E120: GOODR Tackles the Logistics of Redirecting Healthy Food to the Hungry
If you go to the website of an organization called GOODR, at goodr.co, you will be rewarded with inspiration to be sure but you’ll also find some startling information. While one in seven Americans is food insecure, 72 billion pounds of edible food goes to landfills each year and $218 billion is spent growing, transporting and disposing this food. You will also learn from our guest, Jasmine Crowe and I quote, hunger is not an issue of scarcity, it is a matter of logistics. Jasmine Crowe founded the tech-enabled sustainable food waste management company, GOODR. The ingenious work she has done in Atlanta, which simultaneously addresses food waste and food insecurity, has received national and global attention and is featured in a terrific TED Talk that Jasmine’s given.
What is GOODR and what inspired you to begin this effort?
So GOODR is a sustainable food waste management company. Essentially, we look at ourselves as any waste management company would, a waste management, a republic solid but our focus is on food and we back everything that we do in technology. And I was actually inspired to start GOODR through own personal experiences. I started feeding members of our homeless communities in 2013 and that was really my first exposure to actually fighting hunger on a personal level. So cooking meals for about three to 500 people every two weeks for my kitchen. But I think what really inspired me to get started was when I realized that some of my personal family and friends were either currently struggling with hunger or had struggled with hunger and it opened my eyes to see that hunger just didn’t discriminate. Here were friends of mine that I knew were college educated, well-traveled, had led really great careers but just ran into some struggling periods where food became an option and not a necessity. And when I saw that and saw how much food was going to waste, I decided that I wanted to really give my all into solving this problem.
Well, that’s impressive that you were cooking meals for so many people. Paint us a picture if you will of what day-to-day life is like for people who struggle with food insecurity.
Yes, so you said it, Kelly. You’re going deal with about 42 million people on an annual basis that are living food insecure. And so what that means is that every night, they’re going to go to bed hungry, often wake up the next morning, still hungry and not knowing when or where that next meal is coming from. And so when you look at this, you’re looking at about 14 million children, 7 million seniors that are dealing with hunger every single month. And when I think of the fact that they have to make these critical choices, especially my senior citizens who really, that’s where my heart string lately in doing this work has been greatly pulled towards, because many seniors are receiving just $16 a month in SNAP benefits and they have to make that choice. Hey, am I going to pay for my prescriptions, or am I going to pay for food? And often, so many of them choose prescriptions because they believe that’s what’s going to help them live longer. But when I’ll sit and talk to the seniors and they’ll show me their prescriptions, so many of them require them to be taken with food. And so what I see them doing is they’re eating crackers. They’re eating tuna. It’s not a good day for any of them and when they get free food, they clamor to different events and workshops in their senior homes, because that’s going to be the only time that they eat. With children, you have kids that are going to get free breakfast and lunch every day at school but what does that mean for them on the weekends? And what you see is that these kids are constantly playing catch-up. So if they get free breakfast, that’s great. But if they didn’t get free dinner last night or dinner at all, now what you do is you have this breakfast that’s replacing the dinner that they didn’t get, the lunch that’s replacing the breakfast that they didn’t get and now you have children that are sitting in class. They can’t focus on learning because they’re hungry still and no teacher can teach through hunger. You know, I can’t tell you how many parents I’ve met who have said, I go hungry just so my kids can eat. And those are just some of the struggles but these are working people, or people who have worked their entire lives or children of parents that are working that are struggling. It’s not just people that are homeless, which is where I started and where I was wrong.
It’s really heartbreaking to hear that these stories occur at all in a nation that has enough food and let’s get to that now. When you said you founded a waste management company, most people don’t associate waste management with addressing food insecurity. So tell me more about what GOODR does.
We basically work with businesses. We inventory everything it is that they sell. So people will think of us almost as like an Instacart or Uber Eats, if you will, in reverse. So we know what the business sells, what their retail costs are and at the end of the night, when they have surplus food that would otherwise go to waste, they can use our mobile app or our web portal to request a pickup. And we created a very easy user experience which allows them to scan items out or click on items and tell us the quantity and our platform calculates the weight value, as well as the tax value of that donation. They can’t request pickup. We deploy our network of logistics partners. We get that food delivered very fast to a nonprofit that’s within a five to 10 mile max radius of where that business is and that nonprofit receives it. They sign for it like they would a UPS package. A donation letter is then placed into our customer’s dashboard. And so that’s where we’ve started with the GOODR hunger. And now we are rolling out to animal feed as well as compost, because we believe that we want to solve food waste just as badly as we want to solve hunger and so while we’re concentrating on what’s edible now, our focus at whole is to be a full service food waste management company that can go into any food service business and say, we will take care of all your food waste, thus eliminating the need for their daily waste management service.
