Royal Caribbean’s new Icon of the Seas cruise ship can accommodate 9,950 people. Feeding everyone is no easy feat.

Royal Caribbean Group and Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings aim to source their foods more sustainably.Experts say goals such as purchasing more food locally are a step in the right direction.This article is part of “The Future of Supply-Chain Management,” a series on companies’ manufacturing and distribution strategies.

The hardest decision you make on a cruise vacation is what to eat for dinner.

In 2023, the cruise giants Royal Caribbean Group and Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings accommodated more than 10.3 million travelers.

That’s a lot of mouths to feed — and to do so, their floating hotels have around-the-clock kitchen operations and nearly endless onboard dining options, from buffets to steak houses.

The question is: Where are the companies getting all this food from? And are their promises for more environmentally friendly food sourcing truly sustainable?

Both companies have been increasingly shopping local

Both Norwegian and Royal Caribbean want to be net zero emissions by 2050.

Norwegian reported that 37% of its food and drink sourcing in 2022 was local to its global destinations.

Similarly, Linken D’Souza, Royal Caribbean’s senior vice president of food and beverage, told reporters in January that the company had spent the past two years shifting its supply chain to Europe to stock its cruises there with less food from the US.

As a result, 86% of the food for Royal Caribbean’s European cruises was sourced locally in 2023, its sustainability report from that year said. Last year, the company also stopped supplying its Seattle- and Vancouver-based ships with frozen food shipped from Florida, opting to buy locally instead.

Bambi Semroc, the senior vice president of sustainable lands and waters for the nonprofit environmental group Conservation International, told Business Insider that increasing destination-based sourcing is a step in the right direction, especially if it helps stimulate a developing country’s local economy and demand for its sustainably-produced foods.

But it’s not always the best choice for the environment — it depends on how the goods are shipped.

Take American wine versus European wine. If you’re drinking a California-made wine while in New York City, that bottle was delivered via truck and therefore has a higher carbon footprint than European-produced wine delivered via ship, Ravi Anupindi, a professor at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, said.

Both companies have similar animal-welfare goals

Several of Royal Caribbean’s largest ships have its Hooked Seafood restaurant.

By 2025, Norwegian wants to buy all its seafood from suppliers certified by groups like the Marine Stewardship Council and the Aquaculture Stewardship Council. Royal Caribbean has the same deadline for a similar goal: Source 90% of wild seafood and 75% of farm-raised seafood from fisheries certified by the same nonprofits.

Back on land, both cruise giants aim to buy cage-free eggs, gestation-crate-free pork, and chickens exclusively from Global Animal Partnership-certified suppliers by 2025.

However, switching from a trusted supplier to a new, albeit more environmentally friendly, one can be “humongously challenging,” Anupindi told BI.

So it should be no surprise that at least one of the companies has had to tweak its deadlines. According to Royal Caribbean’s previous sustainability reports, the company has had to push its goals for cage-free eggs and gestation-crate-free pork back by three years and its seafood goals by five years.

Royal Caribbean did not respond to an inquiry about the delays.

Beef sourcing remains a missing sustainability puzzle piece

Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings’ most luxurious cruise line, Regent Seven Seas, serves dishes like beef tenderloin topped with seared foie gras.

Beef generates about eight to 10 times the greenhouse-gas emissions as chicken does and has been noted as a cause of deforestation in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest.

However, neither of the companies’ food-sourcing goals touch on cattle.

Norwegian told BI in a statement that its “net zero [emissions] by 2050” goal “applies to our shipboard and shoreside operations (Scopes 1 and 2) as well as value chain (Scope 3),” adding that beef would be part of Scope 3.

To address this beefy problem, Semroc said, cruise companies could choose beef suppliers that promote more sustainable practices or have committed to “no deforestation, no conversion.”

Or, ideally for sustainability, they could replace steak dinners with more plant-based dishes.

One sustainability expert said she saw the opportunity for cruise ships to source sustainably produced goods from the developing countries that they visit.

It seems Norwegian has already been following this advice. Its upcoming Norwegian Aqua ship is expected to debut in 2025 with the company’s first-ever plant-based-food restaurant. Over the past few years, the cruise giant has rolled out more than 200 vegetable-based meals across its Oceania and Regent Seven Seas fleets.

Royal Caribbean did not respond to an inquiry about its beef initiatives or plans to expand its plant-based offerings.

Evidently, “beefing up” sustainability in the food supply chain can be a complex and nuanced topic, especially for companies that feed as many people as Royal Caribbean and Norwegian do. That’s not to mention all the heat that cruise companies already take for operating ships that are bad for the environment.

But it’s “admirable that they’re beginning to think about this,” Anupindi said.

Read the original article on Business Insider

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