The food Nestlé developed for the pilots of Solar Impulse - the first ever solar-powered plane to complete a round-the-world trip - was the only ‘fuel’ on board during their epic adventure.
Although that fuel is spent, now that Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg have completed the final leg of their record-breaking trip, our journey doesn’t stop here.
We want to take the knowledge we’ve gained from designing the pilots’ specially-tailored meals and use it to help other people with specific nutritional needs.
This is not new for Nestlé: we already offer specialised products for people with a range of different requirements, including those who have difficulty swallowing, or have lost their appetite, or are under-nourished.
Even so, developing the food for Solar Impulse was different. We had to consider not only the physical stresses on the food itself, but also on the pilots - thanks to the dramatic changes in temperature and climatic conditions in an unpressurised cabin at almost 30,000 feet.
While these might sound like the kind of extreme circumstances only an adventurer would encounter, their effects on the body are actually very similar to those of the natural ageing process.
Flying at such high altitude for such a long time decreases your appetite, even though your body requires more energy to function normally. It also makes you prone to losing muscle mass.
Equally, as people get older, they may lose their appetite, as well as experience changes in their sense of taste and smell. This can limit the range of foods they eat.
Elderly people also often lose weight, particularly lean muscle mass, which in turn makes them frail. Many older adults have problems with mobility and find it difficult to go shopping, lift heavy items or open containers – all of which makes preparing healthy, nutritious meals more challenging.
And while people tend to need fewer calories as they age, they still require just as many nutrients. This means it’s important to eat more ‘nutrient dense’ foods, which contain a lot of vitamins, minerals, and other vital nutrients, but in a small number of calories.
In other words, elderly people have a greater need for convenient, highly nutritious food, which can be prepared with ease and minimum effort. This is where our research for Solar Impulse could help.
We developed a new method of cooking and sterilising freshly prepared food, after it’s been sealed in specially selected pouches. The process locks in freshness, helps to maintain the food’s texture and preserves it for up to three months without the need for artificial ingredients.
As space was at a premium on board the plane, Bertrand and André needed food that was easy to store and serve. The packaging we provided included pouches for soups and drinks to limit the risk of spillage, and self-heating bags to heat up the food contained in pouches.
The pilots were in an out-of-the-ordinary situation, but we are now looking at how this approach to food preparation could be used in more everyday settings.
At Nestlé, we’re committed to helping people live healthier, more enjoyable lives as they get older. Whether you’re navigating the globe in a solar-powered plane, or taking your grandchildren for a walk in the park, you need the right fuel to set you on your way.