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In Motion: SecondBite and Coles Community Food

October 8, 2012

When Ian and Simone Carson couldn’t stand the sight of food going to waste they decided to do something about it.

In 2005 they launched SecondBite – an innovative non-for-profit organisation with warehouses in Victoria, Tasmania and plans to expand in Queensland. The idea behind SecondBite is simple but powerful. Fresh food is donated by farmers, wholesalers, markets, supermarkets, caterers and event teams and is then redistributed to over 300 community food programs. These initiatives support people who are homeless, women and families in crisis, youth at risk, indigenous communities, asylum seekers and new arrivals.

In 2010 SecondBite launched a new partnership with Coles Community Food that provided a steady stream of surplus fresh food and financial support. With a daily surplus of fresh food, Coles Community Food sought a strategic partner to minimise wastage and create positive social change. After a successful pilot program that saw 25,527 kg of food donated (approximately 51,054 meals), the two organisations have established a cooperative framework that delivers food to those in need.

We spoke to both SecondBite and Coles Community First to see how they are creating shared value.

Why did you enter a partnership with each other? What was it that you found appealing? 

Coles are a national food donor with significant store numbers across the country. As such they are one of the largest employers, and food businesses, in Australia. We quickly identified there was a unique opportunity to access fresh food across the country, and create national awareness of the benefits and positive impact of fresh food rescue.

We found the partnership opportunity extremely attractive as it provided access to large volumes of fresh food in every state and territory across Australia which in turn could be re-distributed to hundreds of community food programs.

Very early on in our discussions about food rescue, the team at SecondBite demonstrated that they were prepared to work with Coles to come up with a national solution for donating fresh produce which requires significant logistics and careful handling. They had the expertise and network in the community sector to bring our program to life. Of particular interest is that they were working on a collaborative food rescue program, called SecondBite Community Connect which also offered us a solution for distributing food into regional and rural communities.

Coles and SecondBite were united around some key issues: eg we needed a national approach for our stores and one process so it would be easy to implement training; we did not want to duplicate resources in the charitable sector where these existed around the country so it was important to choose an organisation that could work with others for the greater good; and we knew the engagement of Coles team members in the program would be critical to its success.

What do you expect to gain from this project? 

Access to top quality fresh food across the country (enough to provide around 5 million hearty meals to people in need over the 2 ½ year agreement), opportunities to leverage the partnership (fundraising and profile raising in particular), the opportunity to put food rescue and food security issues on the national agenda and the opportunity to collaborate with other like-minded organisations and create the first national framework of food rescue organisations working together, thereby reducing duplication in the sector.

Our objectives are to:

  • Put our surplus food to a good use so that it does not go to landfill
  • Donate approximately 2.5 million kg of surplus fresh food over the next two years – the equivalent of 5 million meals for people in need through 650 supermarkets
  • Help those in the community who don’t have regular access to healthy and affordable fresh food, and deliver an engaging community program for team members working in our supermarkets
How does this partnership differ from traditional CSR or sponsorship?

It is a true partnership.  Coles is a national food donor that also contributes financially, offers pro-bono support and a partner that has expended considerable time and resources familiarising themselves about all things SecondBite, our values, vision and objectives.

Many senior members of the Coles team have had first-hand experience of our operations by ‘Riding the Van’ and visiting community food programs we serve.  In addition, we’ve shared and agreed operational targets relating to the Coles Community Food with SecondBite program.

It’s an interesting word “sponsorship” in this context and I don’t think it has ever been used to describe the Coles Community Food with SecondBite program. We see our relationship as a partnership, with both sides bringing valuable skills to the table. I think the involvement of both Boards (at SecondBite and Coles) and the input they’ve had into the program makes it very different from any community program we’ve worked on.

How will those outcomes be measured in order to maximise shared value?

All food collections and re-distribution volumes and product mix and quality are recorded in great detail. We regularly obtain feedback from our community food programs as to the impact the Coles Community Food with SecondBite program is having on the people who access their services.  In addition we collect testimonials from participating Coles staff members. Our Research and Development team are currently developing an evaluation framework focused on the process, impact and outcomes of the partnership. We expect this to be implemented by the end of the year.

We should see a lift in the number of meals able to be provided by community kitchens with Coles’ food which means more people are getting access to food. We’ll also be assessing the average weekly level of donations by our stores and team member engagement in the program. In addition to this, 2.5 million kg of food waste will averted from landfill which equates to avoiding 2.25 million kg of greenhouse gas emissions and 140 million litres of embedded water.

SecondBite: What resources do you share with Coles to achieve commonly agreed outcomes? 

(We) share; extensive fresh food rescue expertise; deep knowledge and understanding of the community food programs we serve; a highly qualified and respected research & development team that ensures all programs we deliver provide maximum impact to the community. Coles appreciate these are important and valuable components to the program.

We also offered Coles, through our unique Community Connect model which connects remote and regional community food programs to local food donors with the support of local volunteers, a truly national solution with a local focus.

Coles: How is mutual benefit created for each stakeholder?

For Coles, we know we’re doing the right thing with surplus food and making a big difference to people in need. We’re also achieving an environmental benefit, since this food would otherwise go to waste. For SecondBite, they’re growing their reach quickly, and building and sharing their expertise across Australia. For both organisations, our program also provides greater insights into food insecurity and what can be done to address this disadvantage in Australia.