In 1621, Plymouth colonists and Native Americans gathered for an autumn harvest feast that set the precedent for today’s American Thanksgiving holiday. Thanksgiving traditionally brings families together (in-laws and all) to give thanks to the various aspects of their lives. Many memories are created and a cornucopia of food is shared. In my family, the holiday lingers until only the turkey carcass remains and the stuffing is amply stuffed into our bellies…a week later. See, we tend to err on the side of caution and over-prepare for the rare event that an extra ten people arrive to celebrate.
In one sense, Thanksgiving occurs every day in many restaurants—they over-prepare; however, restaurants are without the willing and unashamed stomachs of my family to eat their daily surpluses of food. As I mentioned in my previous post, much of this perfectly edible food goes to a landfill. Yet, food shelters are often unable to match their supply with their ever-increasing demand.
Increasingly, restaurants are turning to local Harvest Programs to provide an alternative to discarding surplus food. With food donation programs, restaurants and other food service businesses have the opportunity to reach more than just their customers. Programs provide social, environmental, and economic benefits to businesses.
Donating helps disadvantaged members of any community. A Hunger in America study shows that one in eight American families rely on donated food. This outreach helps employees contribute to a greater good knowing that they are helping members of their community. It also helps food pantries better match their supply and demand so restaurants can serve more than just the traditional customer.
The environment also benefits from such programs. It reduces waste streams sending less food to landfills and diverting it to a worthy cause. My previous post addresses some of the consequences of food waste. For example, rotting food in landfills produces methane gas which is estimated to have about 20 times the global warming potency than carbon-dioxide.
During this year’s Hotel-Motel show in Chicago, the attendees learned of the economic benefits of food donations in an education session titled “Turning Surplus Food into Tax Savings.” Carl VanNostrand, chief operating officer of Central Florida Pizza, as reported by National Restaurant News, said that the Pizza Hut franchise has made more than $250,000 in tax credits by donating uneaten pizzas instead of trashing them. Restaurants can save even more by producing less garbage and reducing hauling fees, also. Darden Restaurants’ Ingid Hebel noted that businesses are able to manage better. For example, if a restaurant notices that it is donating lobster, or other expensive, lower profit margin items, quite frequently a red flag is raised. The process highlights ways that operations can increase margins and lower food costs.
In addition to donating directly to local charities restaurants can take advantage of the services of the Food Donation Connection. The Food Donation Connection has partnered with the National Restaurant Association to link restaurants with food banks. The FDC serves as a liaison between restaurants wanting to donate food and social service agencies like food banks. In 2009, the organization rescued about 22 million pounds of food from 7,355 restaurants. The donating process is based on donors receiving the economic benefit through tax exemptions and additional social responsibility and corporate goodwill.
Feeding America is another charitable program that has also teamed up with many global leaders in the food industry like Wal-Mart. To date, Wal-Mart has pledge to donate $2 million through 2015 in cash and effort to relieve American hunger. Wal-Mart is just one example of a retail grocery store donating surplus food and cash; businesses from Kroger to Proctor and Gamble also are a few of the many donors.
Food donations are an all-around win event. Businesses are able to gain an economic return by decreasing food waste costs and tax credits. Underprivileged community citizens are able to eat a more nutritious meal. Employees have the opportunity to “pay it forward” to the betterment of their society. And overall the environment is relieved of millions of pounds of methane-producing food waste. Hopefully, many more organizations will look to this donation process for a future “winning” society.