So is it financially sustainable or financially feasible for say, a restaurant to do this? Because they might pay you to pick up the food and that makes your business sustainable but then they don’t have to pay to have the waste disposed of in the traditional ways. Is that the way it works?
That’s the way we’re wanting it to work. So once we have all of the services in the order where we’re helping with compost, animal feed even anaerobic digestion, that is the vision. I mean, it’s very much sustainable for them because the thing is Kelly, if you look at it, they’re already paying to throw the food away, so that we’re not introducing a service that’s so foreign to them. Right now, they’re just paying a waste management company to throw it away but once they spend that dollar, the only thing that they could do is then write it off as a business expense but with GOODR, not only could they write us off as a business expense if they choose to, now that dollar tells a different story. Now they have a sustainability story that they can tell their constituents. We are improving our carbon footprint by reducing the food waste that our company produces on a daily basis, getting food to people in need becomes a corporate social responsibility story. And then they know everything that they donate that’s edible, they get a tax deduction for it. So in essence, we’re actually improving their bottom line. So I look at it as a triple win and a very big value add that they once did not have.
I’m glad you mentioned the environmental benefits of this, because many people may not realize that when food gets discarded and goes to landfills, it contributes a lot to climate change. So I’m assuming that’s what you mean by the environmental consequence?
Exactly. I think a lot of people don’t realize that.
So give us an example. Take a restaurant, or a food business or something like that and paint a picture of what they might have left over at the end of the day and who picks it up, actually and then where it gets delivered to?
I’ll use the Atlanta Airport. That’s one of our first key signature clients. Our do-gooders are in the airport six days a week. We go restaurant-to-restaurant, so you just imagine a food court, if you will, where you have all of these restaurants connected to each other. They are entering their food for pickup. Our do-gooders enter the airport right at closing time, so we’re capturing the food at the peak freshness. We’re getting it from each of those restaurants. It goes into our packaging, as well as our insulated bags. We have a refrigerated truck that drives right on the tarmac and then it’s delivered to nonprofits every single night. So that’s kind of how it works at the airport. We actually do start to help the customers reduce their waste, which is something that I do love about GOODR but it’s never going to go to zero. And so we’ve seen that over the last year working with the airport. For example Einstein’s Bagels was one of our airport customers and when we first got started with them, we were picking up anywhere from three to 400 bagels a night because their standard of bagel freshness is fresh bagels every three hours. But once we were able to show them how many bagels they were wasting, they started to reduce their production. And so now we pick up from Einstein’s on average anywhere from 40 to 80 bagels per night but we’re still there to capture all of it. And so if they didn’t know how much they were producing and how much they were wasting, they would still continue to overproduce. And so that’s part of what that technology and the data that we collect around this waste does. We’re going to pick up sandwiches and salads and meals that weren’t sold. So that’s what you’re going to see getting picked up from an airport. At a customer like Chick-fil-A, you may see all of their salads, all of their wraps, all of their fruit cups and chicken sandwiches and chicken tenders that were prepared, maybe for drive-through or fast food quick service. Someone comes in and gets it, it just wasn’t sold. And so those are kind of the items that you’re going to see when you take it to the convention center level. You could see thousands of pounds of food, thousands of pounds of produce. It really just depends on what that show is that’s taking place but the food that we’ve seen has been everything from filet mignon to apples.
I fly in and out of the Atlanta Airport a lot and that is a massive airport with an awful lot of food businesses. So I can only imagine the scale of what you’re talking about. In addition to the place of serving food at the airport, what are some of the other kinds of businesses that you work with?
So we work with a lot of corporates. So we work with a lot of corporate cafeterias, SAP, MetLife, and Warner Media Group. So those are another kind of client vertical for us. We are beginning to work with colleges and universities, so we’re really excited about that and we’re onboarding grocery stores as well. So we have several different verticals that we work with within. But if you think about it, Kelly, food exists everywhere. So where we’re really coming in now is just becoming a conduit to connect these businesses with all of this surplus, to people with me.
How far away from the place the food gets collected can you distribute food? And I’m thinking particularly about needs in rural areas. Would it ever be feasible to get food out to people who are outside of the city where the food’s being cooked?
