August 19 - Food Rescue
Insights from the ReFED Accelerator and COVID-19 Fund
Food waste and hunger were two unfortunate realities that existed pre-COVID-19 and have been exacerbated as a result of the pandemic – completely disrupting the food supply chain and further increasing the number of individuals facing food insecurity. In 2019, ReFED created a Nonprofit Food Recovery Accelerator to develop sustainable business models and technologies using human-centered design; this year ReFED released a brand new report – Scaling Food Recovery and Hunger Relief: Learnings from ReFED's Nonprofit Food Recovery Accelerator – and launched the COVID-19 Food Waste Solutions Fund to quickly deliver vital funding to organizations on the front lines of food rescue and hunger relief. Join us to learn more about the ongoing challenges, opportunities, successes, and lessons learned from these front line organizations whose work during the crisis will not only help in the short-term, but will lead to a more resilient and equitable food system in the long-term.
Key TakeawaysREFED BEST PRACTICES REPORT
Our new report offers guidance to the entire food system on how to support innovative food recovery organizations as they scale their work to reduce food waste and fight hunger. Includes best practices, case studies, and expert insights from a network of world-class food business and technology executives, capital providers, innovators, and subject matter experts.
SEEK NON-FINANCIAL SUPPORT
Whether it is back-end website development or strategic advisory services, all of the panelists talked about non-financial support they’ve received from funders during the pandemic. Support in the form of unique skills, expertise, or experience can be as valuable as dollars in addressing the scale of the challenges we’re facing in these unprecedented times.
Ida started off the call by encouraging us to adapt quickly and to implement solutions when they are most relevant and can make the most impact. All three of our panelists shared powerful examples of significant adaptations they’ve had to make to business models, partners and clients, funding sources, and more.BE SOLUTIONS-ORIENTED
Building on Best Practice #4: Expand the Value Proposition, Jennifer shared the importance of “coming to the table with a solution, not just the benefits you can offer,” and gave the example of how Brighter Bites helped foodservice partners move surplus they couldn’t get through food bank channels and cover costs for growers to harvest food that would otherwise have to be left in the field. Bryan added the importance of basing these solutions on data to ensure responsiveness and impact.THINK BROADLY ABOUT SAFETY
Building on Best Practice #8: Develop Robust Food Safety Procedures, the panelists talked about how what was previously just “food safety” has now become “human safety.” Katie shared Replate’s focus on providing PPE and shifting operations to keep their food rescuers safe. She also challenged us to look at where we can innovate to improve safe practices - “We can’t assume the normal model of lining up for food is what’s best right now.”
August 12 - Consumer
Leveraging Consumer Behavior Changes During and After COVID-19
COVID-19 has affected how we all think, feel, and operate. It may have forever altered our behaviors and attitudes towards food, from dining in new ways and places to increased interest in food prices and justice. Come learn from our panel of experts who study and work with consumers every day as they share best practices for engaging with consumers to build a more sustainable, less wasteful food system.
Key TakeawaysSEIZE THE MOMENT
"We have this blink-of-an-eye beautiful moment where people don’t want this information, they need this information” Joel said, speaking of consumer education content, and the need to take advantage of it. Research by Ohio State University shows 40% of people have more time to be doing things that interest them, including cooking, during the pandemic. Andrea and Brian both shared data that over half of Americans (54-58%) are cooking more at home than they were before the crisis, and Joel has seen this increase in attention in his own following, which has increased by 500% since the pandemic started. All the panelists emphasized taking advantage of this moment to educate consumers on how to use and avoid wasting their food.LEAN IN TO CHANGE
We’ve experienced a lot of change since the pandemic started — changes in personal behaviors, changes in consumption patterns, and more — and, according to our panelists, we aren’t done with change. Brian informed us that “there’s going to be a lot of turbulence in people’s purchasing patterns” and that transitional periods are where more waste occurs. Our panelists encouraged us to lean in to change and to use that to inspire action. Andrea said, “there’s a natural inclination to say ‘we’ll get there someday,’” but that moments like this are forcing rapid change and we should be engaging consumers in making those changes and meeting them where they are.
