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Written by Jordan Banfield
on September 21, 2020

Executive Summary

Food insecurity is defined as the availability of food to an individual and an individual’s ability to access food. Globally, 1.9 billion people - nearly one in four - are moderately to severely food insecure. Individuals that are food insecure lack reliable access to adequate quantities of nutritionally sufficient food. 

Around the world, more than 60 million people who face food insecurity and vulnerability receive food assistance through food banks. Food banks are nonprofit organizations that work to combat food insecurity by distributing food directly to the individuals that need it.

The goal of food banks is to alleviate hunger by soliciting, collecting, growing, and packaging food for distribution to target population groups. The client base of food banks is typically low-income individuals, particularly families, who need immediate help to access food. 

60+ MLN people around the world receive food assistance through food banksBecause of the large and growing number of food insecure individuals worldwide, the food security industry has experienced a 1.4 percent annual growth over the past five years, resulting in a continuously increasing number of food bank establishments, as well as the need for improved internal processes to meet the demand. 

Because of the large and growing number of food insecure individuals worldwide, the food security industry has experienced a 1.4 percent annual growth over the past five years, resulting in a continuously increasing number of food bank establishments, as well as the need for improved internal processes to meet the demand. 

Though there has been a substantial increase in food insecurity and the demand for food bank establishments over the past ten years, there have been few technological advancements in these industries.

As demand is projected to continue into the future, food banks are facing unmet needs with the technology currently available, as they are searching for new ways that enable their operations to reach maximum efficiency and productivity. The technology most commonly used by food banks is typically high priced, requires a high level of computer skills, and does not provide a comprehensive platform for all the food bank processes. 

In addition to the already increasing demand, the food security industry has been greatly impacted by COVID-19 as economies fluctuate, unemployment spikes, and food shortages arise. This has created added pressure on food banks to work more efficiently, acquire more volunteers, and adjust how many of their collection and distribution systems operate. 

Food banks globally are not only facing spikes in demand, but also shortages in volunteers, employees, and food available for collection or delivery.

The Global Food Banking Network

With over nine hundred food banks located in forty four countries around the world, The Global Food Banking Network (GFN) was founded in 2006 and is the largest global food bank organization in the food security market, with over 5 million dollars in assets. 

Screenshot-2020-09-18-at-13_47_07-1024x451

GFN is an international nonprofit that partners with, builds, and trains new food banks to ensure food secure communities. In locations with a pre-existing strong food bank presence, such as Europe and the U.S. GFN partners with the major players in those areas. In Europe, GFN partners with the European Food Banks Federation and with the Feeding America organisation in the U.S. 

GFN works to increase awareness of the positive environmental and humanitarian impacts across the globe in order to gain support for food banks providing help to food insecure communities. 

In addition to increasing food bank support, GFN also works to increase transparency in the food security industry in order to gain more financial support from donors such as corporations and community organisations. 

GFN creates transparency by implementing tools to track, measure, and publicly report the work food banks carry out, by releasing studies that show the global impact of food banking. This helps to gain insight into the technology needed to strengthen food bank programs and operations, as well as advocating for policies that support food bank efforts. 

In 2019, GFN recovered 503 million kilograms of food and groceries, which enabled the organization to provide food to over 9.6 million food insecure individuals. Of these individuals, 46% of the people served were children, while 50% of those served were women and girls. By tracking the demand for food by gender, GFN is able to advocate the need for more gender equality in areas where female food insecurity is particularly low. 

Screenshot-2020-09-18-at-13_48_42-1024x389

GFN Major Donors

Since its creation in 2006, GFN has gained partnerships, sponsorships, and donations from major corporations across the globe. Some of the most well known corporate donors of GNF include: 

GFN partners for food insecurity support

Through transparency and advocacy, GNF has built trusting relationships with these corporations to help in their goal of nourished, food secure communities. 

Narrowing Down on the United States

One in seven  individuals — over forty-six million people in the United States — have experienced food insecurity and received help from a food bank. Of those, eleven million served by food banks are children under the age of eighteen. 

One in seven individuals — over forty-six million people in the United States — have experienced food insecurity and received help from a food bank.

The key external drivers of consumer demand on food banks are: 

  • Per capita disposable income
  • Federal funding for social services
  • Poverty Rate
  • Consumer Price Index

From 2015 to 2020  U.S. food banks have grown an average of 1.4% per year as a result of economic growth and increased food demand. Due to growing per capita disposable income, increased donations have been given to food bank establishments, resulting in a greater supply for the food aid and enabling industry organisations to meet demand from those in need.

This increased demand as well as financial support for food bank services has resulted in nearly seven thousand food bank establishments to be built in the U.S.--95% of which are nonprofit organisations. 

Feeding people during Covid, food insecurity via drive through

Main Players 

Despite the large number of individual food bank establishments in the U.S., nearly half the food bank industry consists of three major organizations, starting with the most prominent food bank organisation. 

