The Challenges of Donating Food Inventory

Meagan Douglas
Tue, Apr 5, 2016
Donating food is more involved than some organizations realize.
Donating food is more involved than some organizations realize.

Cosmetic damage to products is a common problem in inventory management, but holds special challenges for food manufacturers. The merchandise created and distributed by the food industry are basic goods and necessary for a healthy populace. If packaging or other minor issues prevent consumer interest, it doesn't mean the company should destroy items that could feed hungry families.

Starbucks recently announced it plan to partner with Food Donation Connection and Feeding America to donate all of its unsold food to people in need, according to Fortune. The company had to run donation plans past the FDA to ensure the items being offered reached destinations before perishing.  Starbucks will have to monitor the supply chain of its donations with the same focus on temperature control, speed and safety as all of its consumable goods. The coffee giant is just one of the latest companies hoping to put its unsold food products to good use. 

Other organizations, however, don't have a choice. The Guardian reported France is the first country in the world to create laws that ban grocery stores from throwing out consumable food. Many supermarkets trash and destroy products approaching their best-by date even if they are still perfectly safe for nourishment. French lawmakers approved regulations in 2016 forcing grocery stores of certain sizes to sign contracts with food banks and charities promising donation.

This legislation is in response to public demand and reports of certain businesses going out of their way to destroy food to prevent the homeless from acquiring it. As all organizations with food inventory change their practices to prevent local hunger, it may mean reaching out to partners with the warehouse management skills necessary to make sure efforts don't go to waste.

Obstacles Involved With Donating Food
Donating food inventory is noble, but not always easy. The Business for Social Responsibility nonprofit organization compiled a report in 2014 that found 63 percent of food manufacturers feel there are major problems preventing them from reducing inventory waste.

GreenBiz detailed obstacles on the business side of food recycling. Manufacturing plants or warehouses are not always located within convenient distance of a food donation center. Organizations willing to accept inventory may not be able to. Food may need expensive transportation standards, performed quickly and in certain temperatures, to keep food from perishing before it reaches needy people. Companies have a hard time finding nonprofit organizations with the same degree of data collection to oversee procedures and ensure quality as commercial enterprises.

Charity organizations feel timing is the biggest problem when partnering with food businesses, according to Fast Company. It is difficult for food banks to create consistent stockpiles of resources when they work with corporations that can't promise to make deliveries. When the organization depends on packaging errors, cosmetic problems and other deficiencies for donations, there's no way to anticipate when the next large inventory shipment will come in and from where.

Using Data to Communicate
The Starbucks plan for food donation relies on nonprofit organizations to find needy recipients of inventory. This partnership ensures both ends of the supply chain functions properly and all organizations need to find similar solutions. The Fast Company article shared the example of Food Cowboy, an organization that wants to fill the gaps in the food recycling supply chain. Food Cowboy integrates information from participating manufacturers and charities to determine which inventory is available for donation and where there is a nonprofit ready to distribute the merchandise. While inventory management mistakes are hard to predict, real-time data collection solutions can help all interested parties respond as soon as the opportunity occurs.

Speed is of the essence when organizations race against the perishable product clock. Food Logistics examined food banks that implemented supply chain logistics management solutions into their operations to run as effectively as the largest corporation. Nonprofit workers can prepare resources for needy people using mobile data collection devices, like voice picking, to prioritize quickness, efficiency and accuracy. The better operations run, the more help the nonprofit warehouse can deliver.

Businesses should seek out partners like Food Cowboy and nonprofit organizations that operate with effective data collections solutions when government regulations or internal interest cause them to look for donation options. Any time a company needs to work with another group, it should share its information to streamline communications, so it's essential it's partner knows what to do with the data.

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