By Ed Powell, Access to Food Mission Manager

Our Co-op is passionate about finding ways to help people in our communities have fair access to food.

Back in May we partnered with Hubbub who co-ordinate the world’s largest Community Fridge Network, to identify 100 more fridge locations and build on the 100 fridges that were already set up. By saving fresh food from being wasted, the network is helping to bring millions of meals a year to wide range of diverse communities all across the UK.

As part of my role, I’m lucky enough to oversee how our business operates around access to food, including managing our partnership with Hubbub and the Community Fridge initiative.

Protecting the surplus products that we share

It’s important we use all the food in our supply chain and our shops well. We can achieve this by selling our products, and if we can’t do that, it’s about redistributing and sharing them in the best way we can so that they’re usable and can help to feed people.

The main way we redistribute the food we can’t sell is by supplying it to the Community Fridge Network is through our Food Share offer. The big challenge comes in trying to make sure the food we share is in the best possible condition. This is easier said than done, as in reality food is shipped between destinations, from our shops to the Community Fridge locations, lacks temperature control, gets knocked-around and can even get mislaid – so there are all sorts of different issues we encounter!

Temperature control is the biggest challenge and can spoil fresh food if it’s not maintained. We can control this well at our shops and at the Community Fridges, but it’s the bit in the middle whilst the food’s in transit which is really exposed and variable. We know if we could create some robustness and temperature consistency in transit, we could share much more fresh food that can be eaten by more people and be used in food skills projects within the network.

The challenge given by Hubbub was to come up with a completely reusable transit box product, and the solution came through collaboration.

A collaborative approach

We’ve got fantastic social values within our Co-op, and what I’ve loved seeing is how this feeds into our supply chain. We’ve got lots of cracking suppliers who are also trying to find ways to give back into the community and help our planet – and yet don’t always know the best way to do it. We can provide gateways to help them on their journey.

Our Procurement team were sourcing opportunities with our suppliers and partners to create some new sustainable initiatives. Jay Anderton from the team proposed a collaboration between two of our existing suppliers to create something unique to help us reduce food waste and fix our food in transit problem.

Woolcool are market leaders in packaging lining with a proven track record for providing perishable goods in perfect condition. Loadhog are a returnable packaging innovator who supply plastic tote crates to our shops. The two suppliers were keen to work with us to come up with a joint solution and loved the challenge. Together they soon moved the transit box to a solution that was sustainable and reusable: Woolcool’s thermal 100% wool packaging and its water-based cooler bags were added to the inside of Loadhog’s plastic boxes to protect the food for longer, retaining temperature and increasing lifespan.

Big ambitions

We’ve now committed to expanding the Community Fridge Network with Hubbub to 250 more locations, doubling the number of fridges to 500* by December 2023! I’m confident that our new transit box will help pave the way to make this totally achievable.

Our ambition is that the flow of food into the network grows and two things that’ll help are: the continued easing on the supply chain, so the process of getting food into the network is much smoother; and helping our colleagues to use Food Share really well so they’re clear on what they can use and share.

If you want to make good things happen in your local community, visit Co-operate, to see how you can get involved.

Visit the Hubbab site to find a community fridge near you. Also, applications are now open for communities to apply for funding to set up a fridge. Up to £4k is available, so please spread the word.

* To achieve to the 250 additional community fridge locations by the end of 2021 and to be able to double this by December 2023 with the new commitment, another 50 fridges came onboard this year outside of Co-op funding.