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Last Updated: Tuesday, 8 April, 2003, 07:17 GMT 08:17 UK
Roast lamb dinners raise morale

By Mary Gahan
BBC News Online business reporter

Soldier unloading stores in the Gulf
Pot noodles are met with a smile
Gummy bears, condoms and solar showers are what the troops are demanding in the Gulf.

The showers give them the chance of a wash outside of limited army facilities, the sweets provide a popular sugar boost in the desert and the condoms....

Well, condoms are more popular than ever because they are the best way of protecting the muzzle of a gun from desert sand.

These goods are just a fraction of the products on sale to servicemen and women in the Gulf.

It's a major morale factor that they have got their blueys to write home, that they can get shavers; if they can't get these things they get really hacked off
Christian Rose, Naafi commercial director

Because, when they go to war, the Naafi shops - a familiar feature of their permanent bases - go with them.

"We're now open in Southern Iraq," says Christian Rose, commercial director of Naafi (Navy Army Air Force Institutes).

His job is to make sure the stores are selling what the forces want.

"If you asked them what they want, they'd probably say alcohol but they're not allowed to have alcohol in the Middle East."

Chocolate fix

In the absence of a stiff drink, the troops are getting through more sweets and Lucozade sports drinks than expected.

"With satellite telephones we can literally get calls saying we need xyz and, if it's really critical, we can get it there quickly.

Soldiers in an army mess in the desert
Whereas they're not going to have as much choice in Afghanistan as in Aldershot, they are going to get similar food
Andrew Selley, Managing director of 3663

"We've been able to get more sugar confectionery there and we actually managed to get 3,000 units of sports drink powders shipped out with one day's notice."

Refrigerated containers make it possible to sell chocolate in the desert heat.

Cigarettes, water, sun cream, shavers and 'blueys' - airmail letters - are also in demand.

"It's a major morale factor that they have got their blueys to write home, that they can get shavers.

"If they can't get these things they get really hacked off," says Mr Rose.

"Suppliers have been incredibly helpful and turned on a sixpence.

"We loaded, in one week, six months' normal volume of stocks."

Lancashire Hotpot

The Naafi's job is essentially to supply creature comforts but the men and the women in the forces can also expect to be served the same sorts of meals that they would get at home.

Roast lamb with roast potatoes and vegetables followed by apple pie and custard is the sort of choice on offer in the typical mess in the Gulf at the moment.

Soldiers drinking bottled water in the desert
Literally you can have a third of your customer base disappearing
Christian Rose, Naafi commercial director

On the front line, obviously, it is a different story.

There, soldiers have ration packs in foil pouches typically offering sausage and beans for breakfast, cheese spread and special army brown biscuits for lunch then Lancashire Hotpot, cooked in the bag, for dinner.

But at any bases that are set up, as well as on board ships, the military demands that its personnel should be able to eat familiar meals. Apart from anything else, this is good for morale.

"Whereas they're not going to have as much choice in Afghanistan as in Aldershot, they are going to get similar food," says Andrew Selley.

He is managing director of the catering supplies company 3663 which transports food to troops wherever they are in the world.

Back-up stores

In the Gulf, fruit, vegetables and bottled water are being bought locally if they are available, and the rest is being shipped from the UK in temperature-controlled containers.

Stores being loaded onto a ship
Fresh supplies are being constantly shipped

"We have just shipped 20-odd pallets of apples out there because there's so much demand."

In the UK the military chefs can choose from about 1,500 products, but in the Gulf the choice is limited to about 400.

"You try to keep the same core of products but they cut down on duplication of pack sizes, for example they don't get six different types of pasta, they get one," says Mr Selley.

There are also extensive back-up stocks.

Royal Fleet Auxiliary supply ships are storing enough food to feed 13,000 men for a month, including 52,000 kilos of flour and 10,000 kilos of frozen lamb.

Disappearing customers

The Ministry of Defence contract makes up about 10% of 3663's business. Other customers in the UK include Burger King, Holiday Inn and the catering group Compass.

The peculiarity of the MoD work is that, all of a sudden, the customer moves and the supplier has to follow.

Naafi faces the same problem. Mr Rose says it is a big change from his time at High Street retailers Somerfield, Marks & Spencer and Safeway.

"The difference is having to move very quickly and responding to sudden customer movements.

"Literally you can have a third of your customer base disappearing."

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