Last year, Hubbub trialed a new food surplus redistribution service in Milton Keynes called ‘Food Connect’. We wanted to tackle the ‘final mile’ challenge by delivering great surplus food to community groups who can share it quickly. We also wanted to cut down air pollution, by only using electric vehicles. And finally, we wanted to create fair, green jobs by creating a professional service, rather than relying on volunteers. Today we’re sharing the results of our six-month pilot and inviting conversations about supporting the expansion of Food Connect.

Rescuing food, reducing emissions, creating jobs

With a small fleet of cargo bikes and an e-van, the Food Connect service provided both food redistribution to community fridges and a temporary doorstep food delivery service as a COVID-19 response during the first lockdown. Together, our professional team saved around 110 tonnes of good food from going to waste – the equivalent of almost 260,000 meals! The food saved was associated with 36 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions, while the use of electric vehicles avoided 1.7 tonnes of transport emissions. The pilot also created six green jobs. 

The final mile challenge

Despite significant progress on reducing waste over recent years, WRAP estimates that a vast quantity of surplus remains in the UK food system – and when it comes to redistribution, the final mile is the least efficient. Food is close to its end of life and small voluntary often struggle to offer reliable collections.

Food Connect provided a simpler donation experience for food businesses and significantly increased the quantity and quality of food collected. We offered a single point of contact for donations, and food was collected by a professional rider or driver who took it to one of several local community fridges and groups. By being consistent and building local relationships, we saw a steady increase in food saved – peaking at around 18 tonnes in January this year. Food Connect has also been “a godsend” to voluntary groups, as one local community fridge coordinator told us. Community groups saved time and money, and received a greater mix of food to share, including more fresh fruit and veg. Food Connect has reduced COVID-19 risk too by reducing the number of volunteers needed to visit community centres.

What’s next?

Food Connect covers several of Hubbub’s priorities: saving good food from going to waste, reducing air pollution, and building community resilience. Our ambition over the next 12 months is to extend the service in Milton Keynes and set up Food Connect in a small number of additional locations in the UK. This will allow us to refine our model and see what role Food Connect has to play in the food redistribution system.

As we look towards the next phase, we hope to work with major retailers and other organisations committed to reducing food waste and supporting local communities. As a first step, last week we ran a roundtable event to discuss the food redistribution, share findings from our pilot, and understand how Food Connect can help smooth and simplify  stubborn parts of the  final mile challenge .  The session was attended by major retailers including Tesco, Lidl, Waitrose and M&S, coffee chains including Costa Coffee and Starbucks, and the key players in redistribution including FareShare, Neighbourly and Olio.  

Two main themes emerged. First, donors need consistency and simplicity. Small voluntary organisations find it difficult to meet the needs of large retailers and other food businesses, who are organised around rigorous systems and timetables. This is encouraging for Food Connect and other professionalised models. The other theme was that food redistribution is an increasingly crowded space, with lots of innovation and experimentation going on. It’s encouraging that food waste is finally getting the attention it deserves, but new obligations around surplus food can be time-consuming and complex for retail staff to fulfil. Can a reliable, professional solution emerge, adaptable to local needs but with national reach? Time will tell.

Find out more

To find out more about the Food Connect pilot, please read our report below. To talk about how you might get involved in the next phase, please get in touch at [email protected].

The pilot was generously funded by CAF Venturesome, The National Lottery Community Fund, Costa Coffee, Bosch eBike Systems, and Milton Keynes Council through the eCargo Bike Grant Fund, funded by the Department for Transport and delivered by Energy Saving Trust.