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Ferry food might acquire Kitsap flavoring

Washington State Ferries (WSF) officials want to bring a little more local flavor to the various water routes connecting Puget Sound communities to one another in the form of food, beverages and souvenirs.

They also are casting about for new sources of revenues, as prescribed by their new strategic business plan which states additional revenues should increase in the next two years by five percent.

So, WSF officials are opening up the concessions contract this summer with an eye toward nailing down products that hail from various ferry communities.

A new contract could be awarded by September, following the competitive process.

“We carry 26 million passengers a year,” said WSF Director Mike Thorne. “These passengers are going to and from work, are tourists visiting the region or locals just out enjoying a ride on a ferry... A recent customer preference survey indicates that with some exciting upgrades and changes to our terminals and on our vessels, we can capture much more of that market than we have in the past.”

Perhaps a well-touted Bainbridge Island food product could be featured aboard the Bainbridge-Seattle ferry, while art work from the Bremerton community could find its way onto the Bremerton vessels.

According to officials, the contract could be awarded to a large company or a series of smaller companies, depending on the results of the bids this summer. But if a larger company wants to take over, then they must show how they intend to provide that local flavor aboard WSF vessels.

The current contract holder is Sodexho, a concessionaire that has served the ferry system since 1997.

A company spokeswoman said the existing contract is scheduled to expire in October, but the business plans to participate in the bidding this summer in order to propose a new way of doing business.

“Sodexho has indicated they want to bid on the new contracts and we would welcome their participation in the process,” Thorne said.

Sodexho provides food and beverage services on all WSF vessels and ferry terminals. The company provides video games, gifts, beer and wine and newspapers. Under the current contract, WSF receives 10.5 percent of gross annual sales, a formula that brought in $1.37 million in 2002.

Under the current contract, Sodexho is locked into providing service aboard certain vessels at specific times — even if it doesn’t make the best business sense. The company, according to WSF, wants to try to diversify its business, while securing some flexibility in the services it offers.

For example, it would be advantageous to provide high levels of service aboard the Anacortes-San Juan vessels during the summertime, when tourists are out in full force; it may not be as advantageous from a business standpoint to provide those same levels of service in the dead of winter, when far fewer people travel aboard the ferries.

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