The pandemic has led to unprecedented increases in online shopping, “click and collect” and other digital tools. These tools have improved convenience, saved consumers money, have helped keep consumers safe — and they are here to stay. We were encouraged to think of new ways to take advantage of these shifts in technology and convenience channels use. Like we learned in our Forecasting installment last week, Andrea reminded us that we can’t throw consumer trends out the window, but we need to start looking at trends in weeks, instead of months or years.CONTENT CONTENT CONTENT
Joel emphasized that it’s not just the “where” and the “when” that are important in engaging the consumers, but the “what”— “Serving up helpful content has never been more successful than right now.” He encouraged companies to focus on making content usable for the consumer, rather than self-serving for brands or organizations. It should also be short and accessible; nothing is better than a 15 second video of helpful content! This content should also be focused on individuals. Andrea shared that consumers have reached their capacity for systems challenges and we need to hone in on behaviors and impacts at the individual or household level.DON’T LEAD WITH FOOD WASTE
When thinking about the make-up of that content, our panelists encouraged us not to lead with food waste. It may seem counter-intuitive in this discussion, but “there are so many things that people need to tackle that the idea of food waste can feel overwhelming; they don’t know if they can address it.” Communicators are encouraged to lead with other messaging, such as cost savings or health and safety, with food waste as an additional benefit. Joel shared the example of Barnana, a company using rescued bananas to make new products. Barnana packaging has nothing to do with food waste except for a little story on the back — instead they engage the consumer with the flavor and convenience of the product, knowing food waste reduction is an additional benefit.BRING BACK THE PAST
Our panelists all talked about trends from the Great Depression that we are seeing reemerging today. “Talk about new technology — let’s think about old technology”, Brian said, referencing an increase in gardening, freezing, canning, jarring, etc. - “We need to go back to Home Ec. 101.” Brian also talked about how we should be encouraging these behaviors as solutions to food waste, rather than guilt alleviation mechanisms, such as throwing food in the freezer as a last resort. This is a great example of engaging and helpful content we can be spreading to consumers.REVISIT DATE LABELS
For several years, industry has been working toward standardizing date labels and educating consumers about their purpose — a large majority of date labels are intended to be an indication of product quality, rather than of food safety. As Brian said, “Now more than ever we need to let people know those dates are mainly about quality”. Even though we still have work today on driving consistency in labeling, we should be finding ways to educate consumers on how to use date labels and determine how long they can consume their food. Joel also called for innovation and scaling of technologies to help consumers solve the challenges presented by date labels.BE VULNERABLE
One of Joel’s primary recommendations in effectively engaging with consumers is to be vulnerable, or in his words, “letting people in.” He talked about successful businesses showing their struggles are gaining consumers trust. For example, a dairy-free milk company that incorporated consumers into a sourcing decision for their almonds. This inclusive process showed vulnerability on behalf of the manufacturer, while building trust and confidence with their consumers. We have an opportunity to let “consumers be part of the answer.”ADDITIONAL RESOURCES
- OSU’s Study on the Impact of COVID-19 on Consumer Food Waste: https://u.osu.edu/foodwaste/in-the-news/
- Nielsen Resources:
- Predicting the COVID-19 Behavioral Reset
- Recalibrated Consumption Dynamics in a COVID-19 Altered World
- Understanding Consumer Sentiment Can Help Companies Adjust As the U.S. Begins to Re-Open
- BASES COVID-19: Most Relevant Benefits in Ready to Eat or Drink Products
- Pantries Padded with Produce as North Americans Prepare for the COVID-19 Long Haul
- COVID-19 Concerns Are Likely a Tipping Point for Local Brand Growth
- Nielsen's Overall COVID-19 Research Hub
August 05 - Forecasting
Demand and Inventory Forecasting During and After COVID-19
Food supply and demand seem to be in constant flux during the COVID-19 pandemic. That’s made forecasting demand and planning inventories a major challenge for people throughout the food system. It’s also increased food waste. Join our panel of planning experts and food service players to learn about best practices you can implement to forecast more accurately and waste less food amidst uncertainty.
Key TakeawaysTHINK LAST WEEK, NOT LAST YEAR
Given the unprecedented nature of recent supply and demand changes, forecasting using data from the prior week or two can often be more accurate than using data from last year. “Getting people to look at sales from last week or two weeks ago as opposed to what they were selling a year ago is a cruder process, but it enables you to get more foresight into what demand might look like,” said Matt. Thomas suggested that paying more attention to more recent data can enhance forecasting in normal times, too, insofar as it can help account for the latest trends.DECREASE DECISIONS
“A big challenge that retailers have, and that has been exacerbated by this crisis, is a lack of time that people have in managing these stores,” said Matt. To make the most of retailers’ limited time while improving overall forecasting accuracy, he recommended focusing on a limited number of higher-impact decisions, which can be identified by focusing on the highest-volume items in demand. “Spending a little more time in the decision-making process in turn drives much less time in running the actual business,” he reminded us. Such an approach ultimately gets higher-quality key products to customers.
