OPINION: Back in 2012 Deborah Manning decided to start a food rescue business in Dunedin. She set out driving around in her car asking food retailers if they had any excess food they would donate – two-day-old packaged sandwiches, brown bananas, ready meals approaching the use-by date, that sort of thing.
When she had a boot full, she delivered it to front line organisations such as Women’s Refuge, food banks, and other social services. Six months later, when she had more food than her small car could handle she talked a car dealer into giving her a van, had a small storage facility (her garage) and was preparing to hire a driver so she could focus on acquiring food donors, raising money and finding more suitable premises, she asked me to join KiwiHarvest as her inaugural chair.
Ten years later I’m still there and KiwiHarvest has branches in Dunedin, Auckland, North Shore, Queenstown and Invercargill. In the ten years to August, it has collected and delivered 8,518,180 kgs or 24,337, 657 meal equivalents of donated food to individuals and families in need.
We call the food we collect and distribute “rescued food”. I really like that name. Food is planted and grown; bred and produced and in other cases manufactured and packaged to do one thing - provide healthy nutrition. Otherwise, off it trundles to landfill and there it rots away.
KiwiHarvest rescues food in two senses: one, so it can fulfill its purpose to provide nutrition and two, so it is prevented from messing up our environment.
Carbohydrates are the largest food group, and decomposing carbohydrates turn into lots of simpler molecules made of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen, including carbon dioxide and methane. In the ten years KiwiHarvest has been operating, the business has prevented 22,573 tonnes of CO² equivalent from being released into the atmosphere.
Then in 2020, Deborah’s second brilliant start-up vision came to pass (In my experience entrepreneurs are invariably serial. They have lots of good ideas about businesses they want to start and if their first idea is good, you better listen to their second, and the third and the fourth and…). She had for some time been banging on to the board about the need to establish a national network for the collection and distribution of bulk excess food.
Bulk food that cannot be sold is usually dumped, for a number of reasons. A few I can recall:
- A ship is setting off for Malaysia with 24 tonnes of frozen fish when someone notices the labels are printed in the wrong language;
- 20 tonnes of frozen chicken will pass their use-by date before they can be sold;
- 35 tonnes of carrot and potato seconds have no home;
- 257 pallets of dried chicken risotto are available, cause unknown.
There is really an amazing amount of bulk excess food in New Zealand that can’t be sold. And no local food rescue organisation can take it because they have nowhere to store it and it is too much food to distribute in the time available in one local area. So off it goes to the landfill.
Deborah’s second idea was to start a national network that collected all the bulk food available, centralised it and redistributed it to food rescue organisations, large food banks and iwi all over the country.
We developed our plan and our presentation deck and started doing the rounds looking for money. We targeted foundations and high net worth individuals and were making some progress, when Covid came along and changed the world. This put us in a position to work with the government at a time when the need was great.
Long story short, we established the New Zealand Food Network in 2020. It is government funded, has warehouses in Auckland and Christchurch and has distributed 15,552,685 kgs of food or 44,436,242 meal equivalents in the two years of operation to June 30, and averted 22,466 tonnes of CO2 equivalent from landfill.
Next we start on the essentials of starting a business, not-for-profit or for profit.