The Bread and Butter Thing founder, Mark Game, has been active in food redistribution for some 20 years and in 2013 help to launch the UK’s first social supermarket. He explains how TBBT came about.
It is great to see how food redistribution is becoming a "thing" nowadays – something that has become more widely known about and seen as an issue to get involved in or to support. For the uninitiated, food redistribution is taking food out of the UK Food Supply Chain and using it, socially, to feed people before it ends up as a waste stream.
It's become clear to me that redistribution is something social, a way of using the food to help disadvantaged people. That doesn't have to mean that it can't be commercial, it simply has to be fair to all parties: beneficiaries, donors and redistributors.
In setting up TBBT I started from listening to the families and people in the communities as well as the teams that run some of the fantastic projects that work in disadvantaged areas, and also took time to talk to academics and campaigners about the issues they see within our communities to see what, if anything, we could do.
It soon became clear that there was a lot we could do! We focus on helping and supporting the community projects that are already doing amazing work in our communities. It is clear that we can make a much bigger impact together than if we were to do things on our own. We have no interest in reinventing the wheel – we collaborate and develop services that trusted organisations already working in a community could help us provide.
We also felt it was important to make it a zero-cost option for community projects, which can really struggle to get things off the ground as they need to raise funds for everything and we didn't want this to be a barrier to our supporting them and their community.
Our idea was to trial a food and non-food supply of goods to families as a starter for ten. But we needed to do this in socially deprived areas of the UK through established, positive and proactive community projects. So we launched the pilot of TBBT in Moss Side, Manchester with the team from Compassion Foodbank early 2016. Michelle, Elaine and the rest of the team were so welcoming and supportive – and if you are ever going to learn how to pack bags properly, a good food bank is the place to earn your stripes (thank you Shebna)!
We spent most of 2016 and 2017 working out the nitty gritty in our home town of Manchester, listening to our partners and members. As a result, we have now developed a model from the bottom up that is robust, replicable and scalable that we can now 'plug into' community projects. From meeting a prospective new community partner to launching can take as little as three weeks.
TBBT is a community-led charity. We quickly tweak the model to something that fits our community partners. We believe that our partners need to feel part of TBBT as much as they do their community. We believe it's our partners who know all of the complications and nuances of their community and we look to learn from them in the first instance.
For our members (or families), TBBT works a bit like a veg box scheme; some people have even described us as a mobile pantry. We provide goods weekly on a 'push' basis, sharing out among our members whatever goods we have managed to acquire on the day. Whereas a veg box would provide seasonal and local food available, we provide food we can access at that time, but we always look to provide provisions for the cupboards and fridge as well as a good selection of fruit and vegetables. Because we 'push' our food, we have very little waste also. We start the day with empty vans and end the day with empty vans. If we have food left because members haven't showed, for example, we give food to the local shelters.
Our goods vary from organic chickens to 12 packs of toilet roll to broccoli and potatoes; we don't do alcohol and we don't do tobacco products but they tend to be our only restrictions. We concentrate on improving the affordability of food and the quality of calories and nutritional value. As a result of TBBT, over 85% of our members tell us that they are eating better at home.
When we deliver, we always encourage our community partners to provide a space for people to come along and have a cup of tea and ‘Swap’, another development brought to us from a community partner (thank you Kate from Inspire!). The principle is not just to swap food but to swap ideas also; people may have never come across certain foods before, and I am a recent beetroot convert thanks to 'Swapping' despite my angst from childhood memories!
We get our donations in a similar way to most charities, through industry surpluses but also from our partnership with FareShare. Our partnership means that we can access wider food varieties and supply the FareShare network with more food – win win! We are currently delivering roughly 14 tonnes of surplus food a week, that's about 35,000 meals a week (or 1.8M a year).
Our members pay a weekly fee and in return receive enough food to feed themselves for a week, saving on average over £25 per week. Collectively, our members are currently saving over £30,000 per week (that's about £1.5M per annum). Our members tell us that these savings are spent on their family, home improvements, paying energy bills and repaying loans. Although we tend to struggle to access ethnically diverse foods, our members tell us that they also use some of their savings to be able to access such foods and we help them afford to be able to that.
As with most startups, we thought we had a clear direction on day one and soon found that it evolved as we engaged with more communities, from developing the size and shape of the offer to meet the nuances of each community, to simply developing the processes to be safe and efficient. Each of our partners brings with it new learnings.
One thing we have learned is not to categorise poverty. Although it can be useful to talk about food poverty or fuel poverty or rent poverty, they all have one thing in common – a person in need, and that person needs help with more than one aspect of their life. Poverty is complex and diverse and can drive people to become more isolated. We believe that the more we can do to help address poverty through community the better.
We also learned just how important the provision of non-food such as household and toiletries is. When people can no longer afford food, they have already stopped buying shampoo, toothpaste and even washing powder. Sadly, most retail promotions around such goods still present as a poverty premium as they tend to be multi buys and if you cannot afford one, how on earth are you going to be able to buy more than one? We see the growth of our non-food such as toiletries and household goods as mission critical going forward.
It's great to see that we now have over 5,000 registered families across Greater Manchester, working through 15 hubs and our growth is accelerating. Our first three vans are now fully utilised and we are starting to develop partnerships for the fourth van launching early 2019 with an eye on our fifth just after Easter 2019. By the summertime, we anticipate our membership will have doubled.
When all five vans are fully deployed, TBBT will be supporting up to 30 community projects and saving people and families in disadvantaged areas over £5M annually. Our aim is to continue growing but we have to get the right support to do so. The model itself is sustainable but it needs support and grant funding for the startup costs of each van. Once a van is fully deployed it is sustainable in perpetuity.
Oh, as we grow, we also plan to introduce further services to our members...
We are working on new partnerships to offer new services to help and support our members and our partners. In December, we will be launching several pilot services with our existing hubs focussing on Universal Credit and financial support.
Along with the new services, we are also launching more products to offer in our non food range such as washing powder, toiletries and feminine hygiene products. These will also be launched in time for Christmas 2018.