Tracy’s team redesigned their menus to have fewer, more human-centered items when COVID-19 struck. “We removed items that didn’t make sense for takeout, for sustainability,” she said. This simplified her forecasting by reducing the number of ingredients and increased inventory turns for the ingredients she was buying, leading to greater forecasting accuracy and less waste. It also reduced the number of decisions she had to make, thus saving her team time and energy.OVERLAP
Tracy recommends focusing on ingredients that can be used in multiple dishes when redesigning menus and diversifying demand and revenue streams. The resulting ingredient lists that “overlap and intertwine” are easier to forecast and keep Tracy’s inventories moving to people’s plates, not the trash.DIVERSIFY DEMAND
At the onset of the pandemic, Tracy and her team diversified the demands they served by starting new revenue streams like meal kits, Off Their Plate and Project Restore Us to feed those in need, and a retail grocery offering, PAGU Market. This smoothed and de-risked her forecasts (since she was no longer over-reliant on any one source of demand), increased inventory throughput (which often correlates with less waste), and kept her businesses running (preventing upstream demand shocks and waste). “I don’t know that any one of them would have been enough to sustain our business, and I don’t know that any one of them would have been enough to move product efficiently and responsibly,” she said of her new offerings.BE HUMAN-CENTERED
Human-centered design ensures that a product is relevant for a consumer by empathizing with that consumer — by putting oneself in the consumer’s shoes — then building what will truly be valuable. Tracy’s demand and inventory forecasting success during the pandemic is due in large part to her human-centeredness. “We started looking at the trends, at how people were eating during a pandemic, and we noticed that people were moving toward comfort foods,” she said. By empathizing with her community, she also saw demand for foods that were affordable and enjoyable multiple times per week, then designed her menu accordingly. But it wasn’t always this way. Pre-pandemic, “chefs wanted to cook certain things,” she said, invoking an if you build it they will come mentality. Likewise, Thomas shared that, in normal times, “purchasing teams often buy what they want to sell, as opposed to what consumers want.” Having changed to a human-centered approach, the teams at PAGU and Baldor have been able to better forecast demand and inventory, as well as reduce food surpluses.LISTEN
A key to being human-centered is listening, which can happen with more than just our ears. Tracy and her team were well aware of the recent sourdough trend when they “listened” to what the market was telling them through grocery shelves void of flour. Putting the two together, Tracy’s team forecasted pack-size-specific demand and inventory levels for a wide variety of flours, began buying them in bulk from distributors like Baldor, and broke industrial-sized bags into more layman-sized one and five pound packages. They did the same for yeast and personal protective equipment (PPE), though they gave the latter away for free to their community in need. As an added benefit, these items (and her purple pancake mix) attracted new consumers to their business, led to higher sales of a wide range of products, and further reduced waste.AUGMENT, DON’T REPLACE, HUMANS
While artificial intelligence (AI) has made major progress in recent years, it should not be used to replace humans. “There’s been a lot of ego around tech in the past and thinking that we can fully automate everything and perfect it,” said Matt. “One of the ways we’ve tried to get around that is by empowering people instead of trying to automate decisions away.” For example, the optimization calculations made by Afresh’s artificial intelligence-enabled products are presented to people for adjustment using information that humans have but the AI might not (e.g., the popularity of a certain recipe or an upcoming event). By decreasing decisions as mentioned prior, plus augmenting human decisions with AI, Afresh have seen some of their retail grocery partners decrease food waste by 25% year-over-year while significantly growing revenues.RESIST THE OVERSTOCK
“Grocers are always walking the knife’s edge when it comes to carrying too much or too little,” Matt reminded us. The human tendency to not want to miss out — whether that be on a social event or a sale — can cause us to do things like carry too much inventory. But, as Matt called out, that excess can quickly erode profits and make an inefficient business. A profit-maximizing, low-risk safety stock quantity can now be reliably forecasted using artificial intelligence, as found in offerings from Afresh and others. This enables organizations to avoid having too much inventory and wasting food as well as having too little and missing sales.FLEX
COVID-19 has shown almost everyone the importance of being flexible — making due with what’s available and not letting perfection be the enemy of the good. Thomas has seen newfound flexibility in Baldor customers, leading to more accurate forecasts and less waste. “There was a time just six months ago where chefs had to have a particular product,” he said. “We’re so past that. There’s something patriotic about being flexible and willing to adjust to the food that we have available to us today.” Tracy corroborated what Thomas has seen. She emphasized that “it’s important to innovate and be flexible and diversify as restaurant owners, but also remember why we do this...even if that means pivoting to something you’ve never done before.”BACKUP PLAN
All prognosticators, from humans to machines, have struggled to accurately forecast inventories and demand during this pandemic. As such, backup planning has been vital for when forecasts don’t come to fruition. Tracy’s backup plan is to repurpose and/or reallocate inventory to other demand streams when one falls short of forecasts. For example, she turns surplus milk meant for her restaurant into ricotta for PAGU Market. Chefs have always done this; COVID-19 has just made it more common and important. Likewise, Thomas’ team at Baldor had three days of inventory on hand when restaurants shut down, plus “five days’ inventory worth of trucks barreling towards [their] warehouses.” “What were we doing to do with all that food?,” he wondered. Luckily, Baldor had a backup plan in the form of food rescue organization partnerships through which they donated a significant portion of their surplus inventory.INVEST IN FORECASTING
While increasing the accuracy of forecasts costs time and money up-front, it can more than cover those costs in the long-term. It’s also worth noting that implementing new forecasting technologies can now take a couple months, not years, because technologies are added on to existing systems as opposed to replacing them completely. Matt highlighted a few ways a forecasting investment can pay off. First, for some Afresh clients, the value of food they waste can be equal to their profits. In such cases, any percent reduction in food waste is roughly the same percent increase in EBITDA or profit. Second, as customers revisit their shopping habits in these times of change, properly forecasting demand and inventories can also win retailers customers for life when, for example, they’re the only store that has a delicious piece of produce — or any produce at all. Third, a better forecasted business requires less labor, meaning teammates can spend more time engaging with and winning over customers.
