Written evidence submitted by FareShare (COV0065)
1 May, 2020
FareShare is the UK’s largest food redistribution network, made up of 17 independent organisations located in all four UK nations and founded 25 years ago. Last year we redistributed nearly 25,000 tonnes of surplus food from the food industry that would otherwise have gone to waste to charities that prepare meals for their vulnerable clients. A small percentage of the food pre-crisis was donated or purchased. A major change during COVID-19 is our choice to redistribute much greater percentages of donated and purchased food to meet the rise in demand. The FareShare network supports 11,000 charities and community groups including domestic violence refuges, breakfast clubs, homeless hostels, pantries, food banks, holiday hunger schemes, day centres and breakfast clubs for children. Of these, just over a third (4,400) receive large deliveries of a full range of fresh, frozen and ambient foods from our 25 regional warehouses, the remaining charities collect surplus food remaining at the end of the day from our supermarket partners Tesco, Asda and Waitrose, via the FareShare Go app.
The week before the pandemic lockdown we redistributed enough food to create almost a million meals for vulnerable people every week - from surplus food alone. This has now risen to 2.2 million meals per week and demand is rising still - hence why we have evolved our model to request donated and purchased food from the food industry and UK government.
Q2. Are the Government and food industry doing enough to support people to access sufficient healthy food; and are any groups not having their needs met? If not, what further steps should the Government and food industry take?
Supporting vulnerable groups:
FareShare believe that people who are in crisis will almost always have a lack of financial stability at the heart of their challenges. The work that FareShare does is not a substitute for the state making sure that people have the ability to secure food for themselves. Food handouts are not a suitable substitute for having enough money to purchase food in the first place.
Many of the charities that FareShare gets food to are not solely set up to alleviate hunger, however our recent (pre-Covid-19) charity member survey (a representative sample of 912 of the 4,490 charities that collect or receive deliveries of food from our regional depots) found:
● 76% of charities said one of their primary functions was feeding people who are experiencing food insecurity or food poverty
● 55% said they support people on low or no incomes
Suggesting those who are ‘economically vulnerable’ make up a large proportion of the people supported by our charity network.
Increased need since the Covid-19 crisis began:
In the six weeks following lockdown measures:
● The number of charities applying to receive food from FareShare more than tripled from 237 in Feb to 888 in April.
● We signed up 500 new charities who will now receive deliveries from our warehouses across the UK (these new charities serve food to an average 96 vulnerable people per week)
● 80% of these new organisations provide food parcels to families and individuals experiencing food insecurity.
This is consistent with reports from across the FareShare network that many of the charities in our network are now adapting their model so they can deliver food parcels to those at risk of going hungry. We believe the heightened demand from food banks and organisations providing food parcels is as a result of:
Support received from industry:
The food industry and DEFRA have both reacted well and quickly to our requests for donated food as our surplus supply chain is not able to meet the needs of the pandemic alone. Quite rightly DEFRA focused their initial priority on the clinically vulnerable but moved quickly to seek to respond to the wider vulnerable.
Our concern longer term is that post furlough measures it is highly likely that we will see a much larger number of long term vulnerable and that surplus food volumes at the level that are currently passed on for social use are insufficient to meet demand. See point 1 below where there is a clear, simple and proven solution to drive double the volumes of surplus food into the social supply chain.
Key to meeting the need for ambient food for food parcel provision is the support we have received from the UK food industry, which includes:
● A commitment from more than 40 food businesses for donations of over 11,000 pallets of mainly ambient food (via a campaign facilitated by the Institute of Grocery Distribution, IGD) including pasta, cereals and tinned fruit, veg and meat. This is being split between FareShare’s charity network which includes 91 medium and small food redistribution organisations and the Trussell Trust network of food banks.
● The creation of a new distribution hub to process ambient food donated by Tesco to distribute to FareShare’s network of charities and Trussell Trust foodbanks across the country (in partnership with Sainsbury’s, Palletforce, The Entertainer, XPO and British Gas) made possible through a £3m donation from Sainsbury’s to cover distribution and logistics costs
● Tesco, Co-op and Compass Group pledging in-kind food donations worth £9m to FareShare. In addition the Co-op has repurposed its current advertising spend worth £2.5m to promote their partnership with and fundraise for FareShare.
● Asda committing £5m to help FareShare and Trussell Trust scale up their emergency response.
● A range of supermarket initiatives to help frontline charities get the food they need. These include providing priority access to stores for charities collecting end of day surplus or customer product donations, to avoid having to spend time queuing, and removing item limits for food banks purchasing packets and tins.
