Creating a national food rescue network

KiwiHarvest founder and chief executive Deborah Manning (left) and Dunedin manager Susie...
KiwiHarvest founder and chief executive Deborah Manning (left) and Dunedin manager Susie Townshend at its Halsey St office. Photo: Gregor Richardson
From the early days of personally shifting unsold bread to charities, Dunedin’s Deborah Manning is now creating a nationwide food rescue network. Jono Edwards speaks to KiwiHarvest’s chief executive about the organisation’s rise and future.

Many businesses waste food. Many people do not have enough to eat.

It seems like an easy fix.

However, most of the country had not tackled the obvious solution to these problems until a former lawyer first filled her green Honda with sandwiches from the Dunedin Hospital’s Wishbone cafe in 2012.

Deborah Manning started FoodShare seven years ago as a way to take excess food from businesses and deliver it to agencies to feed "food insecure" people.

It would then work with the businesses to help them cut food wastage, to the benefit of the environment and their bottom line.

Now called KiwiHarvest, the organisation has its headquarters in Auckland and hubs on the North Shore and in Queenstown, Hawkes Bay and Dunedin.

Its helpers have delivered more than 6,005,200 meals, weighing 2,284,005kg. It calculates this equates to negating 9,136,020kg of CO2 emissions.

The organisation’s Dunedin operation is outgrowing its Halsey St premises, and will soon need a larger warehouse.

The heights the enterprise has reached are not entirely unexpected for Ms Manning.

Knowing the tendency for charities to fizzle out due to poor foresight, she created a scalable business plan from the start.

KiwiHarvest volunteer Olivia Eyles sorts through rescued food at the organisation’s Dunedin...
KiwiHarvest volunteer Olivia Eyles sorts through rescued food at the organisation’s Dunedin headquarters. Photo: Gerard O'Brien
"Although it’s happened much quicker than I expected."

While KiwiHarvest is expert at taking excess food from cafes and supermarkets, the next step is to tackle the vast quantities wasted at the sources of that food, Ms Manning says.

"For the future we have to provide a solution to bulk food surplus and food waste.

"If you think of Hawke’s Bay apples or Central Otago fruit, they could be mislabelled in the manufacturing process, and the whole run has to be disposed of.

"There isn’t a really robust solution for that in New Zealand."

She envisions creating a system whereby bulk product can be sent to warehouses throughout the country and then distributed to regions that need it.

"It’s working on an Australian model. I’d love to have it happen, but we’ll need to find a logistics partner.

"It’s also getting food businesses to agree to do it. It’s easier for some businesses to dispose of it quickly and quietly. That’s part of the mindset change we’re working on."

She believes the organisation is only getting at the top layer of food waste and much more is being dumped or made into stock feed behind the scenes.

As well as having 200 volunteers nationally, the organisation has 18 paid staff.

Ms Manning knows that because of its plans it cannot just rely on purely on grants.

KiwiHarvest at present takes excess food  free of charge, but her dream scenario is that the larger organisations with bulk volumes will pay for its removal.

"People pay to have their rubbish taken away, but not for us to take it away to people in need, which is the better solution."

KiwiHarvest Auckland drivers and volunteers deliver packages to the Apii Potiki Community...
KiwiHarvest Auckland drivers and volunteers deliver packages to the Apii Potiki Community Preschool in Glen Innes. Photo: Arthur Francisco
A barrier to this in New Zealand was that when money entered the equation, the businesses could potentially be liable for health and safety if something happened later in the chain.

"So either the law needs to change, or the businesses need to be confident enough in our robust system."

In some parts of the United States businesses get tax credits for donating food to charity, but in New Zealand this only applies to cash donations.

KiwiHarvest has also moved towards more business sponsorships as a way of keeping the organisation running.

It is "always happy" to open new branches, Ms Manning says.

In Queenstown, it did this by partnering with existing organisations in the area.

"I think that could be the new direction. They have grass-roots buy-in and they are responsible financially and for its operation. We offer a strong brand which is well recognised now."

NOW, there are food rescue groups all over the country, but Kaibosh in Wellington was the only game in town when KiwiHarvest began as FoodShare.

On the first day, Ms Manning parked her car outside Wishbone at closing time and collected 7kg of prepacked sandwiches.The next day, she drove them to Presbyterian Support Otago.

Next, Coupland’s Bakeries joined up, so, six days a week,  Ms Manning would pack the crates in her car and deliver them.

"It got to the point when I had so much bread stacked up in the back of my car I couldn’t see out the back of it."

At that point, Dunedin’s Southern Motor Group gave the operation a van, which it uses to this day.

She continued by herself, then recruited a friend, before applying for the first grant.

"I didn’t want to ask for any money until I knew it worked."

Educating businesses about food waste reduction was always an important part of the equation.

"It’s not until we come along they know how much they are wasting. It usually drops down after about three months and steadies off."

KiwiHarvest is also committed to educating people who are food insecure on the uses of some of the foods they provide.

Some of recipients never have access to fresh produce, so if they are given exotic vegetables without knowing what to do with them, the food will be wasted, Ms Manning says.

Even with its huge operation, KiwiHarvest Dunedin never has a shortage of organisations seeking the excess food.

However, it has strict criteria on who receives it.

"We sometimes get people asking for food for a barbecue thanking their volunteers or something like that, but that’s not really what we’re about."

Businesses need to sign up, buy into the scheme and provide the food to people who need it most.

Ms Manning’s ultimate aim? Unemployment.

"Ideally, if we can reduce the amount of food that’s wasted in the first place, we’ll do ourself out of a job, and that’s the end goal."

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