July 29 - Reemergence
Revitalizing Food Waste Reduction in Food Service Operations
Food waste matters now more than ever for restaurant bottom-lines, food supply chains, and consumers. Join our panel of experts in food service and food waste as they share how to reduce costs, increase revenues and consumer engagement, and support your community by ensuring restaurants reemerge from the pandemic with an eye to food waste reductions. We have an opportunity to rebuild as a more resilient food system; prioritizing food waste reductions is important to doing so.
Key TakeawaysRestaurant Reopening Guidelines
These guidelines can help you incorporate food waste reduction procedures into your reopening and post-COVID operational plans.
May 13 - Finance
Organizational Financial Health During and After COVID-19
This pandemic has created a range of fiscal issues and opportunities for all types of organizations. Join us to learn more about keeping your organization financially healthy in the short- and long-term.
Key TakeawaysOXYGEN MASKS ON
Elizabeth has picked up on many organizations’ eagerness to seize opportunities to help and progress. However, just as airlines remind you to “put your oxygen mask on before helping others,” Elizabeth reminds us that “if you’re not on solid financial footing yourself, you won’t be able to help the sector or the world for very long.” It’s therefore important to prioritize your own organization's financial health in the short- and long-term. By doing so, you’re helping others, too.TAKE YOUR TIME
Relatedly, in order to “put your oxygen mask on first,” Elizabeth recommends taking your time to weigh the major financial decisions you’re making and to prepare accordingly. There’s “pressure to ‘keep up with the Joneses’ by constantly communicating your COVID response externally,” when what’s really needed is diligent financial planning. “Good work takes time,” she reminds us.
As emphasized by Jeannie, a valuable way to spend your time is for scenario planning—making best-, likely-, and worst-case scenario assumptions and considering how your organization should react to each. She’s found a COVID-19-specific planning matrix helpful, and advises updating it regularly to understand financial and operational changes that can be madeSTRUT YOUR STUFF
Many investors still have capital to deploy. For organizations seeking funding, Nina recommends making yourselves look as attractive to funders as possible, even if that means doing things out of the ordinary. Emphasize and make clear how you’ve pivoted to thrive in our current situation, or how your existing model is well-suited for this moment. Also consider more favorable investment terms and couched financial projects.BE TRANSPARENT
Regina and Nina both highlighted the importance of being transparent with your stakeholders. For Nina, that means following up more regularly and keeping lines of communication open with potential funders to prevent things from getting lost in the shuffle. For Regina, transparency means communicating why and how she’s making financial decisions; it’s paid off for her in the form of deeper, more reliable funder relationships.PARTNER
All panelists reminded us that this crisis has created more opportunities to partner for financial success. Nina called out how partnerships between startups (with their nimbleness) and corporations (with their scale) can be critical to the success of both in this new economy. It all starts with reaching out to people in your network to make asks and offers.EXTEND THE RUNWAY
In keeping with air travel metaphors, Regina and Elizabeth stressed the importance of “extending the runway,” or the time an organization could operate using only funds on hand. Regina learned this lesson firsthand while working in nonprofits during the 2008-2009 recession, and therefore prioritized extending FRN’s runway when she became its executive director. Elizabeth’s team is advising their portfolio that “six months of cash on hand is the minimum in these challenging times” but that “the ideal is closer to 12 months.” This could be organizations’ most important task in the coming weeks, she says. On the revenues side, this could mean doubling-down on existing funders, pursuing more philanthropic capital instead of investments, or changing the approach to earned revenue models. Which actions you take, however, should be based on what your scenario planning tells you.PIVOT
Each panelist emphasized the importance of pivoting—changing what you typically do—to keep revenues flowing and costs in check during these uncertain times. Jeannie recommends looking into how you might “use your existing assets to build out new capabilities and bring in revenues” to “meet a new need.” Your entire business model needn’t pivot; you can pivot certain parts of your model and leave the rest as they are. Nina highlighted how Farmer’s Fridge, a healthy foods vending machine startup, has pivoted to make hospitals almost all of their current business when, pre-COVID, hospitals were only a quarter of their business. When pivoting, Jeannie recommends an “experimental mindset” and “trying things on” to see whether they work for your organization.CHECK YOUR CULTURE
Regina and Jeannie have noticed some common cultural characteristics that have helped organizations adapt and remain financially healthy: resilience, grit, determination, and flatness (the opposite of hierarchical). The more you can imbue these qualities into your organization and teams, regardless of their size, the better they could fare in times of change.FLEX YOUR MISSION