Currently, 90% of high quality, nutritional edible surplus food in the UK supply chain is wasted, when it should be being eaten by people. Most of this food goes to anaerobic digestion, animal feed, compost or landfill. More than two million tonnes of good to eat surplus food is wasted before it leaves the farm gate – the equivalent of 4.8bn meals each year.
Thanks to Michael Gove, DEFRA SoS at the time securing funding from HMRC, since July 2019 the FareShare network has been working with DEFRA to pilot a model that overcomes the most fundamental barrier to redistribution for farmers and growers - cost. By making it cost neutral for industry to divert their surpluses to feed people rather than via any other form of disposal we have saved 4,333 tonnes of good food from going to waste. We have secured surplus food from 154 English food businesses, and providing the equivalent of 5.5m meals to some of England’s most vulnerable people, who rely on charitable food provision.
DEFRA’s agreement for us to use an anticipated underspend on our grant in order to reduce waste arising in the food service sector as a result of the Covid-29 crisis enabled us to unlock an additional 1,825 tonnes of food during the course of the crisis (at an average cost of £320 per tonne), enough to create over 4.5m meals for those who are most vulnerable, and take some of the strain off the frontline voluntary organisations providing vital support. We have been able to use this to divert surplus soft fruit to be processed into juice boxes and surplus vegetables have been turned into ready meals.
Further steps needed: During this time of unprecedented demand, we are calling on government to make available £5million per annum to support farmers, growers, manufacturers and distributors to safely and quickly divert surplus food to FareShare without incurring additional costs – particularly during this critical time - rather than have it go to waste.
This would enable us to:
● Divert enough food to create an additional 53 million meals each year via 11,000 frontline charity and community groups, almost double what we do currently.
● Deliver taxpayers a social return of investment of £65m in costs avoided by the NHS, social care, education, and criminal justice system (the value of FareShare’s support to the UK taxpayer has been calculated based on a report on FareShare’s value-add to the UK taxpayer by the New Economics Foundation to be £13 for every £1 invested).
● Save the voluntary sector an additional £32 million per year by covering the majority of the cost of food charities would otherwise need to buy at full price.
● Save over 20,000 tonnes of good quality food from being wasted.
● Michael Gove at the time (pre-crisis) said good food going to waste was “An Economic, Environmental and Financial scandal”. Now - in the midst of the crisis - we believe there is simply no excuse.
Further steps needed: We would like to see government urging industry to ensure those who are severely ‘economically vulnerable’ (and the charities providing food aid to this group) are also prioritised and supported during and beyond the crisis, just as those with medical needs are.
Q3. What further impacts could the current pandemic have on the food supply chain, or individual elements of it, in the short to medium-term and what steps do industry, consumers and the Government need to take to mitigate them?
Food shortages: Further stressors to the supply chain could well lead to shortages in certain food categories (as a result of partial or complete restrictions on exports globally, or shortages of farm labour affecting the UK harvest). If that happens there’s a real risk that once again ‘economically vulnerable’ groups and the organisations supporting them will be ‘last in line’ when it comes to accessing this food - and that good food will simply go to waste or rot in the fields.
Further steps needed: Again, we are calling on government to make available £5million per annum to support farmers, growers, manufacturers and distributors to cover some of the costs to safely and quickly divert surplus food to FareShare without incurring additional costs themselves – particularly during this critical time - rather than have it go to waste (which is cheaper for them).
Increased food waste at farm level: Wrap estimates around 2m tonnes of good to eat fruit and veg is wasted before it leaves the farm gate every year. We are concerned labour shortages at harvest time may lead to even more food rotting in the fields instead of ending up on the plates of those who are most in need.
Further steps needed: The funding above will help to offset the costs to growers of harvesting, packing and delivering food to charities will be more important than ever in this scenario, as food, in particular fruit and veg, will be urgently needed by charities supporting vulnerable people in the aftermath of the crisis.
Q4. How effectively has the Government worked with businesses and NGOs to share information on disruptions to the supply chain and other problems, and to develop and implement solutions? How effectively have these actions been communicated to the public?
Within the scope of DEFRA and its role, as stated earlier, DEFRA has listened and moved as quickly as a department can, to match the food industry contribution provided some weeks ago to support vulnerable people with food. We are due to hear an announcement next week (w/c 4th May )on the scale of this support.
The FareShare Surplus with Purpose fund that was part funded by DEFRA (£1.9m) actually helped to provide some very early resilience to the challenges posed by increased food demand from our charity network during lockdown. This meant that FareShare were able to respond quickly to the huge surpluses of food that were being offered by food service companies such as pubs, hotels and restaurants when they closed down, and ensure as much of this as possible went to feed people first, rather than go to waste.
 This is higher than our previous £210 per tonne average cost, and is as a result of increased costs due to the Covid-19 crisis, namely staff shortages.