With many New Zealanders facing increased financial hardship as a result of COVID-19, national levels of food insecurity have risen sharply in recent months – and are set to rise further when the wage subsidy scheme concludes in September.

Now, a new social enterprise is set to provide much-needed additional support to the hundreds of community organisations around the country that are working overtime to meet this growing need.

New Zealand Food Network (NZFN), which launched at the end of July, will enable food hubs – such as food rescue organisations, iwi and charities – to expand their positive impact in the communities they serve, and beyond, by transforming supply chain processes to create better efficiency and synergy.

New Zealand Food Network
New Zealand Food Network founder Deborah Manning.

The NZFN will act as a centralised distribution hub, collecting and safely storing bulk food donations at its Auckland-based warehouse, with food then able to be requested on an as-needed basis (and at no cost) by food hubs around the country, without compromising their existing supply channels. Donations will include not only surplus and rescued food, which would otherwise go to landfill – but also bulk donations of saleable product from a community of generous donor partners.

Providing a comprehensive and streamlined solution to connect supply and demand, the NZFN also promises to eliminate the issue faced by many community organisations of a lack of on-site storage infrastructure, which can often see them having to turn away large food donations. The amount of food made available to any single organisation will depend on supply, the levels of deprivation or food insecurity in the communities they serve, coupled with their storage capacity.

New Zealand Food Network founder, Deborah Manning, says the launch marks the culmination of over two years of planning and preparation – with efforts expedited from the start of lockdown, to help meet the new wave of demand caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“As New Zealanders, many of us share the belief that it’s our collective responsibility to ensure everyone has access to healthy, nutritious food. Although there are hundreds of dedicated food hubs around the country working towards this goal, and many generous food producers wanting to donate product to the cause, what was missing until now was an efficient and comprehensive solution that could connect this supply and demand, she says”

The idea for the model came to Manning two years ago while operating national food rescue charity Kiwi Harvest, which she founded in 2012.

“We were having to turn down hundreds of pallets of perfectly edible food because we didn’t have the infrastructure to take it.

“So I thought, ‘what would it look like if we could provide a place where food could be sent from food owners, in bulk and be made available to large food rescuers, to pick and choose what they need and when?’.”

Manning’s biggest challenge was securing the funding for the initiative.

“I couldn’t get any one person to fund it, because it was just too big.”

It took seed money from private funders (who recognised the need was about to explode thanks to COVID-19), and a working group to design a detailed model before it finally received government funding.

While getting the initiative across the line was no easy feat, Manning says success is all about learning to recognise an opportunity and having the courage to take it. For other Kiwis who are thinking about solving a problem, but feel overwhelmed by the size of the challenge, she has some sound advice:

“It’s about gathering good people around you. You simply cannot know everything and you shouldn’t try to. Stick to what you’re good at, find people who are good at what they do, then step back and let them do their job.”

New Zealand Food Network CEO, Gavin Findlay, says, “the launch of the Network has been made possible thanks, in large part, to the generous support of our dedicated partners across the government, private and social sectors, who each share our vision,” he says.

“These organisations will be instrumental in our efforts in getting food to where it’s needed most. In particular, we’d like to express our immense gratitude to the Ministry of Social Development, Kainga Ora and the Goodman Foundation, for their generous financial support.”

The NZFN’s partners include:

– Foundation donor partners: T&G Fresh, Sanitarium, Fonterra
– Other supporters: Ministry for Primary Industries

The NZFN will initially operate solely from its Auckland-based warehouse, before expanding its operations to establish a Christchurch facility later this year.

Any food donor or food hub wishing to find out more about becoming involved in the Network should get in touch via www.nzfoodnetwork.org.nz.

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