In these unprecedented times, our panelists recommend broadening or loosely interpreting organizational missions; this can increase opportunities to pivot and keep finances healthy. Elizabeth recognized Common Market Food Hub, whose mission is “to connect communities with good food from sustainable family farms.” Traditionally, this meant that they served as a food hub between underserved farming families and institutional buyers in underserved communities. Now, however, they’ve pivoted to B2C and deliver food boxes to customers in Manhattan. Their core of working with underrepresented farms is still intact, but their marketing channels have diversified.Resources
Navigating COVID-19: Practical financial crisis guidance for social ventures (Rippleworks) // This summary of a discussion hosted by Rippleworks provides guidance on six main topics: working capital, scenario planning, cutting costs, layoffs, new realities of raising capital, and your role as a leader.
May 06 - Government
Getting Government Support During COVID-19
Government passed legislation to provide organizations with support during the pandemic, but have you made the most of what’s available to your organization? Are you sharing the right information with the right people? Learn from experts how you can work with different levels of government to improve food access and reduce food waste.
Emily Broad Leib, Director, Harvard Law School Food Law and Policy Clinic See Bio for Details
Elizabeth Balkan, Director, Food Waste, Food & Agriculture Program, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) See Bio for Details
Tom O'Donnell, PhD, Sustainability Coordinator, US Environmental Protection Agency (NAHE) Region 3 See Bio for Details
Key TakeawaysUse Local Knowledge
Emily highlights that it’s difficult for the federal government to precisely target where funding should go. She recommends greater collaboration across federal, state, and local governments, so that state and local governments can use their intimate knowledge of their constituents to help direct federal funding to where it will have the greatest impact.Make Your Case
Relatedly, Emily expects states and localities will receive more federal funding in the coming weeks. She recommends contacting your representative in Congress, as well as working with your state and local governments, to help them build a case as to why your region should receive funding. You can find their contact info here.
Emily mentioned confusion around FEMA food programs, saying it's unclear how communities will know whether they’re eligible for FEMA assistance. Such confusion can be avoided by putting yourself in your audience’s shoes, whether they’re a member of the public or a government official, and thinking about what they would want and need to know to complete your request or use your offer.Talk with Government
Tom wants you to know the government is here to help you. “Email us. Make a phone call,” he said. According to him, many at EPA consider themselves connectors and catalysts, ready to help you with anything, big (e.g., tech solutions to glean surplus food from farms) or small (e.g., how to turn food waste into shelter animal food). As Tom reminded us, outreach to an EPA expert can be much faster and more accurate than a Google search. You can find your regional EPA contact here.Connect for Resiliency
Elizabeth has noted that communities with greater connections — especially to government — respond better to the unforeseen. “They can more nimbly respond to the crises. Relationships have enabled cities to rapidly, effectively coordinate across agencies, and in public-private partnerships,” she says. “It gets you over that initial bureaucratic hurdle of figuring out who to talk with and what to say. Being able to cut through the initial red tape has been critical.”Leverage CFAP
As highlighted by Emily, the USDA Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) finances distributors and wholesalers to move pre-approved boxes of fresh produce, dairy, and meat products to nonprofits feeding Americans. Producers should therefore connect with distributors and wholesalers participating in CFAP; distributors and wholesalers should find producers that can supply them as well as nonprofits to which they can deliver food; and nonprofits should find distributors and wholesalers distributing food in their area. A full list of approved suppliers will be posted on the Farmers to Families Food Box Program website at 5 p.m. ET, Friday, May 8, 2020.Don't Reinvent the Wheel
Many governments across the country have resources that they’re sharing publicly; take advantage of those. As Elizabeth reminded us, in crises like this, we don’t have time to build tools from scratch. Instead, we must use what others have built and tested for us. For example, New York City developed a food donation portal, the code for which is available from their Department of Sanitation.Reference Resources
If you’re not quite ready to call the EPA, that’s more than okay. They, and other federal agencies, have developed self-service resources for your use. One of EPA’s many resources, for example, is their Excess Food Opportunities Mapping Tool; it will help you identify how much food is being wasted in your community, then plan how to recover that food and feed the food insecure. See below for additional resources shared on the call.Resources
- Contact Your Government Officials // Instructions and links for how to contact your elected officials and make your voice heard.
