If you’ve ever wondered where all those Starbucks bagels and bistro boxes go after closing time, here’s an answer you can get behind.
Starbucks has pledged to donate 100% of its leftover food through a new program called FoodShare, the company announced in a release on Tuesday. Starbucks created the initiative in partnership with nonprofit organization Feeding America and food collection group Food Donation Connection, and it will allow the company to donate perishable, ready-to-eat meals from its 7,600 stores to food banks nationwide.
According to Feeding America, more than 48 million Americans live in food-insecure households, where access to food isn’t always stable. More than 15% of households nationwide are considered food insecure — an issue Feeding America says impacts every county in the U.S.
— Tim Fargo (@alphabetsuccess) March 19, 2016
But food scarcity for low-income families isn’t the only food-related issue within the U.S. Waste also plays a role in the nation’s food problem. An estimated 70 billion pounds of food waste is produced across the U.S. each year, according to Feeding America.
“A family [can] enjoy a protein plate that they would not have otherwise been able to afford at Starbucks.”
Through its new program, Starbucks hopes to help ease the burden of food scarcity on families while also eliminating the company’s direct contribution to food waste statistics.
Here’s how it will work: Food Donation Connection and Feeding America will pick up food each day from Starbucks company-operated locations in the U.S. via refrigerated vans. That perishable food, previously considered risky to donate due to its refrigeration needs, will then reach food banks and rescue agencies like those in the Feeding America network. The process, from food leaving the store to it reaching those who need it most, takes 24 hours or less.
“This food is going to make a difference, whether it’s a child not going hungry for the night or a family that’s able to enjoy a protein plate that they would not have otherwise been able to afford at Starbucks,” Starbucks store manager Kienan McFadden said in the release. “Rescuing food … from being thrown away will change lives.”
Though a commitment to donate 100% of unused food is new to the corporation, Starbucks has been reducing its food waste through donations for years. Stores have donated uneaten pastries to food banks since 2010 — a common practice in the food service industry, especially for major corporations.
But the company hasn’t historically donated perishable foods because of logistical issues. It’s a trickier donation pipeline, one that requires refrigeration and food-safety monitoring of donated meals, practices that don’t apply to pastry donation.
Starbucks says it has been working on this process, making perishable food donations a reality by investing in “research and quality assurance testing” with pilot programs around the U.S. One of the pilot programs took place in Phoenix, Arizona, in July. Starbucks said they knew if they could get the refrigeration process right there, it could work anywhere.
“When you start introducing perishable food, it’s a whole different ballgame,” Jane Maly, brand manager of Starbucks Food team, told Mashable. “You have to maintain temperature in a very strict range to make sure you are keeping it safe.”
The push to donate perishable food came from within the Starbucks family, with employees reaching out to management via surveys and direct emails to express the need for more comprehensive donation practices.
“They had the courage to tell us that they just couldn’t stand this anymore,” Maly said. “They challenged us for a solution, and we dedicated a team to it and all this time. Now, they can celebrate that their voices were heard.”
“[Store employees] had the courage to tell us that they just couldn’t stand this anymore.”
In the first year alone, Starbucks projects its FoodShare program will be able to provide an estimated 5 million meals to individuals and families in need.
“[We] are rescuing food, feeding people in need and bringing awareness to a critical issue facing our communities,” Ross Fraser, director of media relations for Feeding America, told Mashable. “We hope to inspire others that don’t currently donate unsold food to find a way. This is an exciting opportunity to be a part of something bigger.”
Starbucks intends to scale this program over the next five years, meaning it will steadily roll out the perishable food donation across the country until 100% of the corporation’s leftover food from company-operated stores is donated daily.
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