There’s a new way to connect unneeded food with people in need

Apps that allow restaurants and grocery stores to donate excess food to charities are being used in the United Kingdom and the United States as part of a global solution to food scarcity. They don’t seem to have taken off in Calgary, however, despite the fact they could increase our efficiency with food distribution.

Neighbourly, an app based out of the UK, was originally created to help businesses support charities through funds and volunteers. A year ago, Nick Davies, founder and CEO of Neighbourly, realized they could also use it to direct food to those in need.

“We found an automated way to connect the food surplus to local community projects in a way that makes it so easy for companies,” Davies said.

The automated system allows the donor organization to easily upload the food surplus they have to give. When it is uploaded, an alert is sent out to any charities nearby that are signed up to receive food. If a charity can use the food, they can make a request for it. Once the donor accepts the request, the charity can go and pick it up.

The app has had a large amount of success since their official launch in July 2014. Marks & Spencer, a popular grocery store in the UK, started using Neighbourly in early October and have already donated approximately 35 tonnes of food to local charities.

Although most people think that food past the expiration date is inedible, according to JoAnne Berkenkamp, senior advocate of NRDC’s food and agricultural program, “They are actually an indication by food processors about when the food is at its peak quality.” But because of this, retailers are unable to sell food past the date label, and most people throw away past-date food without looking at it or smelling it. Photo by Amy SimpsonBy connecting food surplus to charities, Neighbourly is among those tackling the worldwide problem of food waste and food insecurity.

According to the United Nations, one third of food produced globally for human consumption is wasted every year according to the United Nations Environment Programme, which amounts to approximately 1.3 billion tonnes. At the same time, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations stated that in 2015, 793 million people were undernourished globally.

Canada is not immune to this problem. According to a report done by VCM International, Canadians waste an estimated $31 billion of food every year, roughly the same amount as the combined GDP, or gross domestic product, of the 23 poorest countries in the world.

In the face of all that waste, one in six children were affected by food insecurity according to a survey done in 2012 by the University of Toronto.

“It really is ironic that we live in a state both of so much waste as so much scarcity simultaneously,” said JoAnne Berkenkamp, senior advocate of Natural Resources Defence Council’s food and agricultural program.

Thankfully, Neighbourly isn’t the only app tackling this problem.

FoodCloud in Ireland has donated 653 tonnes of food and Zero Percent in Chicago has provided over 800,000 meals to people in need.

“It has been interesting maybe in the last year or two to see the proliferation of apps that are out there now that work with different parts of the supply chain, whether it’s retailers or distributers or home owners,” said Berkenkamp.

Looking specifically at the ones targeting food waste at the restaurant and retail level, Berkenkamp believes that “they definitely have their place and they are an advancement because they are helping to deal with the barrier around the sharing of information between donors and organizations.”

Grocery stores and restaurants across the world have started using apps to connect their food surplus with people in need. This is becoming part of the solution when it comes to reducing the $1.3 tonnes of food wasted worldwide. Photo courtesy of Pexels, Creative Commons Licensed

This is important because the sharing of information can get complicated when working with a manual system that runs off of phone calls and weekly scheduling. It is something that becomes simpler when an automated system gets put in place.

Neighbourly’s ability to grow is an example of that.

“Automated systems just make it really easy to scale. So for Marks & Spencer, we are going from a standing start, to connecting all 550 of their stores in about a 4-month period. And you just couldn’t do that if you had a manual platform,” Davies said.

Berkenkamp also believes that the apps make it easier for companies that can’t donate on a fixed schedule, such as restaurants and caterers.

“You are seeing these apps be really helpful in those situations that are a little more fluid and you need a technology that is similarly fluid,” Berkenkamp explained.

These apps are revolutionizing the way companies deal with their food surplus, and as a result, have gained popularity in many other countries. Still, they have yet to make their way to Calgary, although the Calgary Food Bank is supportive of the idea.

Dolores Coutts, communications and development manager at the Calgary Food Bank said, “We think that the app is really cool. We think it would be neat if something could be done here like that

“Sometimes we will get a thousand pineapples because the shipment was delayed or for whatever reason the store refused it and they are still perfectly good. And so organizations could check online and see that we now have one pallet of pineapples left, and then Brown Bagging for Kids, The Drop-In Centre, Salvation Army, or whoever, could come get it,” Coutts explained.

However, the Calgary Food Bank is concerned that introducing an app could hinder the relational side of what they do. That being said, Coutts believes these apps could positively affect Calgary and are “a tool towards a solution.”

asimpson@cjournal.ca

The editor responsible for this article is Curtis Dowhaniuk nd be contacted at cdowhaniuk@cjournal.ca.

Thumbnail courtesy of Pexels, Creative Commons Licensed.