Call for national food ministry featured in The Australian

Our CEO, Jim Mullan (left); Coles CEO, Steven Cain (right); and SecondBite’s longtime Ambassador and recently appointed Director Matt Preston (centre), feature in The Australian calling for a national food ministry to fight waste in Australia.


“Celebrity chef and author Matt Preston has urged the federal government to create a ministry of food to help tackle the nation’s food waste epidemic after joining the board of the Coles-backed SecondBite, as the supermarket giant steps up its investment in the leading food charity. Preston, the MasterChef Australia judge who has been a SecondBite ambassador for years but will now take on a more formal spokesman role for the food group, called on federal and state governments to take a more proactive approach to addressing food waste.

“You have so many different partners in government doing little things. You really don’t have anyone directing this across government policy. Would I like to see a ministry of food and a minister of food? That would be a great idea,’’ Preston said. “There are sections of government doing a really great job in this area. But as with all these things, we need a cross-government approach.”

In November last year the federal government launched its National Food Waste Strategy, which is working towards halving Australia’s food waste by 2030. In October a national $132 million Fight Food Waste Co-operative Research Centre was established in Adelaide to find more ways to reduce food waste.

The CRC estimated that 5.3 million tonnes of food was wasted in Australia each year, meaning an average household throws away almost $4000 worth of unused food. Packaging magnate and the nation’s richest person, Anthony Pratt, warned earlier this year that Australia’s food waste epidemic had become “our nation’s hidden crisis’’. Visy’s philanthropic arm, the Pratt Foundation, as well as the Besen Family Foundation and the Myer Foundation, have long supported food rescue group FareShare. Other players in the space include OzHarvest and Food Rescue.

Since striking an alliance with SecondBite in 2011 and October this year, Coles has donated about 35 million kilograms of unsold edible food to SecondBite, equating to more than 70 million meals, and more than 20 million in the past 12 months. Preston said he was keen to take the Coles contribution over the 100 million meals milestone, or 10 meals produced for every dollar. “There are some really big targets that can be achieved,’’ he said.

Over the next six months Coles will have connected every one of its supermarkets in Australia with SecondBite, which redistributes largely fresh fruit and vegetables in the form of meals to the needy. Ninety-six per cent of its stores are connected to the program. The retailer is also providing a $500,000 grant from its $50m Coles Nurture Fund to SecondBite to buy four new eight-pallet trucks to collect and redistribute large quantities of surplus food as the food charity upgrades its fleet from vans to trucks.

“This will enable more food to be distributed more quickly,’’ Coles chief executive Steven Cain said. He said the truck fleet would more effectively service Coles distribution centres and facilitate more bulk donations from primary producers and manufacturers. The Coles Nurture Fund, established in 2015, provides grants and interest-free loans for small and medium-sized businesses. The SecondBite grant is part of round five of the Nurture Fund.

In August the retailer opened round six of the fund and pledged $5m in grants or interest-free loans for applicants who had a project to combat drought in the future. It is working through about 70 applications. Mr Cain said Coles was working internally on the best ways to reduce food waste in its supermarkets and throughout its supply chain — even to the farm gate — before it reached people’s homes and beyond.

Both Coles and Woolworths have eliminated single-use plastic bags in supermarkets over the past year. “What we are constantly doing is improving our ordering systems,” Mr Cain said.
“We are beginning to systemise the orders so we will better forecast what will happen with the weather, whether there is a sporting event on a particular weekend, etc.
“For consumers, their attitude to food waste has also changed. They are shopping more frequently and thinking about what they are going to consume. “We are keen over the next five years to eliminate waste of all kinds.”

Jim Mullan, the former CEO of the Big Issue magazine in Britain who started in the role as CEO of SecondBite in June 2016, said the Nurture Fund investment was part of the group’s strategy to systemise all its processes. “The next part of the conversation where Coles can help us has nothing to do with dollars,” Mr Mullan said. “What does an Australian food release system look like?
The not-for-profit sector is not going to get here on its own. It will be about ‘how do you make the system work?’

“When it comes to dollars the important question for the sector to ask is, ‘is it smarter to spend a dollar in the not-for-profit or the commercial sector?’ “This is not a charitable ask of the commercial sector — we can’t just go with our hands out. There are costs involved, those costs need to be met.”

Thanks to Damon Kitney for the brilliant article.

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