From excess to access: City Harvest’s efforts to combat hunger

Posted: 17 April 2024 | | No comments yet

Discover City Harvest’s decade-long journey rescuing surplus food, fighting hunger, and championing sustainability in London’s food landscape.

City Harvest

Photo Credit: City Harvest London

Redistributing food that would have otherwise gone to waste in London beyond, City Harvest London was first launched 10 years ago and has now rescued food for almost 58 million meals, preventing over 85,000 tonnes of GHG emissions and is now feeding over 120,000 people a week unable to afford food.

In a time where one third of all food in the world is wasted, City Harvest made its mission clear: to reduce food insecurity and promote environmental sustainability by redirecting high-quality, nutritious surplus food away from waste and distributing it to individuals in need.

In March 2024, New Food’s Assistant Editor Grace Galler attended the International Food and Drink Event (IFE) in London, speaking to representatives from City Harvest about how they work with the sector to redistribute edible food and help to alleviate food insecurity pressures in and around London.

Here, Fiona Hollis shares the work City Harvest has been doing in recent years, including its food redistribution efforts at the 2024’s IFE…

Fighting food waste at a food conference

City Harvest has worked in partnership with Montgomery Group, the UK’s biggest independent exhibition organiser, since 2017, to rescue surplus food from food and drinks events. The partnership embodies a shared ethos to reduce as much waste as possible from large-scale events, including Montgomery Group’s IFE at the ExCel Centre and Speciality & Fine Food Fair at Kensington Olympia.

At IFE in 2024, City Harvest rescued a total of 8.9 tonnes of food, and delivered 21,397 meals. In fact, we also prevented 27.8 tonnes of GHG emissions as a result of rescuing surplus food at the event.

City Harvest is a sustainable solution to surplus for the food and growing industry, diverting quality food from waste and redistributing it to those facing food poverty across London. When one in four people struggle to access nutritious food and one in three parents miss meals to feed their families, City Harvest’s solution is manifold.

The charity was founded 10 years ago in Acton, west London, where their HQ depot is based today. Satellite sites at New Spitalfields in east London and New Covent Garden Market in south London ensure they have access to fresh food across the capital.

Every day the London-wide operation delivers free food to 375+ charities including foodbanks, schools, hostels, soup kitchens, refuges, and local community hubs. City Harvest currently redistributes free food for over 1.1 million meals a month, but sadly, has a growing list of more than 20,000 people that need help.

Working with the entire supply chain

City Harvest works with all levels of the food supply chain, throughout the UK and partners with farms and growers, manufacturers, retailers, wholesalers and distributors who flag when stock is either close to its shelf life, has been forecasted incorrectly, forms part of a development trial, has incorrect packaging, or sadly just doesn’t make the grade or specification due to seasonal challenges. City Harvest is fully compliant with food safety and distribution laws.

Waste not, want not: Rethinking food waste

They appreciate the hard work and effort that goes into production and harvesting, so with a dedicated team of volunteers who sort through the produce with the common-sense approach of ‘Would you eat it yourself?’, City Harvest can accept up to 15 percent waste within a donation.

Making it easy as possible to do the right thing

The charity’s operations team can organise collecting directly from your farm or packhouse, at no cost to the donor. They have a fleet of 17 temperature-controlled Sprinter vans and two 7.5t trucks as well as having strong partnerships with a number of third-party hauliers. They can arrange a collection with 24hrs notice and will always be more than happy to return farm bins and crates back to the food donor.

City Harvest

City Harvest London volunteers deliver free food to 375+ charities including foodbanks, schools, hostels, soup kitchens, refuges, and local community hubs. Photo Credit: City Harvest London

Sustainability is at the heart of the charity, so they love to shine a spotlight on the social and climate impact that companies make by partnering with them. Their impact reports allow you to see the immediate effect to people and planet with case studies and statistics of who your food is supporting. They report on the number of kilograms rescued, meals provided and kilograms of GHG prevented.

EQUALS campaign

Data is at the heart of City Harvest, providing precision impact metrics for all donors. EQUALS is an evergreen campaign that constantly calls to action for the three things that keep their vans rolling: Food, time, and money.

The online campaign demonstrates the impact of as little as £1, 1 hour or 1kg of food. One hour of volunteer time generates a total of 530 meals. People can type in whatever they have to give and the calculator shows you what the donation EQUALS in meals we can deliver to people.

Whatever you can give, EQUALS a lot.

Food redistribution reports: Food, People, Planet.

To make systemic change, educating the food industry on the value of food redistribution is hugely important to the charity. Working with Bain & Co to examine the Social Return on Investment having a food redistribution partner is the basis for all three reports, issued throughout the year. The Value to People Report in July examined ‘What is Holiday Hunger?’, and how the value of free food translates in society.

The Value to Food Report was issued in October 2023, at the ‘City Harvest Festival’ service at St Paul’s Cathedral, demonstrating how having a surplus partner saves companies money and increases brand value. Just released in March, the last in the triptych of reports, The Value to Planet Report, focuses on how City Harvest supports transparent reporting for companies wanting to achieve their ESGs and help qualify for better financial incentives and improved staff attraction and retention.

As the world wakes up to the intrinsic value of food, there is no reason food should be wasted when people experience hunger and malnutrition. Making the right choice has never been easier.

About the author

Fiona HollisFiona Hollis is head of communications for City Harvest, with over 25 years of experience in the communications industry and an artist at heart. She worked in tech and music PR and moved to content management and growing online communities in the health sector.

Working in sustainability Fiona is passionate about positive change and tapping into everyone’s desire to do the right thing.

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