UK food waste charity given 360 tonnes more than usual as businesses close

The volume of food that would otherwise be wasted and is received every week by the UK’s largest food redistribution charity has more than doubled since the coronavirus lockdown.

In a better-than-average “good week” FareShare would typically be given 350 tonnes of food via its 24 regional distribution centres, but this has soared to 711 tonnes a week after the government ordered the closure of millions of hospitality businesses around the country, it has revealed.

The organisation takes good quality surplus food from across the industry – direct from suppliers as well as from supermarkets – and redistributes it to almost 11,000 frontline charities and community groups. This typically provides 1m meals a week to vulnerable and needy people, along with essentials for regional food banks run by the Trussell Trust and smaller local projects.

Its chief executive, Lindsay Boswell, said the organisation had “ripped up” its business model in order to adjust to the unprecedented disruption to the food and drink supply chain triggered by the outbreak of the coronavirus.

“It’s been real plate-spinning,” said Boswell. “In the early phase we suffered from a complete collapse in food donations as shoppers rushed out to panic buy and demand soared. That was very worrying. Then the government’s decision to close food service companies opened the floodgates.

“With diminishing numbers of volunteers due to self-isolation we had to channel all our resources into making sure it was collected on time and not wasted.” Without physical distancing restrictions the organisation would probably be tripling its flow of food, he estimates. There has also been a switch in focus from providing food for meals to assembling food parcels.

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Boswell says virtually all donations have been gratefully received although there had been some “well-motivated offers, including a pantechnicon full of iceberg lettuces” which could not be used due to a massive amount of existing salad crop. Even before the outbreak of the coronavirus, demand for surplus food had soared against a background of growing dependence on food banks and rising homelessness in the UK.

But wholesalers have been struggling to deal with tens of thousands of tonnes of fruit and vegetables, fresh meat and dairy products no longer required by restaurants, hotels and schools.

As much as £20m of food with a shelf life of less than three months was at one stage lying in warehouses, according to the Federation of Wholesale Distributors, after the government ordered the closure of millions of hospitality businesses around the country.

Boswell added: “An estimated 35% of the calories we consume are outside the home. So if you think of all those meals, whether school lunches or going out to restaurants in the evening – that’s a lot of food that now has nowhere to go.”

In London FareShare has partnered with the capital’s two other major food redistribution charities – City Harvest and the Felix Project – to provide a more targeted emergency response service for Londoners during the coronavirus crisis. The three organisations have formed the London Food Alliance, with each taking the lead in a designated borough to help distribute food to people in local communities.

It is now boosting its 1,500-strong army of volunteers, helped by a new partnership with the British Red Cross, and in a single week it received more volunteer applications than for the whole of last year. “We regard many new volunteers as the fifth cavalry – we may not need you now but we will,” said Boswell. A call for experienced forklift operators led to 24 qualified people responding within just 24 hours.

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As well as routinely supplying surplus food, FareShare’s major supermarket partners are also providing “top up” food as well as funding to help with logistics. This week the Co-op convenience store chain scrapped its £2.5m Easter advertising campaign and will instead use the airtime to encourage viewers to donate to FareShare.


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