NZ Food Network to bolster support for Kiwis living with food insecurity

With many New Zealanders facing increased financial hardship as a result of COVID-19, national levels of food insecurity have risen sharply in recent months – and are set to rise further when the wage subsidy scheme concludes in September. Now, a new venture is set to provide much-needed additional support to the hundreds of community organisations around the country that are working overtime to meet this growing need.

Launching this week, the New Zealand Food Network (NZFN) will enable food hubs – such as food rescue organisations, iwi and charities – to expand their positive impact in the communities they serve, and beyond, by transforming supply chain processes to create better efficiency and synergy.

The NZFN will act as a centralised distribution hub, collecting and safely storing bulk food donations at its Auckland-based warehouse, with food then able to be requested on an as-needed basis (and at no cost) by food hubs around the country, without compromising their existing supply channels. Donations will include not only surplus and rescued food, which would otherwise go to landfill – but also bulk donations of saleable product from a community of generous donor partners.

Providing a comprehensive and streamlined solution to connect supply and demand, the NZFN also promises to eliminate the issue faced by many community organisations of a lack of on-site storage infrastructure, which can often see them having to turn away large food donations. The amount of food made available to any single organisation will depend on supply, the levels of deprivation or food insecurity in the communities they serve, coupled with their storage capacity.

New Zealand Food Network founder, Deborah Manning, says the launch this week marks the culmination of over two years of planning and preparation – with efforts expedited from the start of lockdown, to help meet the new wave of demand caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“As New Zealanders, many of us share the belief that it’s our collective responsibility to ensure everyone has access to healthy, nutritious food. Although there are hundreds of dedicated food hubs around the country working towards this goal, and many generous food producers wanting to donate product to the cause, what was missing until now was an efficient and comprehensive solution that could connect this supply and demand.”

New Zealand Food Network CEO, Gavin Findlay, says, “Traditionally, those organisations working to address food insecurity throughout New Zealand – from both a food hub and food donor perspective – have faced logistical challenges which have limited their reach and positive impact. Food banks often don’t have storage capacity for significant volumes of food, and for that reason, many will have had to turn away larger donations – meaning that food goes to waste rather than making it into the communities which need it most.

“We’re incredibly proud to be launching the NZFN to provide the supporting infrastructure that will help eliminate that critical issue – enabling these community organisations to expand their capacity and reach, and make an even greater positive difference to those in need. The launch of the Network has been made possible thanks, in large part, to the generous support of our dedicated partners across the Government, private and social sectors, who each share our vision.

“These organisations will be instrumental in our efforts in getting food to where it’s needed most. In particular, we’d like to express our immense gratitude to the Ministry of Social Development, Kainga Ora and the Goodman Foundation, for their generous financial support,” Findlay concludes.

New Zealand Food Network Chairman, David Kirk, says “We have designed and are implementing a highly efficient supply chain solution to solve a long-standing problem in New Zealand – the difficulty major food growers and producers have in making excess and donated bulk food available to local food hubs throughout the country. The New Zealand Food Network is a major social asset for New Zealand and will support the many and increasing number of food-insecure New Zealanders in the years ahead.”

The NZFN’s partners include:

  • Foundation donor partners: T&G Fresh, Sanitarium, Fonterra
  • Other supporters: Ministry for Primary Industries

The NZFN will initially operate solely from its Auckland-based warehouse, before expanding its operations to establish a Christchurch facility later this year.

Foodbank calls for Food Insecurity strategy

Hunger relief organisation Foodbank is also calling on the Federal Government to develop a National Food Insecurity Strategy, to ensure both food insecurity and food waste are addressed.

The call comes as Australia’s first-ever National Food Waste Strategy is set to be launched today. While Foodbank welcomes this as a step towards providing long-term solutions to the $20 billion food waste problem, the organisation wants more attention to be also given to the issue of food security.

“A food waste strategy is long-overdue, but we are concerned that it appears to lack the necessary funding to ensure rapid implementation. Nevertheless, it is a great first step in reducing the amount of perfectly edible food that is wasted, particularly given this country’s worrying food insecurity problem,” Foodbank CEO, Brianna Casey said.

