainey explains: “One of the most beautiful things about yachting is being able to go ashore and choose the local produce. In an ideal world, you would have an approved supplier in every single remote island on the planet, but that’s unrealistic. The Manager in Charge Program ensures the yacht crew can make an informed judgement before buying. If they haven’t got the training or knowledge, they cannot do that.”
Using MFA approved suppliers, yachts demonstrate due diligence and commitment to the quality of their products and the safety of their clients. Van Gorsel agrees: “When you speak to the top 10 provisioners, they are all on the same page. We all want something like this because it provides recognition for our efforts and it distinguishes the good from the bad. You are only as good as your last delivery, and if you have bad produce and bad hygiene, no one should be purchasing from you. I believe the MFA will take provisioning to a higher level.”
The ultimate aim of the Maritime Food Authority is to align food health and safety standards in the superyacht industry with current best practice ashore. With We Supply Yachts and Superyacht Supplies already pursuing MFA approval, the future of food safety in our industry looks to be headed in the right direction.