Help out with your fresh produce surplus

Mercabarna has collaborated with the Food Bank for more than 6 years now. On the one hand by providing this organisation with a storage area inside the precinct and, on the other, through the companies of the Food Unit that altruistically donate their surplus fresh produce. Since the start of the economic downturn, this organisation has seen how the demand for food has grown day by day. For this reason, Mercabarna, the Association of Fruit and Vegetable Wholesale Dealers of Barcelona (AGEM), and the Food Bank Foundation have now launched an information campaign in order to get more companies from the Central Fruit and Vegetable Market to collaborate and to persuade those who already do so to increase their donations.

The current economic downturn is aggravating a problem that has in fact always existed: hunger. In this case, it is not a remote situation, one that only affects people on the other side of the world. On the contrary, it is an ongoing problem that affects those who live among us. Since the crisis broke last summer, charitable organisations such as community dining rooms, parishes, shelters, and so on have witnessed how, day by day, the number of people coming in search of food has risen. Indeed, the familiar faces at these centres (the elderly, the homeless, immigrants, etc) now include families in which one (or two) of the members have lost their jobs and are therefore without resources to cover their basic needs. For some time now these organisations have had serious difficulty in providing food for everyone who asks for it. And this, in turn, is also affecting the supporting associations that supply the food: the demand grows but not the donations. Such is the situation in which the Food Bank now finds itself. This non-profit foundation fights hunger here, recovering foods that are no longer marketable (owing to production surpluses, packaging defects, etc) yet which are still edible, and distributes them to the organisations that help the needy people of Barcelona and the greater metropolitan area.

As Antoni Sansalvadó, chair of the Food Bank Foundation observes, “The food demand has increased about 25%. In 2008 some 57,000 people benefited from what the Bank supplied. This year we calculate the number will soar to over 73,000.”

The Bank’s central storage area, located in the Zona Franca, reflects this harsh reality. There is a steady stream of vans from organisations that come in for food and the storage room shelves empty quickly. In the offices, work is focused on persuading more agrofood companies to donate products and, those already collaborating to increase their contributions.

A rally for solidarity
For the Food Bank, Mercabarna is vital in terms of donations. In fact, 18% of the foods distributed by this organisation come from precinct companies. Nonetheless, within the current context, contributions barely meet the demand. It is for this reason that Mercabarna, AGEM and the Food Bank Foundation have launched an information and awareness campaign among the wholesale companies of the Fruit and Vegetable Market with the purpose of boosting their donations of surplus produce. As the Food Bank chair remarks, “We are running the campaign because we believe Mercabarna has vast potential for growth, particularly because of the large number of companies concentrated the precinct.”
However Mercabarna is crucial not only for the volume of food it donates (or may donate) but also for the type of food. Sansalvadó goes on to say, “Fresh produce is essential for anyone’s diet but it is also more difficult to obtain. That’s why the contributions by Mercabarna firms are so important.”

Social commitment
The campaign focuses on informing Market wholesalers about the work done by the Food Bank, underlining the advantages to be had by working alongside an initiative of these characteristics. Casimiro Llorens, chair of AGEM, stresses the social ‘benefit’ of taking produce to the Bank. “We’ll tell wholesalers that if we give the Food Bank the fruit and vegetables we can no longer market, but which are still good enough for consumption instead of taking them to the waste container or to the Green Point, we’ll be helping many hungry people.”

This solidarity approach was also adopted some years ago by Mercabarna Fruit Amalia, a regular Bank collaborator. As Francisco García, the firm’s manager, makes clear, “Before selling edible products for a song or taking them to the Green Point, I prefer to donate them to the Bank. You do a good turn at a time when so many people are feeling the pinch of the crisis.”

Another Market company that donates products on a regular basis is Mollá Hermanos. Company head Ramón Mollá remarks, “It would be much more convenient for us to take surplus edible produce to the Green Point, since it’s handier than the Bank’s storage area. However we believe it is better for people who need it to have it.”

Mollá explains that when they have fruit and vegetables that have passed the selling point, he calls the Bank to let them know and “they tell me where to take it” without delay. He concludes, “It’s no big deal for me and it’s a very simple process.” And too, the Bank offers the chance to certify donations for tax deductions and justification of waste.

We pick it up for you
The chair of the Food Bank chair is well aware that, in order to boost collaboration among the companies, “we have to take measures that will facilitate donations as well as simply making people aware of the need”.

This is why from now on the Bank will collect surplus fruit and vegetables from stalls that so request. This service will be provided on Tuesdays and Fridays, from 2:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. Nonetheless, the companies that wish to continue taking their products to the Bank storage area can continue to do so Mondays to Fridays from 2:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.

Wholesalers Association chair Casimiro Llorens says his group views the initiative as positive since “it will make many companies collaborate that haven’t until now because of the distance to the Bank storage area”.
In a survey conducted by Mercabarna among Market wholesalers in February, 42% of the firms stated that they would donate more if the Bank came around to their market stalls to collect the products. The survey also revealed that closeness to the Food Bank is a very important factor, since the majority of donating companies are based in pavilions very close to the Bank.

In early May, some information officers – the very ones who performed this survey – will see to visiting the Market stalls to inform the wholesalers about the campaign.

520 tonnes of fresh produce per year
For the past six years, the Food Bank has had a 175-m2 storage area in the Food Unit, lent by Mercabarna. Here it receives the fresh produce that is later distributed to charitable organisations. “The short shelf-life of fresh produce makes us react very quickly in terms of logistics. So we do our best to ensure that the very day we get the produce, an organisation will come to pick it up.” Today there are some 100 precinct companies that collaborate with the Food Bank, but only 50 of these donate products on a regular basis. The rest do so off and on throughout the year. Some 520 tonnes of fresh produce are collected yearly, mostly fruit and vegetables.

As for fish, the Central Fish Market businesses donate some 30 tonnes a year through the Wholesale Consignees Association (GMP). Even so, this produce remains an unsolved problem. As the chair of the Food Bank observes, “There is a very good predisposition, on the part of the association and of the Fish Market businesses to increase donations. The problem is that it requires a specific cold storage logistics plan - one that is well organised for the treatment of such delicate fresh produce.”