Feeding America

The largest hunger relief organisation in the United States is called Feeding America and was established in 1979. Making up  24.3% of the U.S. food bank industry, Feeding America holds a market share of 2.9 billion dollars, making it the second largest U.S. charity by revenue.

Feeding America receives more than 80% of its revenue as donated goods and services, which are primarily food. These donations are distributed to member food banks across the country on a needs-basis.

 With over 200 food bank establishments across the nation, Feeding America has served over 46.5 million food insecure individuals. Although the private sector provides most food donations, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) distributes commodities through The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) and accounts for nearly half of all donations given to the organisation.

City Harvest

City Harvest is a nonprofit organisation that holds 143.2 million dollars of the food bank industry revenue. City Harvest is New York City’s largest food rescue organisation, helping to feed the more than 1.5 million New Yorkers who are struggling to put meals on their tables.

This organisation has thousands of volunteers who, along with staff members, have rescued and delivered over 800 million pounds of food to food insecure people in New York. City Harvest food banks and services provide food to around two hundred thousand individuals every week. 

Like Feeding America, City Harvest receives donations from public and private sectors, as well as government funding. 

Meals on Wheels

The Meals on Wheels Association of America (MOWAA) is a national organisation with around five thousand community-based senior nutrition assistance programs throughout the U.S. MOWAA accounts for 36.3 million dollars of the food bank industry revenue.

Meals on Wheels is a program that delivers meals to individuals at home who are unable to purchase or prepare their own meals. Unlike most food bank organizations, Meals on Wheels recipients must meet requirements to qualify for food help - individuals must be

  • 60 years of age or older (or the spouse of a person 60 years of age or older)
  • At risk of malnutrition
  • Physically unable to come in to a Meals on Wheels People center for a meal

Over 70% of the Meals on Wheels annual budget comes from the community, while the remainder is granted through Medicaid dollars and the USDA. 

Donor Contributions 

U.S. food banks depend on funding and donations from both public and private sectors. Private sector funding, which includes individual and corporate giving, accounts for a large share of financial donations to the food security industry. 

Over sixty thousand businesses and charities make financial contributions to food banks in the United States. The top contributors of these donations are private, faith-based organizations, as well as community-run organizations. Food banks also receive donations from corporations, both as charity donations and as part of corporate social responsibility initiatives. 

Additionally, food banks gain financial support from government agency programs, mainly through the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). USDA programs including the Commodity Assistance Program (CAP) and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) help support food banks financially. 

Cost Structure 

In 2020, the U.S. food bank industry revenue reached twelve billion U.S. dollars. On average, the food bank cost structure based on the total revenue is spent as follows:

Screenshot-2020-09-21-at-23_10_19-878x1024

Current Technology

Over the past five years, capital investment has increased as industry operators relied more on computer systems to manage warehouses and donations. The current available technology for food banks is limited, and there is no existing software that encompasses all aspects and needs of the daily operations and processes of food banks.

Screenshot-2020-09-21-at-23_25_11-278x300From recovery to its final destination, food recovered by food banks must be picked up, maintained with coolers or refrigerated vehicles, and delivered. This process has to be efficient because there are many safety and health standards in place by the Food and Drug Agency (FDA) who regulate food quality.

With the many steps food must go through to reach a family’s table, there is a clear need for technology to help food bank staff manage food collection, delivery, storage, safety, and volunteers.

The majority of technological changes for the food security industry are related to supply chain management improvements, in order to increase the efficiency of food collection, preparation, and distribution.

Microsoft

The predominant technology used in the U.S. food security industry is Microsoft Software that has been adopted and adapted by the previously mentioned food bank powerhouse, Feeding America. This software gives food banks the ability to track inventory and food orders, as well as schedule deliveries.

However, Microsoft Software requires a high level of computer literacy that the average food bank employee or volunteer would not possess. Additionally, even at the discounted price offered to food banks, a license for this software costs several thousand dollars annually--a price that many food banks cannot pay.

Blackbaud

Blackbaud is a technology that helps food banks track food and product inventory. This technology is an extension of the Microsoft technology as it requires the Microsoft Software mentioned above, meaning that it also has a high price point and requires extensive computer skills.

Plentiful App

Another form of technology commonly used by food banks is the Plentiful App. This app increases communication between food banks and potential customers through an automated short message service system that notifies food bank customers of product availability and shortages.

Customers can also book appointments for food pickup through this app. While communicating with customers is an essential part of food banks serving their purpose, the app only allows for messaging and booking of appointments and does not help food banks increase efficiency in an aspect apart from communication with customers.

Task.io

Task is a Software as a Service (SaaS) team engagement platform, supporting both for profit and not for profit organisations that are working on social and environmental impact projects.

Their mobile-first technology solves a number of problems for food organisations working on food relief. Features include distribution management - where volunteers or direct recipients can make food requests with geolocation and route mapping handed off to drivers, remote data capture, and fundraising capability.