I think that’s a great question and that’s something that really keeps me up at night because on a personal level, people email me. I get Facebook messages, I get LinkedIn messages. You wouldn’t believe it. And I hear from people in rural communities that are saying, ‘Hey, you know I’m in Macon, Georgia, I’m in Corpus Christi, Texas. Is there any way that you can get food to me?’ And so that’s really what’s been having my brain spinning, where we are looking at entering this market without being too divulged in where we’re trying to go, is as we start working with more grocery stores, we are looking at similar to meal kits, getting food to people in need on next day delivery through say a UPS, where we would get food boxes but that were filled with enough to make real meals. I mean, that’s the difference in what you’re seeing in a traditional food bank or a food pantry today. I would encourage anybody to go and volunteer at one because I did it myself and I couldn’t believe the food that they were just giving people that wasn’t going to make any real substantive meal for them or their families but would have lines of people just to have something in their house. And so with GOODR, I’m really concentrating on what does it take to sustainably package food to get to people next day delivery, right to their door. And so that’s how I look at the opportunity to solve within rural communities. We are also looking at the expansion of the current franchise model with customers like a Chick-fil-A that are in a lot of rural communities. What does it look like to get food to people in these rural communities from our current customer footprint? We think that there’s a big opportunity there.
Are there ever nutrition judgment calls you have to make with the food that you’re collecting and who it goes to?
Yes. So we’re using a lot of technology machine learning around that space to understand what kind of food we’re getting to people. So we brought in a nutritionist and so we’re wanting to make smarter decisions. If we say, get a nonprofit Chick-fil-A on a Monday we would want to try and get them a corporate kitchen, cafeteria food, maybe on a Wednesday, if they get another delivery from us. Or like a Sweetgreen, something that’s just healthier. So we are trying to make sure that we’re not sending them the same kind of food that is maybe considered unhealthy. We’re focused on balanced nutrition across the board.
And what are some of the biggest challenges you face as you go forward?
I think the biggest challenge is still getting people past that fear of if I donate the food and someone gets sick, I’m going to get sued. That’s a big part of it. We have to lose the fear in the hunger fight. GOODR comes in, we provide the supplies. We provide the liability insurance. You have the Good Samaritan Act. We have agreements in place with the nonprofits. So we’ve really covered so many of those bases but we still have people that for all intents and purposes are just afraid because they’re living in the old guard, in an old mindset of someone’s going to get sued. But when they think about it, they do this every single day. They’re sending food that people pay for in a car with somebody to someone’s house via Door Dash, Grubhub, Uber Eats and no-one’s worried about someone getting sick in that route. So we need to stop being afraid of making sure that people eat, because that’s when they really get sick, right? That’s when they really could get gravely ill by not having food.
The other thing is, GOODR is a business, you know? I thought very hard when starting GOODR, would we be a nonprofit? And what I knew for sure is that if I was a nonprofit, I would spend all of my days really worried about donations instead of getting to the problem. And when you really want to solve hunger and you think that, hey, food banks have been around since 1970 and people are still hungry and the population of people going hungry continues to grow. You have to really look at it as a business, putting real infrastructure behind it. We want to pay our drivers and people that work for GOODR a fair living wage. And we really look at ourselves as a waste management company. Again, which a waste management company is not a nonprofit. This is a service, it’s the right thing to do with donating the food that’s edible. But as we start to expand it to these other services, businesses have to look at this as a true expense to get to their zero waste goals. And I think what we will see is a tipping point. Right now, hey, this could be foreign to a lot of people. They’ve never done it before. But what we are starting to see is a lot of shift in policy, where businesses are being required to recycle their organic waste and to donate their food that’s edible. And you’re seeing this happening all over France and Italy and here, even in the US, in Los Angeles County and Boston and Austin, Texas, these policy shifts are coming.
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Jasmine Crowe, an HBCU alumna, is the founder and CEO of GOODR Co. Jasmine launched her first company BCG in 2011. Thru BCG she partnered with celebrities across the nation in a host of cause campaigns to ensure their star-power was being used for good. Lead by Jasmine, BCG hosted activations in more than 20 US cities and the UK, South Africa and Haiti and has collected and donated over three million items to causes worldwide and fed over 80,000 people through the Sunday Soul Homeless feeding initiative. Jasmine also served as the creator and executive producer of Change Makers a half hour docu-series profiling how celebrities use their star power for social change which premiered on Magic Johnson’s network ASPIRE! In January of 2017, she launched Goodr, a sustainable food surplus management company that leverages technology to combat hunger and reduce waste. Today Goodr redirects surplus food from convention centers, airports, and businesses to people who are food insecure.