- Contact EPA // Have questions about the sustainable management of food or how you can reduce wasted food? Interested in joining the Food Recovery Challenge? Contact an expert near your region of the United States. Select a state or territory from this map.
- Purchase and Distribution of Food (FEMA) // Outlines eligibility criteria for FEMA public assistance related to the purchase and distribution of food as a result of the COVID-19 emergency declaration.
- Food Matters (NRDC) // A compilation of resources to help cities make sizable reductions in food waste through comprehensive policies and programs.
- Save the Food (NRDC) // A compilation of consumer-facing food waste prevention tips and tools.
- DonateNYC Food Donation Portal (DSNY) // A platform that enables donors to post listings of available food. An algorithm rapidly notifies the best-matched and nearest recipient organization that food is available. Cities interested in the code for this portal can get in touch with DSNY at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- COVID-19 Response Issue Brief for Policymakers and Funders (San Diego Food System Alliance) // As highlighted by Elizabeth, this PDF outlines immediate impacts and priority recommendations for policymakers and funders to take action.
- COVID-19 Blogs, Reports, and Issue Briefs (Harvard Law School FLPC) // As mentioned by Emily during our discussion, this is the web hub where she and FLPC are putting all of FLPC's blogs, reports, and issue briefs on food waste.
- Excess Food Opportunities Map (EPA) // This interactive map identifies and displays facility-specific information about potential generators and recipients of excess food in the industrial, commercial, and institutional sectors and also provides estimates of excess food by generator type.
- Sustainable Management of Food Resources (EPA) // A collection of resources and tools to prevent food waste.
- Food: Too Good to Waste Peer Network (EPA) // A forum for cities and states to connect with each other on food waste issues, hosted by EPA. They have monthly calls and have been sharing best practices and resources related to COVID-19 disruptions. People who want to join the network can contact Claudia Fabiano at Fabiano.Claudia@EPA.gov.
- Food Labeling Flexibilities (FDA) // Details on food labeling changes mentioned by Emily during our discussion (same as mentioned by Kevin Smith, FDA, during our 4/29 Safety installment).
- Food Recovery Challenge Results (EPA) // As highlighted by Tom, these are the results from the 2018 EPA Food Recovery Challenge (FRC), a voluntary incentive program in which EPA works with organizations and businesses who pledge to set data-driven goals, implement targeted strategies to reduce food waste in their operations, and report results to compete for annual recognition from EPA. Organizations and businesses can join as participants or endorsers and are encouraged to follow the Food Recovery Hierarchy to prioritize their actions to prevent and divert wasted food.
April 29 - Safety
Safe Operations & Food Handling During COVID-19
Coronavirus necessitates new ways of working to keep employees and customers safe. From social distancing to hand washing and “A/B teaming,” there’s an entirely new set of best practices to implement in addition to all-important food safety practices. Hear from a panel of safety experts and frontline workers about the best ways to run your organization in these risky times.
Su-Lin Terhell, Operations and Strategy Manager, Replate See Bio for Details
Kevin Smith, Senior Advisor, Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, U.S. Food and Drug Administration See Bio for Details
Dr. Ben Chapman, PhD, Professor and Food Safety Extension Specialist, North Carolina State University See Bio for Details
Tracy Chang, Chef/Owner, Pagu See Bio for Details
Key TakeawaysPrevent person-to-person transmission
“We don’t have examples of food or food packaging leading to [COVID-19],” shared Ben. Our focus should therefore be on preventing person-to-person transmission. For that, CDC-recommended hand washing, social distancing, cloth face coverings and mask wearing, cough and sneeze catching, and cleaning and disinfecting are still best.Labeling
Ben stressed the importance of allergen and temperature labeling, even as FDA has rightly relaxed labeling regulations to keep food moving through the chain. Tracy highlighted that she and Off Their Plate place allergen information on every meal they make for healthcare workers. As for temperature labels, it remains vital to include thawing instructions, storage temperatures, and safe minimum internal temperatures.
