‘Retail food recovery’ has become a form of art—and a critical strategy—for addressing hunger and reducing waste in the U.S., ever since pilot programs began expanding across the country in the early 2000s.
Feeding America reports that this system where retail stores set aside perishable and non-perishable products for food banks and their partner agencies—has grown 300 percent in the last 10 years. In 2021, its network recovered 2 billion pounds of food from retail outlets such as Walmart, Wegmans, Costco, and Starbucks.
Last year, GBFB’s Retail Food Recovery Program totaled over 10.66 million meals or nearly 12 percent of its total food distribution. On behalf of our 600 network partners, GBFB’s Food Acquisition Team coordinates and connects our food pantries to their local grocery retail stores to make pickups of donated food that otherwise could have gone to waste.
First launched in 2009 with two retailers, the program now partners 160 GBFB partners with 28 local retail food donors and 660 store locations, including Amazon, Stop & Shop, Shaw’s, BJ’s, Target, & Trader Joe’s, and its newest, Dollar General, just to name a few. And it is always on the lookout for new prospects. “We’re fortunate to have many retailers here in Eastern Massachusetts supporting our mission,” says Emily Yerby, GBFB’s senior manager of local food donors. And she explains that, while these initiatives are many times coordinated at the corporate level, it’s the bonds that she and her team build that strengthen partnerships locally within the community to improve efficiencies, help to reduce food waste and increase food access.
“Our team are the conduits of data, and we manage relationships—that’s what we do,” Yerby says. “Sharing our network data showcases the impact our retail partners are making. That way, we can make sure we’re developing and broadening our donor relationships, mitigating food waste, and providing equitable access to a variety of food items like fresh produce, dairy and meat for our agency partners and their clients within the community.”