Food Banks Canada’s Retail Food Program – Helping Neighbours and Helping the Earth

Food banks across the country strive to provide the most nutritious food to those living with food insecurity. And in a big country like Canada, food is abundant, but unfortunately, $31 billion worth of good food ends up in landfills or composters each year (VCMI 2020). For retailers, this food is considered surplus (or waste) for a variety of reasons including packaging changes, damaged exterior packaging, nearing best before dates and over-shipment or overstocking by the store.

Food Banks Canada saw this quality surplus food as one potential food source for those who are struggling to put food on the table. So, in 2012, we decided to partner with two major national retailers: Loblaw Companies Limited and Walmart Canada and created the Retail Food Program. The aim of the program was to facilitate access to safe, quality food that is surplus at retailers in communities across the country. This program ensures that essential food can reach food banks more quickly and can include anything from fresh and frozen items to non-perishable foods.

For food banks across the country, where the focus is on fresh and healthy, the donations from Loblaw and Walmart means they can provide even more nutritious choices for their clients.

Nicole Alphonso, Development Coordinator at the Ottawa Food Bank tells us about the importance of the donations. “The Ottawa Food Bank (OFB) has been working closely with our retail partners to identify the most needed foods required for a balanced diet. This that would help our clients while also reducing food waste at their stores. Fresh donations and even non-perishable food donations are very important to the OFB as we need to provide a variety of healthy options to the people we serve. A lot of the donated products are items we do not purchase but are still in high demand. Thanks to the donations, we can save millions of dollars and invest this money in other things such as cold chain storage so we can continue to keep the food fresh and safe.”, continues Nicole.

In Calgary, the donations from Loblaws and Walmart have helped so many who were lacking protein in their diets.

“In the past 12 months, the Calgary Food Bank rescued over 640,000 lbs. of food from Loblaws and Walmart stores in Calgary. We’ve received everything from crackers to yogurt to juice, but most importantly frozen meat! Meat rescued from retail stores is one of our most consistent sources of protein for our emergency hampers”, says Avaleen Streeton, Food Coordinator at the Calgary Food Bank.

This pandemic has brought an increase of new clients to food banks. Thankfully, the Retail Food Program allows easier access to nutritious food that might have otherwise been delayed, especially because of supply chain issues.

“Calgarians have been struggling for a while. First with the crash in oil prices, and then a pandemic…it feels like a double blow. In recent months, hundreds of people have visited the Calgary Food Bank for the first time – many who never thought that they would have to, some who were regular donors up until a short while ago. Every person who comes to the food bank for an emergency hamper gets 7 to 10 days’ worth of nutritious food for every member of their family. The food that we rescue from retailers like Loblaws and Walmart ensures that people who are facing food insecurity no longer have to worry about where their next meal is coming from. With their generous support, we will be able to continue feeding our community for weeks and months to come”.

The relationships fostered by food banks and retail partners have had a huge impact on food security in our country.

Through the Retail Food Program, local food banks receive over 13 million pounds worth of fresh, frozen, and non-perishable products a year. There’s an eco-upside to it too: the system reduces food waste for grocery companies. “We’re committed to building and supporting strong communities to help Canadians live better while inspiring our associates to give back – last year we donated over 10.5 million pounds of safe food to our local partners. Together, we’re making a difference.” says Jennifer Barbazza, Manager, Sustainability at Walmart Canada.

Food banks feel lucky to be able to have great partners like Loblaws and Walmart and only have two words to say to them. Thank You!

Their ongoing generosity all year round, is appreciated by food banks across the country, and all of them just feel fortunate to be able to work with their local communities. Avaleen Streeton tells us that “most of all, their contributions are appreciated by the families and individuals who find themselves in need of a little extra help. In addition to food collected from stores, we can rescue pallets every single week. We are incredibly grateful for the support we receive from all levels of the organization. We couldn’t do it without these amazing relationships!”

It’s gratifying to know that our corporate partners care so much about food insecurity.

Tonya Lagrasta, Senior Director, Corporate Social Responsibility at Loblaws expresses her gratitude to food banks. “We are so lucky to be part of such an amazing cause. It’s hard to imagine that food insecurity is such a big issue in Canada, but we loved the fact that we can help. To date, we have matched nearly 280 of our stores with food banks across Canada, helping reduce the amount of perishable food going to landfill and providing people facing food insecurity with healthy alternatives.”