New Zealand creates an astonishing amount of food waste while also having high levels of food insecurity. KiwiHarvest is a charity that is using these two issues to solve each other.
“The goal is to put ourselves out of a job.” That’s Angela Calver CEO of KiwiHarvest’s response when asked what she wants her organisation to achieve. KiwiHarvest offers one clever solution to two huge problems: food waste and food insecurity.
On both fronts the stats in Aotearoa are simply staggering. “Over 100 million kilograms of food go to landfill in New Zealand each year and about 60% is still edible,” Calver says. “That doesn’t even include household waste.” And while New Zealand produces enough food to feed 40 million, nearly one in five kids are food insecure.
Calver explains KiwiHarvest’s function simply: “We collect good food before it goes to waste and get it to those in need.”
Again, the stats are staggering. But in a good way. KiwiHarvest has rescued over 11 million kilos of kai from landfill and delivered over 32 million meals. As a result they’ve prevented over 30 million equivalent kgs of CO2 from entering the atmosphere.
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Each week KiwiHarvest reaches 40,000 people – with branches in South Auckland, North Shore, Dunedin, Queenstown and Invercargill. Across these locations they rescue between 170,000 to 200,000 kgs of good quality food each month.
So where does it all come from? “We have 250 food donors, they’re supermarkets, food manufacturers, cafes, wholesalers, importers, distribution centres, growers and packhouses,” Calver says. Whether it’s surplus, unsaleable stock, unsold stock, or excess fruit from a back garden, KiwiHarvest can collect it, keep it fresh, and get it where it needs to go, fast.
“The last thing we want to do is put more food miles on this product, and for it to then go into the waste stream,” Calver notes. KiwiHarvest keeps deliveries local so that donations go back to the communities they serve. They also feed data back to large donors to help them better understand supply chain issues and reduce waste in the first place.
Once collected, KiwiHarvest redistributes rescued food to a network of 225 recipient agencies – refuges, community kitchens, shelters, food banks, churches, schools and play centres. These agencies offer a huge range of services, from cooking classes to addiction support and school holiday programs. KiwiHarvest ensures the food they deliver is nutritious and mana enhancing. 60% of what they drop off is fresh fruit and vege and care is taken to deliver vegan and vegetarian meals where needed.
All of KiwiHarvest’s recipient agencies are dealing with food insecurity on the front line. And demand is high. “We work quite closely with all of our recipient agencies,” Calver says. “They’re saying care workers, nurses, teachers, so many just cannot make it through the week. By the time they’re paid their rent, and for fuel to get to work, they’re not able to get a full week’s food on the table.”
While some organisations sell or donate rescued kai to individuals, KiwiHarvest only distributes via recipient agencies. KiwiHarvest’s superpower is sourcing a huge quantity of good food, rescuing it and getting it to the right place, within a perishable time frame. Talk about complex logistics. Their recipient agencies have their own superpowers. KiwiHarvest frees up their time, money and people to focus on other services whānau need.
Remarkably, KiwHarvest does not charge to pick up or drop off of kai. Donor and recipient agencies never have to pay to work with them.
So how does KiwiHarvest make it happen? Corporate sponsors like AMP are key. While their activities differ, the two organisations’ missions have similar echoes. They’re all about helping Kiwis have a brighter future.
AMP offers insurance, as well as KiwiSaver and investment products designed to help New Zealanders save money and grow it over time – to increase overall financial wellbeing. “When we sat down to think about our community partnerships,” managing director Jeff Ruscoe says. “We wanted to connect into our communities. And to look at the cost of living crisis and sustainability. KiwiHarvest joins together three of the core issues that are important to us as a business and is something our people could get behind and be part of at the same time.”
The impact of the KiwiHarvest model and AMP partnership can be perfectly seen in the Salvation Army.
Over the last 10 years, KiwiHarvest has supplied the Salvation Army with 578,000kg of groceries. A large portion of that has been fruit, veg, bread, meat and dairy – items the Salvation Army often struggles to source. Time the agency previously spent “on the road” has been refocused to relational work with whānau. Rather than running duplicate efforts, both agencies have been freed to focus on their unique expertise.
Like many agencies, the Salvation Army has seen a massive lift in demand for food. A recent survey from The NZ Food Network found there has been a 165% increase in the number of people receiving food support since 2020.
After forming their partnership earlier this year, KiwiHarvest and AMP have been working together to keep up with the increasing need for kai support. “AMP’s customer promise in all that they do is ‘a little help’ for Kiwis right? But to us and the community organisations we serve, it’s a huge help,” Calver says.
The KiwiHarvest x AMP partnership is an active one – literally. AMP’s teams regularly head down to the KiwiHarvest warehouse to pack boxes. “It’s a serious workout,” Ruscoe says. Volunteers like these are another key part of the KiwiHarvest equation. About 600 come through each year and provide the power required to receive the rescued items, repack them and deliver them. “When we’ve got an extra set of hands with our delivery drivers, for example, we can get 25% more done,” Calver says.
After a full-on goods-shifting and box-packing session, volunteers from AMP and other groups are always uplifted but also knackered and hungry. So morning tea will consist of a large array of rescued kai. This is standard practice during a volunteer shift at KiwiHarvest. Whatever the context, “kai is a connector,” Calver says.
Kai is also a connector and a way to build trust for many of the recipient organisations KiwiHarvest works with. There are lots of examples of this, Calver explains, but one that sticks out for her is play centres. “At some of these there are mums who don’t eat, they just don’t have enough. So when the other mothers get the kids asking for food and they’re able to provide it, this opens the doorway into ‘how else can our community organisation help?’ It opens the doorway into understanding. Food can build trust for you.