Fiona Hollis of London food redistribution specialist City Harvest outlines the charity’s vital work in utilising surplus food and combating hunger

City Harvest is a sustainable solution to surplus for the food and growing industry, diverting quality food from waste and redistributing it to those facing food poverty across London.

When one in four people struggle to access nutritious food and one in three parents miss meals to feed their families, City Harvest’s solution is manifold.

The charity was founded 10 years ago in Acton, west London, where their HQ depot is based today. Satellite sites at New Spitalfields in east London and New Covent Garden Market in south London ensure they have access to fresh food across the capital.

Every day the London-wide operation delivers free food to 375+ charities including foodbanks, schools, hostels, soup kitchens, refuges, and local community hubs. City Harvest currently redistributes free food for over 1.1 million meals a month, but sadly, has a growing list of more than 20,000 people that need help.

Working with the entire supply chain

City Harvest works with all levels of the food supply chain throughout the UK and partners with farms and growers, manufacturers, retailers, wholesalers and distributors who flag when stock is either close to its shelf life, has been forecasted incorrectly, forms part of a development trial, has incorrect packaging, or sadly just doesn’t make the grade or specification due to seasonal challenges. City Harvest is fully compliant with food safety and distribution laws.

They appreciate the hard work and effort that goes into production and harvesting, so with a dedicated team of volunteers who sort through the produce with the common-sense approach of ‘Would you eat it yourself?’, City Harvest can accept up to 15 per cent waste within a donation.

Making it easy to do the right thing

The charity’s operations team can organise collecting directly from your farm or packhouse, at no cost to the donor. They have a fleet of 17 temperature-controlled Sprinter vans and two 7.5t trucks as well as having strong partnerships with a number of third-party hauliers. They can arrange a collection with 24 hours notice and will always be more than happy to return farm bins and crates back to the food donor.

Sustainability is at the heart of the charity, so they love to shine a spotlight on the social and climate impact that companies make by partnering with them. Their impact reports allow you to see the immediate effect to people and planet with case studies and statistics of who your food is supporting. They report on the number of kilos rescued, meals provided and kilos of GHG prevented.

EQUALS campaign

Data is at the heart of City Harvest, providing precision impact metrics for all donors. EQUALS is an evergreen campaign that constantly calls to action for the three things that keep their vans rolling: food, time, and money.

The online campaign demonstrates the impact of as little as £1, 1 hour or 1kg of food. One hour of volunteer time generates a total of 530 meals. People can type in whatever they have to give and the calculator shows you what the donation EQUALS in meals we can deliver to people. Whatever you can give, EQUALS a lot.

Food redistribution reports: Food, People, Planet.

To make systemic change, educating the food industry on the value of food redistribution is hugely important to the charity. Working with Bain & Co to examine the Social Return on Investment having a food redistribution partner is the basis for all three reports, issued throughout the year. The Value to People Report in July examined ‘What is Holiday Hunger?’, and how the value of free food translates in society.

The Value to Food Report was issued in October 2023, at the ‘City Harvest Festival’ service at St Paul’s Cathedral, demonstrating how having a surplus partner saves companies money and increases brand value. Just released in March, the last in the triptych of reports, The Value to Planet Report, focuses on how City Harvest supports transparent reporting for companies wanting to achieve their ESGs and help qualify for better financial incentives and improved staff attraction and retention.

Food Council 

The City Harvest Food Council provides a wealth of support in developing new strategies and offering support beyond surplus food. Working with people or organisations that have aligned values is key to City Harvest’s mission.

A new series on the charity’s YouTube channel, called ‘City Harvest Cooking’, features passionate ambassadors from the Food Council sharing delicious recipes, while cooking in the depot and sharing their insight.

As the world wakes up to the intrinsic value of food, there is no reason food should be wasted when people experience hunger and malnutrition. Making the right choice has never been easier.