Food & Drink

Sacramento airport food prices could rise soon. Price gouging a concern, supervisor says

Take a trip down memory lane for SMF’s 50th anniversary

Sacramento International Airport celebrates its 50th anniversary on Oct. 21, 2017. See some vintage images from SMF’s history.
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Sacramento International Airport celebrates its 50th anniversary on Oct. 21, 2017. See some vintage images from SMF’s history.

Food prices at Sacramento International Airport, already lofty, may soon be going up.

Airport chief John Wheat will ask the county Board of Supervisors on Tuesday to remove a rule that caps airport food prices at 10 percent higher than the cost of similar products at comparable restaurants around Sacramento.

The proposal proved unpopular with some flyers at the airport Monday and prompted one county supervisor to say he worries about potential price “gouging.”

Wheat and airport officials declined to comment, saying their policy is not to discuss board matters until county supervisors have voted.

A county report said the airport is requesting authority to include price increases as part of negotiations with several concessionaires representing 21 food outlets to ensure their businesses are profitable.

Although a number of restaurants and food outlets at the airport have names of local restaurants – such as Esquire Grill – the airport facilities are operated and managed by national companies under licensing agreements. Local restaurants provided recipes, ingredients, lists of vendors they use and had input on other elements of how the airport restaurants operate.

“The action proposed will allow the (food and beverage) concession operators to increase pricing ... so that they can continue to generate a reasonable profit margin,” the report states. “This will allow them to remain in operation and serve the customers at SMF.”

The report indicates that employee costs including medical and pension expenses have increased for those companies, and that salary costs will increase as the state minimum wage increase rises.

The staff report does not include discussion of setting a new price cap.

County Supervisor Phil Serna said he is not comfortable with an open-ended approach. Serna said he recognizes that Wheat needs some wiggle room to negotiate with airport food concessionaires, but said he’d like to see some price cap calculation added to the proposal. He pointed out that the 10 percent cap was put in place because airport customers are essentially a captive audience.

“I have a responsibility to consumers so that they are not gouged and left with few options at the airport,” Serna said.

Several flyers at Sacramento International Airport on Monday said food prices already are high enough to cause pocketbook pain.

Joy Regenhardt of Las Vegas was smarting about the $6 bag of goldfish snacks she just bought. She normally tries to stock up with healthy snacks before she gets to the airport.

Once you get in the airport, “you are kind of at their mercy,” said Regenhardt.

Tracy Puda, who was in Sacramento for a grape and wine convention, said she tries never to buy food in the airport, especially when traveling with her kids. “It’s too expensive. You have to plan ahead,” she said. “I buy a soda. That is about all I buy.”

Another flyer said the prices may be OK for business travelers, but not for people on fixed incomes.

The airport has contracts with several major national companies that operate food and beverage concessions at airports, including SSP America, HMSHost, Famous Famiglia and Vino Volo.

A spokeswoman for SSP America declined comment Monday. Officials with the other concessionaires could not be reached.

As the summer traveling season hits full stride, the Transportation Security Administration is reminding passengers what they can and can't bring aboard planes at Sacramento International or any airport. That jigsaw? No. That gun? Absolutely not.

Ed Fletcher: 916-321-1269, @NewsFletch. Tony Bizjak: 916-321-1059, @TonyBizjak

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