“Whatever you do, do it with unwavering passion and make certain that your strategies are carried out without fail. You will face many challenges at first, but you will eventually see the fruits of your labour.” Lalith Withana, the Chief Executive Officer of SriLankan Catering stated.
Lalith began his career as an Internal Auditor at Amro Bank, having been trained and qualified as an Accountant at Ernst and Young. Before SriLankan Catering, he served in many other organizations such as IBM Sri Lanka, Carson Cumberbatch, Brandix, Yamaha in USA, Orit Apparels Lanka, Dilmah and SriLankan Airlines. 25 years ago, after the completion of his Master’s degree in Business Administration, Lalith took up the field of General Management by starting off as a Chief Executive Officer in the Brandix group. During his professional journey in the corporate sector, he has been representing many boards as a non-executive director in Bank of Ceylon, Seylan Bank, Dankotuwa Porcelain and Ceylease financial services. Lalith said, “Looking back, I am really grateful that I have been able to work across the many industries. It has changed the way I look at business challenges. Also, I have turned many companies around through their extremely challenging times. These are two key highlights that I am really happy about in my career and self.”
The CEO of SriLankan Catering spoke primarily about the Heat and Eat fine dining meals offered by SriLankan Catering, the country’s exclusive airline caterer. According to him, this product has been developed following a research conducted on the food consumption behaviour of Sri Lankans across the world, covering their food expectations, lifestyle and the gaps in the market. Leveraging the ‘stellar reputation’ of SriLankan Catering as a world class caterer this product has been positioned as Fine Home Dining. As the consumer perception has been managed using a vigorous process, he described that too. “The Covid Pandemic also influenced this way of thinking as people were unable to patronize their regular restaurants. That presented us with a great opportunity. I am happy to say that Cuisine Gastronome is now selling well without much effort on our part due to the laying of a strong foundation. These products are also exported to several countries now serving the Sri Lankan Diaspora around the world. So far, we have had very positive feedback all around.”
“The Cuisine Gastronome brand stands for high quality heat and eat gourmet meals.”
The Chief Executive Officer also described the way SriLankan Catering is geared to meet different client requirements. There are two objectives of SriLankan Catering in producing these Heat and Eat meals.
1. “Providing the customers a high-quality meal in the comfort of their home instead of having to go out to High end Restaurants to have that meal.”
2. Taking the unique and healthy Sri Lankan Cuisine that could be acquired easily to the world.
The category promoted to the local market is “fine dining at home with a range of local and western cuisines” and to the international market is “SriLankan meals together with SriLankan
curry packs. For example, a Sri Lankan student in Melbourne can have an authentic Sri Lankan crab curry in just five minutes!”
Lalith said that, with the COVID pandemic all the airlines have innovated and introduced new trends in relation to the airline catering. The changes have been made when serving and packaging foods to reduce contact with food. Most of the Airline catering companies are “looking outward for new opportunities”. Therefore, innovative restaurant dining concepts have been opened up “to cater to those who miss flying.”
Moreover, he added that as SriLankan Catering is currently catering for all the airlines that land in Colombo with the capacity of producing any type of cuisine, they are capable of offering food and beverages in the same level as the other caterers in the region. Yet he believes that SriLankan food industry has to be improved further when compared with developed countries, “specially on brand building, packaging, cleanliness of the offering and the availability of a product range for the upper middle-class market’”
As it was said, the restrictions related to ingredients and freezer capacity to store frozen meals and difficulties in pricing products while competing with lower quality meals are the main challenges faced by the food catering industry.
Moreover, the Chief Executive Officer explained his vision of expanding the business, covering new airports locally and abroad making the Heat and Eat meals the diversification growth strategy while continuing to grow with the core business of inflight catering.
In conclusion, the Chief Executive Officer pointed out the strategies that he employs to stay ahead:
∙ “At each stage of my Career, whether it was Apparel, or Catering where I have spent most of my time, I would say that it was my passion for the job and the industry that kept me ahead. I always wanted to do something new and raise my company up to number one position in that industry.”
∙ According to him, wholeheartedly embracing the industry a person is serving is essential. “This enables me to enjoy my work experience as well as learn the industry in depth, such as what differentiates it from other industries as well what new thinking can be infused to make my company more competitive.”
∙ Further, he has always believed that “making the operations more efficient by bringing in innovation and technology.”