New challenging trends to fight food waste and help those in need

From March 13-16 we convened in Houston, Texas together with 80 Food Bank leaders coming from 32 countries for the 11th Annual Food Bank Leadership Institute (FBLI). This event, organized by the Global FoodBanking Network (GFN) at the Houston Food Bank, provided a platform to exchange best practices, get updates on emerging trends in the food and agriculture industry, and receive technical training.

The FBLI was a great opportunity to discover new trends in the global food industry, their implications for food banking and the actions which have been already taken by some Food Banks worldwide to prevent food waste.

Firstly, we are facing an important challenge: a transformation of the market. Moreover, we have to do more with less. By the year 2050 we will need to nourish 2 billion more people as the global population will rise from 7 billion to an estimated 9 billion. At the same time resources such as water and soil are vital to our health and quality of life, but since the early 1970s humanity has been demanding more than our planet can sustainably offer. Climate change may mean increased food and nutrition insecurity and the spread of phenomena linked to political instability, nationalism and protectionism can lead to difficulties in international trade, resulting in border closures and shortages of goods (e.g. the Russian embargo). One of the consequences of the increasing internationalization of the market is an increase in regulation, especially in terms of food safety and traceability, to ensure that foods are healthy and safe for the consumer.

The implications for Food Banks are clear: we will have to deal with these kind of crises, both locally and across borders, so we have to be ready. This trend is challenging the current model of Food Banks: the market is becoming more and more international, multi-channel, differentiated and constantly evolving. There is therefore a need to revise the model of Food Banks in consideration of external requirements, while complying with food safety standards and traceability.

Some Food Banks are already taking action, for instance the Foodbank Rus in Russia is implementing a virtual model of Food Bank: a complete absence of "bricks" and warehouses. They recover fresh products from the distribution sector and directly deliver them to charitable organizations with refrigerated vehicles within 1 day. Tider, the network of Food Banks in Turkey, is implementing HR Support, a sustainable approach to help people get out of poverty. In addition to provide food to those who need it, Tider also offers human resources services to the beneficiaries of the Food Bank. The program helps candidates to develop their curriculum and map their skills into the labour demand of companies, thus setting a path to social inclusion and integration.

Secondly, we are dealing with an increasing focus on nutrition. Well-being is critical, especially with reference to specific age groups as children and elderly people. At the same time, consumers’ preferences are shifting. People want to know the story of the food they consume, and food has become a marker of our identity, the way we explain who we are. That’s why people want to know more about their food: who produced it? Is the company behaving ethically? And so on. Additionally, the emergence of food requirements linked to celiac diseases and intolerances, and new food trends (vegetarians, vegans, etc.) must be considered.

This trend creates a nutritional challenge for Food Banks: there is a greater attention and demand for products that are at the same time affordable, fresh, local and healthy. There is therefore a need to respond to specific and "customized" needs. For instance, since 2012 the Fundación Banco de Alimentos de Argentina has implemented a programme called Nutrihuevo with the aim to responding to a lack of protein intake, especially in children. The Argentinian Food Banks decided to deliver dehydrated eggs in portions intended for single use only. The Food Bank also organizes training days with chefs and experienced nutritionists to provide nutritional information and cooking advice.

Thirdly, the recognition of the value of partnerships between the public, business and non-profit sectors is strongly developing. The concept of partnership has undergone an evolution that has today expanded the traditional meaning of in-kind donations and economic support. These contributions continue to be essential, but the business sector, for example, seeks more and more integrated partnerships that also include the involvement of employees to build a stronger bond both with the food bank and the community.

Every day Food Banks deals with a dynamic and interacting system and collaborate with multinational companies and public authorities not only at national level but also at European level and international organizations as the FAO and the World Bank. Today in more than 55 countries over 1,300 Food Banks daily provide food to more than 120,000 charitable organizations that assist almost 60 million deprived people. These Food Banks belong to four main networks: Feeding America in the USA, the European Federation of Food Banks, the Global FoodBanking Network, and the Food Banking Regional Network.

This trend requires a new approach: food donations should be always the easiest and most affordable option to be undertaken. Therefore, Food Banks need to prove to be reliable and transparent, to have a "business mindset", and to speak the same language of the private sector.

Some networks of Food Banks, for instance the Global FoodBanking Network, are proposing to their members the possibility of an official acknowledgment certifying that they are operating in accordance with clear and defined standards. In this way they will demonstrate to stakeholders that they are reliable players. Moreover, the Food Banks Australia assessed their impact and the Social Return On Investment (SROI) of their activity. Their estimates of SROI is 23 $ for each kilogram of food distributed, and it increases up to 110 $ for every kg of food distributed to children. 

Finally, we are facing innovation and digital technologies. Digital transformation is part of our everyday life and involves changes in the interaction between the producer and the consumer. Moreover, social networks promote the exchange of ideas in real time and the opportunity to amplify every kind of experience.

This trend poses a technological challenge to Food Banks: technology leads to a constant visibility that requires timely and integrated communication and marketing strategies to ensure the sustainability of the model of Food Banks. There is therefore a need to develop the current organizational model with creativity and rapidity.

In the UK FareShare launched FoodCloud in collaboration with Tesco: it is an IT system with the aim of fostering the partnerships between retailers and charitable organizations to ensure that surplus food goes to those who need it. FoodCloud really is a simple solution – the technology behind it means that charities only need to be able to receive text messages from their local Tesco store. Then they can pick up the food they can use and turns it into meals for people in need. Also Food Forward SA, the network of Food Banks in South Africa, launched a similar Virtual Foodbanking Platform.

All these trends clearly show that in the coming years we will all need to be more creative when it comes to managing post-harvest loss and food waste to ensure that we are making the best use of everything we produce. In addition the public, business and non-profit sectors should work in close collaboration worldwide with the support of digital technologies and the development of innovation. This positive cooperation can make a real and concrete contribution to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) of the United Nations, in particular the SDG 12.3: “By 2030, halve per capita global food waste at the retail and consumer levels and reduce food losses along production and supply chains, including post-harvest losses”.

Tags: Dal Mondo