Kevin emphasized the helpfulness of local health departments. As organizations shift to new, unfamiliar ways of working in response to COVID-19, these departments can help ensure food stays safe for consumption. Find yours here.Scrutinize self-serve
As society reopens, Ben predicts we’ll need to rethink self-serve options, from buffets to pump condiments and even salt shakers on tables. While some self-serve options may go away altogether, disinfecting them between uses will be required at least.Standardize
As Tracy and Off Their Plate ramped up, she couldn’t find standard operating procedures (SOP) for this new type of operation confronting a pandemic. She therefore created her own in partnership with local safety experts. Standardizing safe operations engrains good habits in an organization and makes sharing them easier.Be inclusive
The ways we learn and the languages we speak are as diverse as the foods we eat. It’s therefore important to be inclusive of all learning styles and languages when developing safety materials. For example, Tracy’s SOPs come in multiple languages and, for visual learners, Tracy plans to include videos and infographics.Clean cars
The volunteer delivery vehicles for Off Their Plate are regularly inspected and held to a cleanliness standard. Better yet, Tracy has found and started using commercial vehicles (from a florist) that are designed for easy deep-cleaning each day.Space out
Keeping social distance can be hard, especially in small kitchens. Tracy sets up her kitchen with prep spaces over six feet apart, limits the number of people in her kitchen, and cooks primarily out of ovens (so people aren’t nearby at the stove). She’s also implemented “one way streets” in the kitchen so people never flow within six feet of each other.Plan to not waste
“Nothing we’re recommending for safety should increase food waste,” said Ben. Su-Lin recommends food organizations put a plan in place to account for food waste, such as identifying food recovery organizations in your area that could take your surplus food. At the same time, Tracy thinks her restaurant is wasting less food than ever because they are planning meals for deliveries days in advance.Contactless delivery
To maintain social distance, contactless delivery is a must. When doing home deliveries, Su-Lin and Replate leave food at their customer’s doorstep, knock, and return to their vehicles. They collect every customer’s contact info, so if nobody answers their knock, they can communicate with them over the phone from a distance. Likewise, when Off Their Plate delivers to hospitals, hospital coordinators take food out of the vehicle without interacting with the deliverer. All payments are handled electronically and personal protective equipment (PPE) is worn.Resources
- Food Safety and COVID-19 (FDA) // Resources, news, and frequently asked questions related to food safety and COVID-19.
- Food Labeling Flexibilities (FDA) // Details on food labeling changes mentioned by Kevin during our discussion.
- Restaurant Reopening Guidance (NRA) // Guide to help restaurants reopen when the time comes, which Ben contributed to and mentioned during our discussion.
- Proper Handwashing Demonstration // A great example of proper handwashing as mentioned by Tracy during our discussion.
- Example No Contact Protocol // Instructions for how to conduct contactless food pickups and deliveries from our friends at 412 Food Rescue.
- Food Scrap Separation Guidance // Instructions for safe food scrap separation and storage from the Center for EcoTechnology and Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection.
- An Open Letter to Food Donation and Recovery Networks // Written by experts in food safety (including Ben) this letter urges the food donation and recovery community to "not implement the guidance [they] have received and messaging related to halting the acceptance of donations due to COVID-19" because "the risk of transmission through food or food packaging has not been demonstrated."
April 22 - Labor
Connecting Labor Surpluses and Shortages During COVID-19
While millions of Americans have been hit by the wave of unemployment, some sectors, including food recovery, don’t have enough labor to meet record demand. We’ll discuss how to match people willing and able to work with organizations that need them.
Katherine Miller, Vice President of Impact, James Beard Foundation See Bio for Details
Melissa Speisman, Vice President and National Site Director, Food Rescue US See Bio for Details
Denise Osterhues, Senior Director - Sustainability & Community Engagement, The Kroger Co. See Bio for Details
Key TakeawaysCare for Each Other
Melissa, Denise, and Katherine each repeatedly reminded us of the importance of taking care of each other. We have to stay well now if we’re to rebound strong when the world opens back up. This includes adopting the physical cleanliness and safety measures the CDC recommends, but also goes further. Denise highlighted how Kroger is providing additional time off and shortening store hours to facilitate recuperation, as well as boosting morale with positive reinforcement like recognitions and “hero” bonuses. This is a marathon, not a sprint, after all (though it probably feels like both).Create Continuity
This is a best practice from last week worth repeating: the best way to prevent labor disruptions is to keep operations going. On last week’s installment, Melissa called in as a guest to share that Food Rescue US is doing this by forming community kitchens in corporate dining facilities; this keeps kitchens open, labor in place, and food flowing. This week, Katherine added that a recent James Beard Foundation (JBF) survey showed 30% of their members are continuing operations by feeding hospital workers, supplying school food centers, or feeding restaurant workers in need.
