Northwest Airlines customers will get a taste of the Delta Air Lines brand early next year when new wines and food choices are introduced on Northwest flights.
The wines, including an Italian sparkling wine called Prosecco, were selected by Delta's wine expert Andrea Robinson, who lives in California's Napa Valley. Her wine choices will start showing up in first-class Northwest cabins in February.
On March 30, Northwest flight attendants will don Delta uniforms created by celebrity designer Richard Tyler, who included a distinctive red shirt dress with a sash belt in his collection.
Food offerings in coach class, developed by nationally known chef Todd English, will feature such fare as hummus with veggies.
Atlanta-based Delta, which acquired Northwest on Oct. 29, will take nearly two years to fully merge both carriers. But Delta executives are moving quickly to build a single image for the combined airline.
Delta has a strong brand identity that revolves around "customer service, collegiality and courtesy," said Delta CEO Richard Anderson. "Basic consumer marketing really requires you to get behind one brand and to really make the investment in that brand so there is no confusion about the brand and the brand is consistent around the world."
The physical aspects of the brand -- from the paint schemes on Northwest airplanes and the uniforms worn by Northwest employees -- will be converted to a Delta look as quickly as possible.
Anderson, who served as Northwest's CEO for four years, was in the Twin Cities on Thursday and Friday to promote that brand conversion with Northwest employees.
Northwest attendants, who joined Anderson, Delta attendants and airline executives Thursday for a wine tasting event in downtown Minneapolis, sampled the new wines they'll soon be serving, including a new red wine from a Sonoma, Calif., winery called Cashmere that Robinson described as "velvety and rich."
On Friday morning, Anderson and Northwest attendants watched Delta attendants model the new uniforms designed by Tyler, who was present and clad in a black pinstriped suit. Tyler also spent hours helping Northwest attendants get fitted for the new uniforms at a style clinic at the Holiday Inn Select in Bloomington.
The celebratory tone at the wine tasting, held at the new W Minneapolis -- the Foshay, and the style show, which included some runway strutting, was a far cry from the stressful and austere atmosphere that dominated the Delta and Northwest bankruptcies.
Joanne Smith, Delta's senior vice president of in-flight service, said the carrier has redefined its products and brand since it filed for bankruptcy in 2005. Delta, which exited Chapter 11 in 2007, enlisted people in the food and entertainment industry with a celebrity cachet to modernize its offerings and customer service.
Smith said that Delta is using "hipper, more contemporary music" for boarding, playing current movies and offering "Midnight Sky'' cocktails created by Rande Gerber, husband of model Cindy Crawford.
"We changed the hospitality from the heart brand identity to 21st-century gracious," Smith said. "That 21st-century gracious combines the warmth of the people, the human side, with more innovation and technology." The "heart brand" developed over many years as Delta became known for "graciousness, service and hospitality," Smith said.
Northwest uniforms, which had not been updated in more than a decade, are quickly being replaced to show that Northwest is now part of the new Delta.
Julie Hagen Showers, Northwest's senior vice president of in-flight services, said that the challenge for attendants is to have uniforms that are "elegant and classy," but also offer the "durability that you need with the physical demands of the flight attendant's job."
For the past several days, Delta flight attendants have been working one-on-one with Minneapolis-based Northwest attendants to select pieces and get fitted for their new uniforms.
The fun associated with fashion and wine was a distraction from the tough economic times, which the attendants know will affect the new Delta. But Anderson gave words of reassurance at Thursday night's wine tasting, telling his employees: "Just stay really steady and focused. We're going to make the right decisions for the airline over the long term."
Anderson and Smith said that Northwest's strong operating performance and expertise in technology will be combined with Delta's reputation for excellent service to achieve a new carrier with strong customer appeal.
While many decisions affecting consumers already have been made, a big issue remains:
Delta serves products from Atlanta-based Coca-Cola, while Northwest serves Pepsi beverages.
What will the new Delta offer its customers?
"We're still working on that," Smith said.
Liz Fedor • 612-673-7709