COVID-19 - Ian Laing Foodbank Australia

TCP had the pleasure of speaking with Ian Laing, General Manager of Foodbank Australia as part of the TCP Connect Webinar ‘Navigating COVID Together’ series to learn more about the impact COVID-19 is having on the business, the people it serves and how we can all lean in to assist.

COVID-19 - Ian Laing Foodbank Australia

Read time 5 mins

About Foodbank Australia

Foodbank Australia is the country’s largest not-for-profit food relief organisation, helping vulnerable Aussies access food and groceries, no matter what the crisis. In ‘normal’ circumstances, Foodbank is responsible for 72 percent of food relief across the country to support 815,000 Australians each month through 2,400 charities.

Foodbank also supply 3000 schools with their school breakfast program, and impressive logistics means they work with retailers, food processors, and the agriculture sector to deliver food (both donated and purchased) through their state-based distribution centres and charity partners. ‘Bill shock’ is the major cause for people needing Foodbank’s support, and while their key focus is getting food to these people who need it most, they also play a major role in solving food wastage issues across the country.

COVID-19 impacts on Foodbank Australia and the people it serves...

COVID-19, coupled with the impacts of multi-year events, particularly in regional and remote areas, from droughts, monsoons, and floods, has not only resulted in the rapid rise of Australians requiring support, but has also had a major effect on the volumes of food that Foodbank Australia receive through rescue channels. While demand has been growing over the past 10 years, sadly 2019 saw food supply decrease. This is a deep and profound challenge.

In the last three weeks, we’ve seen a huge spike in demand of over 50 percent – so that 815,000 a month, who aren’t sure where their next meal is going to come from, has now jumped to 1.2 million.

In the last three weeks, we’ve seen a huge spike in demand of over 50 percent – so that 815,000 a month, who aren’t sure where their next meal is going to come from, has now jumped to 1.2 million. It’s difficult to know, and to model, how deep this problem will go, how big it will be and how long it will last for. It’s still too early to fully understand the economic and employment impact of COVID-19, but we know that many people who need access to support haven’t had to do so before, as we’re seeing many new faces asking for help – particularly international students with no support network.

Ian highlighted some key challenges Foodbank Australia are experiencing around distribution, labour supply, food supply and funding to meet the demand.

Distribution: At the time of the webinar (April 15 2020), 27 percent of the charities Foodbank Australia work with to distribute food had ceased their relief operations and another 10 percent had reduced the amount of service days. Organisations that still have their doors open are inundated with demand, and will likely remain the case until isolation restrictions are eased. 

Labour supply: Foodbank Australia relies on thousands of volunteers around the country each week. While isolation restrictions do an important job in flattening the curve, corporate volunteering has decreased over 90%. Agencies who supply food generally rely on semi-retired volunteers who are more susceptible to COVID-19, and understandably, are not able to continue their volunteer support.

Food supply: 84 percent of Foodbank Australia's food supply is rescued from farm gates and major food producers. The remaining is produced through low bono and pro bono collaboration with food producers, processors and distributers. Currently there is less waste in the system and increased demand, which means factories are less able to provide the means to produce the food Foodbank requires. This is likely to be an ongoing problem with more people shopping in supermarkets, being unable to eat out at restaurants, and compounded by the increase demand of people accessing Foodbank Australia’s services, this is an incredible challenge.

Funding: Foodbank Australia has the challenge to find the financial means to invest in their people, systems and production to ensure they can meet demand. In some ways, Government has stepped in to support emergency hampers and jumpstart production. The economic impact to corporate partners is yet to be fully understood and the impact this has on their ability to donate is also unknown.

Foodbank Australia is in urgent need of additional funds to purchase food and groceries to support Australians affected by COVID-19.

Foodbank Australia is in urgent need of additional funds to purchase food and groceries to support Australians affected by COVID-19, and has been working with their corporate partners to establish ways to segment the market and ensure the direct delivery of hampers to those who need it most. Regional access is one area where collaboration will be essential and a challenge they are currently working on. Foodbank Australia also see great opportunity to work closer with the community sector to address that 'final mile' challenge of getting a basket of products to someone's front door, local church or food pantry, whatever it might be.

What if supply from bigger farms/ fresh food suppliers decreases along with support from the corporate sector, where else can Foodbank Australia look?

In addition to our generous and extensive supply chain network of large national corporations and small local businesses, we already work with a range of localised networks, including local farmers and growers to source our nutritious staple products, fresh fruit and vegetables. This collaboration allows us to not only support our communities with food relief, but also our local industries and businesses who go to extraordinary means to help us provide meals to vulnerable Australians. Our collaboration with a diverse network including small businesses allows us to maintain a sense of reliability, sustainability and efficiency in our food relief programs. This diverse network allows us to reduce the amount of edible produce unnecessarily going to waste or landfill and it aids in achieving better carbon footprint. Ultimately, we would pursue where an opportunity presents to work with localised networks.

What type of products do you produce that you aren't able to get donations for?

Our supply chain network helps provide sufficient volumes in particular products such as those that are long life and high in demand. However, we do have challenges in sourcing certain items, which is why Foodbank decided to commence the Collaborative Supply Program. Within this program, we produce various foods such as pasta, noodles, rice and meat etc.... These staple items including fresh protein to allow people to have access to nutritious, safe and sufficient food.

How much help is given to Regional areas?

Approximately one third of people who are more likely to be food insecure live in regional areas. Foodbank currently provides 47% of the total kilos of food distributed to regional areas.

How to volunteer

The simplest way to volunteer is to go to and complete an online form that will match you with your local food bank warehouse. Jobseekers can volunteer with Foodbank to fulfil their requirements. It happens daily.

If your organisation would like to support Foodbank Australia, email Ian Liang, General Manager of Foodbank Australia

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