Denise and Katherine highlighted how their organizations are learning from our collective experience and sharing it with others — Kroger through their Blueprint for Businesses, and JBF through their industry support webinars. In this way, we can improve collectively and keep more of our labor force intact.Diversify Labor
COVID-19 has underscored the huge role that more senior volunteers play in the charitable food system. Given the heightened risks to this population, they cannot safely support the food insecure as they once did. This requires younger age groups to fill in and is creating a more inclusive charitable food system.Streamline
Food Rescue US has always streamlined by recruiting online and onboarding through simple conversations. This helps get labor in place quickly (in as little as 30 minutes) and with the proper personal protective equipment (PPE). Likewise, Kroger expedited their hiring process to bring on more than 60,000 new employees and meet the surge in grocery demand.Promote Policy
Katherine highlighted the policy work she and JBF are doing to expand unemployment benefits, SNAP access, farmer support, and stabilization for the small business community. She reminded us that we can all advocate for these policies by sharing information like JBF’s social media posts. Such efforts will be important to taking care of each other so we can rebound quickly when the time comes.Diversify Revenues
Employees, of course, require compensation. Katherine highlighted how restaurants are able to keep paying employees by creating new revenue streams. They’re doing so by, for example, selling wine and cocktails to go, as well as converting to grocery stores.Connect with Communities
Melissa highlighted the importance of working with communities to understand their nuanced strengths and needs. Likewise, Kroger has connected with communities hardest hit by the pandemic — like the bars and restaurants supported by JBF — to build a labor pipeline.Resources
- Kroger’s Blueprint for Businesses // A compilation of the grocery retailer’s lessons learned from operating during the pandemic.
- LEE Initiative // Mentioned by Katherine on the call, the Let’s Empower Employment (LEE) Initiative provides programs to create more diversity, training, and equality in Chef Ed Lee's restaurants. In response to COVID-19, the LEE Initiative is feeding restaurant workers who have been laid off or had their hours significantly reduced.
- JBF Webinars // The James Beard Foundation has created a webinar series to help the hospitality industry navigate the challenges of COVID-19.
- Talent Exchange // Talent Exchange, co-sponsored by the Food Marketing Institute (FMI), is a pro-bono project connecting people with companies hiring. There are more than 500,000 jobs listed in the system now. For a brief overview of the Talent Exchange, watch this short Eightfold Talent Exchange Video. You and your hiring leaders are invited to a personal consultation with the Eightfold team; schedule your consultation and demo here.
- Arnold & Porter Legal Resources // Arnold & Porter and the James Beard Foundation are collaborating to bring legal resources on unemployment, SNAP, and more to restaurant employees and owners.
April 15 - Logistics
Connecting Food and Transportation Surpluses and Shortages Caused by COVID-19
Supply chains have yet to catch up to demand caused by the pandemic. This has left food rotting in fields and trucks parked in lots while retailers and food recovery organizations struggle to keep up with record demand. Join us as we discuss ways to get food to the people who need it.
Key TakeawaysUse Idle Assets
Many organizations have stopped operations by choice or by law; that could mean they have idle assets like trucks, refrigerators, and kitchens available for use. Think about what you need and think outside the box about who may have it. Barbara, for example, is using idle trucks and drivers from a party tent rental company and municipalities.Simplify
Our work in these chaotic times can be made easier by simplifying what we do. SKU rationalization — reducing the number of products you carry — is a great place to start. Tim also highlighted that simplified rules, from produce specifications to federal regulations, have already helped turn food surpluses into viable supplies.
With the unpredictable supply and demand of food, new channels have proven to be successful in preventing food from being wasted. Convenience stores now carry fresh produce items; broadliners are supplying retailers; restaurants are selling fresh produce, meat, and essentials like TP directly to consumers; and foodservice companies are working with food recovery organizations to break up large pallets of food and distribute it.Partner
Sueli highlighted the importance of partnerships. DoorDash and United Way have partnered nationally. In turn, local United Way chapters use their intimate community knowledge to connect social service organizations with DoorDash for deliveries. Barbara and her box trucks are another example of partnerships. In these trying times, partnerships are paramount; when we get out of this mess, keep them going in our future food system.Communicate
Attendee Neal Bram, CEO of Project Waste Not, highlighted the need to open communications to find where food supply and demand have shifted in this crisis. For Project Waste Not, this entails pulling suppliers' food availability data and sharing it with buyers who can then purchase food instead of letting it go to waste."Snowball"
If you need something or have an idea, Barbara recommends starting with one outreach, like a call or Facebook post, then asking respondents who else they recommend you contact. Do the same with those contacts. As you roll along this way, you will “snowball” and pick up more people to help you find or share what you intend.Keep Moving
Melissa Spiesman, Vice President and National Site Director at Food Rescue US, reminded us that the best way to prevent logistics disruptions is to keep supply chains intact where possible. Food Rescue US is doing so by forming community kitchens in corporate dining facilities; this keeps kitchens open, food flowing, and bellies full.Get Creative
Never-before-seen challenges demand never-before-seen solutions born of creativity. Many of the above best practices didn’t exist before this pandemic. But people used creativity to find solutions where before there were none. Tim was helping us get creative on the call, wondering whether liquor stores (open in his home state of California) could become retailers of surplus fresh produce, too.