ReFED selects cohort for first Food Recovery Accelerator program

ReFED selects cohort for first Food Recovery Accelerator program

10 food recovery organizations will receive funding, education and mentoring from industry experts, and one will be selected as winner for additional funding.

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September 6, 2019

ReFED, a Brooklyn, New York-based nonprofit dedicated to reducing food waste, has announced a cohort of ten organizations that will participate in its inaugural Nonprofit Food Recovery Accelerator program. 

By immersing the selected nonprofit recovery organizations in a combination of virtual curriculum and in-person ReFED Learning Labs that focus on leveraging earned revenue models, technology solutions, and human-centered design, ReFED says its program aims to “catalyze ideas and inspire actions that will lead to a doubling of healthy food available to the 40 million Americans facing food insecurity.”

The program is supported by the Walmart Foundation, Acumen and a 50-member “expert network” composed of food business and technology executives, capital providers and subject matter experts. Members of the expert network include General Mills, Starbucks, CalRecycle and the World Wildlife Fund.

“The Accelerator’s nationwide open call for applications confirmed ReFED’s hypothesis that this type of program will provide value in the form of helping food recovery organizations overcome some of the biggest barriers to increasing the amount of nutritious food they can deliver in a dignified manner,” says Alexandria Coari, the director of capital and innovation at ReFED. “Some of these barriers include funding models dependent on grants versus earned revenue, a reliance on volunteers instead of paid staff, underutilization of technology solutions, and a lack of collaboration and best practice sharing across the sector. These are just a few of the topics we’ll tackle throughout the Accelerator.” 

More than 125 candidates applied for the Accelerator. The selected cohort range from long-standing food recovery organizations with hundreds of employees servicing thousands of donors to newly formed innovative organizations that leverage concepts from the sharing economy and apply them to food rescue. 

“Growing awareness about the scale of senseless food waste in this country has catalyzed existing organizations to innovate their paradigms and inspired energetic entrepreneurs to launch creative new models that use this surplus food as a resource,” says Emily Broad Leib, the assistant clinical professor of law and director of the Harvard Law School Food Law and Policy Clinic. “As an expert network member, it has been incredible to see the response to ReFED’s Nonprofit Food Recovery Accelerator, which will build the needed network and resources for these innovators. I am excited about the announcement of the 2019 cohort and cannot wait to see them take the next steps to address this major societal issue of our era.”

The cohort for the Nonprofit Food Recovery Accelerator includes:

  • 412 Food Rescue, Pittsburgh: 412 Food Rescue’s Food Rescue Hero combines technology, last-mile logistics and community engagement to create a new food recovery and redistribution network that responds to the donation challenges of food retailers and the food access barriers of those experiencing hunger.

  • Boston Area Gleaners, Waltham, Massachusetts: ReFED says Boston Area Gleaners’ Surplus Commodity Crop Program (SCCP) is the only gleaning model in the country that compensates farmers for making timely donations by charging a service fee to food banks, who still receive high quality product at a lower price compared to the wholesale market. 

  • Brighter Bites, Houston: Brighter Bites sources fresh, seasonal, and primarily donated produce and systematically distributes it to underserved communities using evidence-based nutrition education and fun food experiences. 

  • Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona, Nogales, Arizona: Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona is exploring technology solutions to manage inventory, logistics, and data flow to move 100 million pounds of produce from donors in Nogales (a major port of entry) to food banks nationwide. 

  • Eat Greater Des Moines, Des Moines, Iowa: Eat Greater Des Moines’ initiative combines software, shared-use refrigerated vans, and a paid driver program in an attempt to make the food rescue network more dynamic, effective and equitable while providing support to organizations throughout the food system.   

  • Philabundance, Philadelphia: Philabundance reduces hunger and food insecurity by providing food access to approximately 90,000 people per week in the region. An established food bank operating since 1984, the organization aims to transform the traditional food banking model by leveraging both the scale of the established system and the flexibility of new technology startups. 

  • Plentiful, New York: Plentiful is a digital platform that aims to improve client dignity and efficiency at food pantries. Plentiful eliminates lines through reservations, reduces data redundancies, and creates access to real-time service information so more food can be recovered and delivered effectively. 

  • Replate, Berkeley, California: Replate’s technology platform enables businesses to schedule on-demand pickups for their surplus food, and the organization’s paid food rescuers bring the donated food directly to those experiencing food insecurity in the community. 

  • Rescuing Leftover Cuisine, New York: Rescuing Leftover Cuisine is a national nonprofit organization with a mission to rescue and donate food that would otherwise be wasted. The organization charges $20 per pickup with no weight minimum and employs a web application to engage members of the community to volunteer and be a transportation solution. 

  • Seeds That Feed, Fayetteville, Arkansas: Working with regional farmers and healthcare providers, the Seeds That Feed ‘pHed’ initiative (pronounced ‘fed’) provides direct-to-door access to free, fresh produce and other healthy foods for homebound and at-risk populations experiencing chronic illness. 

"We are a small nonprofit with a big vision,” says Alyssa Snyder, the co-founder and chief seeder at Seeds That Feed. “The opportunity to work alongside nine other like-minded organizations, and in conjunction with an expert network of more than 50 leaders in the field, is an absolute game changer. Improving the lives of our neighbors through food is what drives us forward, and the opportunities ReFED is creating are quite literally providing the fuel that we've so desperately needed."

Each participating organization will receive $30,000, and an additional $100,000 will be awarded to a selected winner at the end of the Accelerator. In addition, organizations will have access to members of the Accelerator’s expert network.

“ReFED is thrilled with the response that we received to the open call for applications, which has enabled us to put together a cohort of truly exciting organizations positioned to improve and expand food recovery throughout the U.S. food value chain,” says Chris Cochran, the executive director of ReFED. “With the support of our project partners and expert network, I have full confidence that a key outcome of this initiative will be a significant increase in food recovered for the 40 million Americans currently facing food insecurity.”

Overall, the more than 125 applicants to the open call reported statistics that indicate the impressive impact they’re already having on the food recovery space, ReFED says. Collectively, these organizations:

  • Employ more than 5,600 full-time employees.

  • Mobilize 190,000 volunteers.

  • Run a total annual budget of $240 million. 

  • Need $30 million in additional funding in the next years. 

Additionally, and consistent with trends previously identified by ReFED:

  • 71 percent operate locally (reach within one city or state) versus regionally or nationally.

  • 32 percent receive the majority of their funding in the form of grants from foundations.

  • 63 percent have female or underrepresented minority leadership. 

“We are committed to help innovate and strengthen the food system through philanthropy, and this includes a focus on the reduction of food waste,” says Eileen Hyde, director of strategic initiatives for the Walmart Foundation. “ReFED's Nonprofit Food Recovery Accelerator is a key part of this strategy and we’re proud to be involved in the project.”

The three-month Accelerator kicks off in September 2019.