For the past decade Francois Offshore Catering has delivered quality cuisine and dedicated housekeeping services on offshore/renewables installations and shipping vessels around the world.
Originally headquartered in Singapore, the company opened a new base in Westhill Business Park, Aberdeenshire in 2020, expanding its service network while others retracted.
Establishing a presence in an already competitive field is never easy, and the ensuing Covid pandemic did little to help matters, but it is a mission that General Manager Hugh Rapson, a veteran of the offshore catering industry for over 20 years, has relished.
As a subsidiary of Northern Marine Group and in turn part of the Stena sphere, the company can offer clients much more than high quality catering and housekeeping.
We took the opportunity to speak to Hugh to find out more and discover what the future is cooking for Francois Offshore Catering.
EV: Welcome Hugh, and thanks for taking the time to speak with us. The last two years have certainly been a rollercoaster for most within the offshore industry, and indeed the wider world, so how has it been for you and Francois Offshore Catering?
“It has been a time of extremes. On the one hand it has been a very exciting time as we are seeing the results of a regional brand relaunch coupled with the implementation of a growth strategy that, despite the pandemic, is coming to fruition.
“Like all companies, we also have had our challenges in the past two years; however, my colleagues have never wavered from their focus, determination, or approach throughout, which is a great source of pride.
“My main reason for joining Francois Offshore Catering two years ago was because it is a brand that offers something different to the status quo, and that remains even more true in the current climate where clients have increased responsibility to care for their crews, whilst keeping an eye on their costs, yet still maintain a high standard of operations onboard.”
EV: You mention that you see Francois Offshore Catering as offering something different from other service providers, in what way is that true?
“To set us apart from our competitors we have worked extremely hard on delivering a quality service that is underpinned by a wider, genuinely holistic consideration of all the factors that contribute to offshore workers’ health and wellbeing and successful operations onboard. It is a level of service that remains cost-efficient for the client.
“Our ethos ‘Restore, Rest, Ready’ ensures staff are restored through high quality, healthy and balanced meals, they are rested in comfortable and clean accommodation and are consequently always ready for a hard day’s work ahead of them.
“As a subsidiary of Northern Marine Group, and in turn part of the Stena sphere, there are high levels of competence and industry knowledge all around us.
“What is perhaps less known to some in the industry is the comprehensive range of services we can deliver to them as a group, including Technical Management, Crewing, Travel Management, Marine Engineering, Offshore and Renewables Training, Agency Support and – importantly for us – Marine Supply.
“We have uninterrupted in-house access to personnel via a large yet agile dedicated Crewing function (sister company Northern Marine Manning Services), and an award-winning Travel Management sister company (Clyde Travel Management) that together overcome the current logistical challenges in moving crews around the world.
“Through our in-house Marine Supply sister company (Francois Marine and Offshore) we have global access to provisions which meet our standards, and we have great power and ability to monitor and ensure quality control.
“This all contributes to delivering high quality service solutions to our clients in an expeditious manner.
“Most, if not all, of our competitors will supply staff and provisions, but it is mainly through third party suppliers, and that can often lead to a disconnect in the process.
“Continuous service is important to our clients, and we can provide reassurance that we will operate throughout troubled business climates as the wider Stena Group’s overall stability is ensured through a deliberate strategy to focus on business activities in contracyclical industries.
“We are in a unique position of being big enough to deliver quality at scale if required but have the agility and freedom to offer tailored services that are as carefully crafted as our cuisine.”
EV: And in what other ways do you see yourself as different, how do you ensure this quality of service is delivered on the ground on a consistent basis?
HR: “Offshore Catering and Housekeeping services can often be seen as a commodity, rather than the pivotal influencer in ensuring the day-to-day operations on an offshore asset are delivered to the optimum standard by a workforce that is restored, rested and ready to perform.
“The crews we are catering for and indeed look after, are away from home for extended periods of time, often weeks or months, and we see it as our role, not job, to ensure these crews are as healthy, happy and productive as possible.
“We achieve this by employing experienced and creative chefs who we actively encourage to display their full range of talents through the production of meals that wouldn’t look out of place in a restaurant.
“I’d invite anyone who is sceptical of this claim to speak to any of our existing clients, or even visit our website or YouTube Channel where we have created films to show just what we mean.”
“Last year we had our own highly trained people – who all live and breathe our ethos – serving crews in Antarctica, the Tropics and the North Sea.
“Crucial to the whole process is our operations team, overseeing all aspects of delivery onboard all of our assets. In people like Iain Mearns, Stewart Farmerey and Kevin Hendry, I believe we have one of the most experienced teams in the sector; people who understand all aspects of catering and service delivery and the incumbent challenges that exist in this unique industry environment.
EV: We suspect one of the biggest challenges you face is convincing companies who have been using the same supplier for many years to switch to a newer, and to some an unknown brand. How do you overcome such reservations?
HR: “Although we may be an unknown brand to some, we have been in operation for more than 10 years, with a history of supplying major brands including Chevron, Stena Drilling, Sapura and more. The placement of our headquarters in Aberdeenshire may be new, but our global service provision is most certainly not.
“We relish the opportunity to demonstrate our track record of successful change management to potential new clients which allays any perceived fears they may have had. However, we understand the proof is not in the pitch, but in the pudding – pun intended!
“We provide a single dedicated point of contact for Project and Operations, pulling from the experienced team I highlighted earlier, who have each worked in this sector for many years.
“Our focus is not on scale, but rather on the provision of high-quality service delivery to selected clients who share our common goals and are aligned with our core values. Companies who take seriously the delivery of these services, who understand that catering and morale go hand-in-hand, and the resultant benefits they receive from a happy workforce.”
EV: Thank you for your time today, and we suppose an appropriate question to ask to end the interview would be ‘Where do you see Francois Offshore Catering in another two years’ time?’
HR: “Building on the solid foundations we have already established in the UK and continuing to meet the demands of our clients.
“Sustainability is a key focus for both us and our clients, and I hope to see the fruition of exciting plans we have in place to increase our supply chain of sustainably sourced provisions, and to demonstrate the growth of produce on site at many installations.”