Task helps those working in food insecurity to be more efficient, saving time on resources for their mission.

Unmet food needs

Unmet Needs

The efficiency of food bank services has been greatly improved by web-based ordering systems, reliable inventory tracking and automated communication with local communities and individuals. However, a comprehensive technology with all aspects needed to operate a food service organisation has yet to enter the market.

Food banks are multidimensional, complex establishments with multiple processes that are crucial to providing food for those that need it. Because of this, there is a high demand for technology that can help improve the efficiency and effectiveness of these processes.

The state of food security in the U.S. and around the world is constantly evolving and can change quickly in the event of economic fluctuations or natural disasters. It is crucial for food banks to be equipped with systems that can keep pace with these changing demands in order to provide food immediately to those that need it.

There is a need for new technology that encompasses the many internal details of a food bank, including communication, inventory management, fundraising, and customer relations. All of these integral aspects of food bank operations require different technological systems.Apart from multi-functional technology, there are also specific unmet needs being fulfilled by the technology that is available and currently being used. These needs include:

  • Consistent GPS tracking on food deliveries
  • Efficient communication with drivers and scheduling
  • Logistics Automation

Additionally, because a large portion of the food bank work is completed by volunteers with little to no training in technology knowledge, a system that requires a minimal level of computer literacy and provides an easy transition from the methods currently being used is essential.

Coronavirus Impact on Food Banks

United States

Feeding America, the largest food bank organisation in the U.S. has projected an estimated 1.4 billion dollars - a 30% increase - in additional resources will be needed over the next six months to combat U.S. food insecurity due to the coronavirus. School closures, unemployment, and rising poverty rates are also projected to result in an additional 17.1 million people - a 46% increase - facing food insecurity.

Additionally, food banks have suffered a decrease of nearly 60% of their volunteer workforce due to the pandemic. Within a week of CDC guidelines on social distancing to reduce the spread of COVID-19, 41% of food banks were already reporting an immediate critical funding shortfall. Service jobs make up one-sixth of the U.S. labor force, and 1 in 6 service industry workers are food insecure.

CORONAVIRUS IMPACT ON FOOD BANKS - US

Globally

According to the International Labour Organisation, more than one-third of the world's workers are unemployed due to the coronavirus pandemic. Furthermore , the United Nations World Food Programme has projected that an estimated 265 million people could face acute food insecurity by the end of 2020. This number is up from the estimated 135 million people before the crisis because of income and remittance losses.

Rising unemployment, as well as economic downfall, food shortages, and chronic hunger and poverty have resulted in surging demand for food bank services as the number of individuals facing food insecurity increases.

Food bank services are also facing the loss of volunteers and employees due to stay-at-home orders and social distancing guidelines. Because food bank establishments rely heavily on volunteers, the industry's wage costs are expected to increase amid canceling volunteers.

Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic in March 2020, the Global Foodbanking Network has seen demand nearly double on average across its forty-four country presence.

Globally, food banks are facing deficits of food and financial donations, volunteers, and technology able to keep up with the surging demand. GFN has published a COVID-19 response stating how they are working to provide hunger relief amidst the pandemic, including actions such as:

  • A COVID-19 response fund
  • Technical support to help food banks procure and distribute meals
  • Knowledge sharing to help food banking organizations serve more children and families in crisis by navigating supply chain disruptions and evolving distribution mechanisms
  • Appeals to governments and businesses to provide relief to vulnerable populations adversely affected by this crisis.

Conclusion

Food insecurity is a global issue, which appears unlikely to subside in the near future. Though more than 60 million people who face food insecurity and vulnerability receive food assistance through food banks, that equates to only a fraction of the 1.9 billion people moderately to severely food insecure.

Additionally the impact of COVID-19, with a fluctuating economy and unemployment on the rise, the pressure on food banks has, and will continue, to increase. Food Banks that are working to keep up to meet the demand will require additional resources and support including more volunteers, improved processes and more funding.

Technology can help Food Banks to be more efficient with how they operate and ensure they are able to meet the increasing demands. Traditionally the solutions that are available have fallen short and there have been few advancements to solve the respective problems.

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Food insecurity common questions

What causes food insecurity?

Drought and conflict are some of the main triggers that lead to problems with food production, distribution and access. Other factors include population increase and poverty which can make it challenging for people to cover the cost of food and other essentials.

What does food insecurity mean?

Food insecurity is defined as the disruption of food intake or eating patterns due to a lack of money of other resources.

How many people in the world are food insecure?

Globally there are 1.9 billion people (nearly 1 in 4) who are affected by food insecurity. Individuals categorised as food insecure lack reliable access to quantities of nutritionally sufficient food.

How many Americans are food insecure?

One in seven  individuals — over forty-six million people in the United States — have experienced food insecurity and received help from a food bank. Of those, eleven million served by food banks are children under the age of eighteen. 

 

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