New effort to redirect food waste as hunger relief charities face higher demand

Redirecting wasted food at the farm gate has become a priority amid rising demand for food rescue services.

Redirecting wasted food at the farm gate has become a priority amid rising demand for food rescue services. Photo: TND

The massive amounts of food wasted in Australia each year is in the spotlight as the industry looks to new tech aimed at preventing produce being thrown out before it gets to consumers.

A new mobile app backed by supermarket giant Woolworths has begun allowing farmers to sell any surplus or imperfect food they’ve got instead of throwing it out, with customers including restaurants and also food rescue organisations such as OzHarvest.

Growers set the price, upload photos of the produce with key details, and then buyers either come and collect or request a delivery from the company behind the marketplace, Refresh:Food.

It comes as Australia wastes more than 7.6 million tonnes of food each year, according to Foodbank, which is enough to fill the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) more than nine times.

It costs the economy more than $36.6 billion a year, despite 70 per cent of the food being edible.

Refresh:Food chief Chris Cramond said reducing on-farm food waste was the key motivation for the firm, which has promised to direct its profits to food rescue organisations and initiatives.

“Farmers obviously never want to see the food they grow ploughed back into the ground, and Refresh:Food is about creating another channel that they can turn to at a moment’s notice to find the right buyers for different grades of produce,” he said.

“It’s only early days, and we’re expecting to see more buyers and sellers come onboard in the next few months which will help fuel our marketplace supply and demand.”

Rising demand for food rescue

The marketplace also allows producers to donate food to hunger relief charities, particularly in cases where there are no relevant buyers, with charities covering the cost of transportation.

OzHarvest, one of the charities testing the mobile app to boost food rescue efforts in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, is already benefiting from the new service, head of operations Tracy Bialek said.

“We’ve been able to test the Refresh:Food platform by purchasing pallets of good-quality vegetables to help meet the current increase in demand for food,” she said.

“Innovation is a crucial part of addressing two national issues of food waste and food insecurity in Australia and OzHarvest is always looking for new ways to get good food to those who need it most.”

The platform is offering a wide variety of produce, with tomatoes, cucumbers, capsicums, eggplants and blueberries being offered by family-run Victorian producer Flavorite.

Demand for surplus food has been growing nationwide amid the cost-of-living crisis, with higher costs for groceries stretching family budgets and leaving some families without enough to eat.

That’s particularly the case for more than a million Australians relying on a federal income support payment.

And while there has been a perception that rescued food is of lower quality; Sally Brent, general manager at produce manufacturer VegPro4, said the marketplace has a high-quality offering.

“You can see the quality of produce from the listing details, and we’re always happy to take veggies with minor imperfections because we’ll be processing them anyway – the freshness and taste is what matters most,” she said.

Food waste accounts for about 3 per cent of Australia’s annual greenhouse gas emissions, so helping farmers reduce their on-site waste also has the added benefit of being good for the climate.

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