The latest Foodbank Hunger Report revealed that a shocking 3.6 million Australians (15% of the population) were food insecure, meaning they had experienced uncertainty around where their next meal was coming from in the last 12 months – and they are not who you’d think. Almost half of food insecure Australians are employed with 2 in 5 of these households being families with dependent children.

“The food supply and demand equation is entirely out of balance in Australia, not helped at all by the fact that we are wasting staggering amounts of food,” Ms Casey said. “How can it be that we produce enough food in Australia to feed approximately 60 million people, yet 3.6 million Australians were food insecure last year?”

Foodbank argues that the issue is not so much that there is not enough food, but that the food isn’t getting to the right places, in the right time, to help address food insecurity and avoid waste. As such, Foodbank is calling on the Federal Government to complement its National Food Waste Strategy with a whole-of-government strategy to address Australia’s growing food insecurity crisis.

To combat hunger in Australia, Foodbank works closely with farmers, manufacturers, and retailers, to source fresh and manufactured foods for vulnerable Australians in need. The farm sector generously donates large volumes of fresh produce each year, with last financial year’s donations including:

  • 112,000 kilograms of unprocessed and manufactured rice and grain products,
  • 1.2 million litres of fresh milk,
  • 196,000 kilograms of meat,
  • 5.8 million kilograms of fruit and vegetables, and
  • 112,000 kilograms of eggs.

“Only one day out from National Agriculture Day, it is important that our farmers across the country know that the entire supply chain will be working together to ensure the wonderful, fresh produce they work so hard to grow will not be wasted,” Ms Casey said.

“Farmers right across Australia are already donating huge volumes of fresh produce to Foodbank, and we’re not just talking about the produce that doesn’t meet cosmetic standards,” Ms Casey said.  “Many farmers are regularly donating first-grade produce to Foodbank to help families, just like their own, who are doing it tough right now.

“We are so grateful to our farm sector and the food and grocery industry for their ongoing commitment to helping everyday Australians who are going through tough times, helping Foodbank tackle both food insecurity and food waste,” she said.

Dairy industry comes together to help fight hunger in Australia

For the last six years, big players in the dairy industry including Murray Goulburn, Parmalat, Fonterra, and Lion Dairy and Drinks, have come together to help Foodbank provide more than 8 million litres of milk to vulnerable Australians experiencing food insecurity.

“Our charity partners regularly inform us that people who are struggling to put food on the table often have to sacrifice dairy products,” said Foodbank Australia CEO, Brianna Casey.

“This makes regular milk donations from the dairy industry vitally important in providing a consistent source of calcium to Australians in need.”

This financial year, the collaboration has produced one million litres of fresh milk for Foodbank’s Milk Program. On top of this, the dairy processors also regularly donate other products from their ranges such as yoghurt and cheese.

To ensure the supply has a wide reach, each partner is responsible for donating fresh milk in specific states and territories. Parmalat provides fresh milk in QLD and the NT, Murray Goulburn in NSW/ACT, Fonterra in Victoria, and Lion Dairy and Drinks in WA, SA and Tasmania

“Our annual Foodbank Hunger Report tells us that rural and regional communities are 11per cent more likely to be food insecure than their metro counterparts,” said Casey.

“In fact, more than a third of the food and groceries distributed through Foodbank’s network of more than 2600 charities goes to country Australia.

“Despite the prevalence of food insecurity in rural and regional areas, these communities are also some of our most generous in terms of donations of milk, fresh produce, eggs, and meat, so initiatives like the Foodbank Milk Program means that Australian dairy processors are often helping farmers in quite a unique way.”

The Foodbank Milk Program is one of the food relief organisation’s longest running programs. Within six years of its launch, Foodbank has been able to deliver more than 8.6 million litres of milk to Australians in need.

“The countless meaningful contributions and extraordinary community spirit shown by our milk partners, even during tough times for the industry, has ensured Foodbank can provide one of the core ingredients of a well-balanced diet to vulnerable Australians,” said Casey.