How are we doing it?

The most important aspect of transforming our operations to increase fresh food has been finding ways to shorten the time from when we receive product to when it arrives in front of someone who needs it. Where we might have been able to store a can of green beans for 3 months, a bushel of rescued fresh green beans is lucky to last two weeks! We went after this problem on several different fronts.

Produce to People (P2P)

This program, piloted in late 2005 and expanded rapidly in 2009-2014, created mobile pantry sites throughout our service area where anywhere from 150 to over 1000 families could be served with fresh food in a two hour window. At its peak, P2P moved almost 4 million pounds of food to people in need in a year.

Retail Store Donation Program

In 2009, we started training and equipping our member agencies to rescue fresh food directly from retail stores to capture food we couldn’t with our fleet. By 2020 “agency-enabled pickups” like this rescued over 4 million pounds of fresh food from over 250 retail stores, and more than half of that was fresh produce. (Overall retail store rescues are more than 10 million pounds a year).

Advance Choice

When we decided to move to 50% produce, we realized we needed fundamental transformation of our processes, and expand produce access within our pantry network. Working with a Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt and a cross-functional group of Food Bank staff, we quickly realized that the only way to do this was to know where all our produce was going before it even came in the door. This was basically impossible with the way we were operating in 2014. We projected produce demand, brought it in the door, put it on inventory for agencies to order, and hoped for the best. That whole process cost at least two days of the useful life of every strawberry, green bean, or head of lettuce that came in the door. We had to find a way to “push” all that produce out the door without abandoning our commitment to let agencies choose what they would receive. The answer came from a program we found at San Francisco/Marin Food Bank that we adapted to create Advance Choice. Agencies would tell us how many people they served, when they served them, fill in a chart of preferences for over 30 categories of fresh produce, from citrus fruits to collard greens. We would take that data, crunch the numbers, and source and distribute the product our agencies asked for, in the quantities they need, and deliver it just in time for their distributions.

Advance Choice, piloted in 2015, grew rapidly to include over 100 member agency sites, and increased our produce distributions by about 900,000 pounds per year until we paused expansion in 2020 due to covid. At its peak, Advance Choice facilitated distribution of over 4 million pounds of produce to thousands of households across 10 counties of our service area, and it continues to be a major part of our vision for expanding fresh foods in the future.