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How data and AI is helping FareShare tackle food poverty and the 10 million tonnes of food wasted every year

Madeline Bennett Profile picture for user Madeline Bennett June 12, 2024
Summary:
Salesforce tech will help the charity better target donors to increase fundraising.

waste

Every year, around 10 million tonnes of perfectly edible, surplus food goes to waste in the UK. Meanwhile, millions of people are struggling to afford enough food to feed themselves and their family.

As well as the sheer insanity of so much food being wasted in the face of so much food poverty, there’s also an environmental impact. Greenhouse gases resulting from rotten or wasted food accounts for around half of all global food system emissions.

Charity FareShare is well aware of how dire the situation is. CEO George Wright notes:

If food waste was a country, it'd be the third biggest producer of global greenhouse gas emissions behind America and China.

Worldwide, 30% of food is wasted; in the UK, it’s 25%, including food thrown away at home, ploughed back into the ground, or wasted in the hospitality and retail industries. 

FareShare started out 30 years ago to tackle the latter part of this problem. It began life as an offshoot from the charity Crisis and Sainsbury’s working together one Christmas to redistribute some of the surplus food that would otherwise go to waste.

The charity now operates 35 warehouses across the country, employing around 600 people along with 15,000 volunteers. FareShare picks up surplus food from 700 food companies, brings it into the warehouses, and works with another 8,500 charities to redistribute much-needed food to groups including school clubs, community centres and faith groups.

While the charity has now grown into a national organization, working with all the UK supermarkets, it was still quite a small outfit when Covid hit. Wright says:

FareShare as an organization was about £3 million in terms of fundraising. COVID came and everything boomed.

Demand

Demand skyrocketed, and as the charity was heavily involved with footballer Marcus Rashford at the time, it became more of a focus. Wright says: 

People wanted to give more, the government gave more, so the organization became very big. It went from £3 million to, at one point, £75 million, then came back down after COVID  to about £23 million. The food might have gone from 5,000 tons in the early days to 55,000 tonness.

Coming out of COVID and the cost of living crisis, the number of people in food insecurity has more than doubled from six million to 13 million. Those six million would have been people that would be historically vulnerable, for example unemployed or disabled. The drive to 13 million is rising demand from young families, who are now struggling to make ends meet due to factors like the pandemic, Brexit and the Ukraine War. Food prices have become much higher at the same time as interest rates and energy costs have gone up. Wright explains:

The bottom 20% of our society is economically cut adrift. Therefore, we've seen demand explode for more and more food. Last year, we did 55,000 tons, that’s 130 million meals. We could easily double or treble that if we had access to the food and access to the finance. The demand is going through the roof and continuing to grow.

The key to meeting this growing demand is fundraising, and FareShare is in the process of rolling out new technology to help its efforts here. 

FareShare has been using Salesforce over the past seven years, making use of Sales and Service Cloud to manage customer contacts and some of its food offers. If a partner gave FareShare a food offer, it would use Salesforce to administer that. The charity was also doing a little bit on the fundraising side within Salesforce, but it wasn’t fully integrated. Wright adds:

That's down to us. We hadn't really pushed our tech strategy very fast.

Salesforce 

Just over a year ago, FareShare carried out a full review of its operations and technology use, and decided to ramp up its investment in and use of Salesforce.

The charity is now exploring how Non-profit Cloud and Data Cloud could benefit the organization, and is keen to take advantage of as many of the capabilities as possible. Wright explains:

Why re-invent the wheel? If there's something great out there, use it and use it quickly. There's other things that we need to do where we will have to do development, but in this space there's already capability and we can use it.

Charities isn't an easy world. Running this charity is more difficult than running a retailer. Part of the reason it's so problematic is we don't have systems, we don't have tech organizations, we don't have tech departments, we don't have that infrastructure. Having the ability to piggyback on something like Salesforce is critical.

As FareShare’s data is sat in spreadsheets stored all over the place, Data Cloud gives it the opportunity to pull all that information together in one place. Nonprofit Cloud, meanwhile, gives the charity one view of its supporters, so it can manage food and money donors more effectively. Wright notes:

The thing about charities is we're not good at data. Just being able to know that there's one connected data source, whatever we're trying to do, is massive.

The overall aim is to have a complete, holistic view of supporters, including when and how much they've donated, where they are, and what they're interested in. Wright says:

We can then give them a great experience, with all the information and support they need, but also show them everything about us and allow us the opportunity to give them the best chance of seeing how their money can be used effectively.

Thanks to the AI components embedded into Salesforce, users can achieve more than they could before as the system can augment their activity. Wright cited a demo he had recently watched showing how the tech could support the fundraising team, analyzing what donors’ interest might be. He adds:

It then suggests the email that we need to write and we can tailor that. Something that might have taken someone three hours, it might take them 30 minutes. The productivity of that is massive. It's not about saving our costs, it's about multiplying our impact.

FareShare is currently in the early stages with Nonprofit Cloud and Data Cloud. The plan is to establish those key systems, as they tackle what the charity is doing on fundraising, before moving into the whole Salesforce ecosystem. Wright adds:

Just putting in the system is helping us develop as an organization, around project management. Charities don't learn like regular businesses, but by working with organizations like Salesforce and other Salesforce partners, we are learning as an organization. We're not just getting the tools, we're getting ways of working. That's probably just as powerful.

The core objective for the additional Salesforce technology is improving fundraising. FareShare has a compelling proposition, but it needs enhanced tech in place to scale its supporter base, increasing the number of donors, generating more income from them, and showing them what their impact has been. Wright says:

To create something that's not just, give us money, but let us show you what your impact is and guide where your funds go. That's the number one imperative.

Wright also sees potential in the wider Salesforce ecosystem.

There's a lot of charities out there that need more food; and there's a lot more food that's out there. How do we connect the two? How can we use some of the functionality there? We've not fully explored that yet, but there's a massive opportunity on the operational side to maybe use some of the capabilities that are here.

AI could make a real difference in the areas of food waste and sustainability, for example tech that automatically links all the food sources and surplus across the country to all the charities in need. Wright adds:

There's more food wasted than we tackle and there's more charities that need more food. If we could connect those with a logistics solution then you could optimize for maximum use of food, minimum use of miles to get it to them. Maximum social impact, minimal cost. There's a big tech opportunity there.

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