When perfectly usable food is sent to a landfill, it bypasses the 50 million hungry Americans who struggle with hunger.
By Mary Jane Melendez, Associate Director, General Mills Foundation
As one of the world’s largest food companies, General Mills has a long legacy of philanthropy. From an orphanage our founder Cadwallader Washburn built following a mill explosion in 1878 to a high-protein powder our scientists developed more than 60 years ago to feed those suffering from malnourishment, our history is rich with examples of strong community engagement.
I experience this tradition of community involvement every day as I lead grant making and community action operations for the General Mills Foundation.
In my role, I am responsible for General Mills Foundation Hunger and Nutrition Wellness Grants, International Giving programs, product donations, disaster relief and operational excellence initiatives. What makes this work truly empowering is General Mills’ continual commitment to revolutionizing the way we work with partners and focus on introducing new and innovative ways to serve our communities.
Rescuing Food from Landfills
One aspect of my job that I am particularly passionate about is food rescue.
Shockingly, every year more than 30 million tons of food piles up in landfills across the United States. This is a problem for several reasons, but most importantly, when perfectly usable food is sent to a landfill, it bypasses the 50 million hungry Americans who struggle with hunger.
Food that is in danger of going to waste is an increasingly important source of donations and an area of high priority for General Mills as we focus on alleviating hunger and advancing nutrition wellness globally.
And we’re making progress every day to rescue food and make adjustments to our operations so that more food can be saved from the landfill and shared with those in need.
Some examples of the work we’re doing include:
- Rescuing products to be destroyed: Last month, we received an inquiry on our corporate blog A Taste of General Mills from The Community Pantry, a food shelf in New Mexico. We learned that the pantry was storing 23 pallets of Yoplait, Grands biscuits and Pillsbury refrigerated cookies from a truck that had overturned. The pantry had been instructed by an insurance company to destroy the products and when we learned of this, we worked quickly with employees in our supply chain and quality groups to redirect this product to donation and serve families in need during the holidays.
- Finding new purpose for bulk items and ingredients: This spring, an employee saved a $650,000 surplus of pineapple pouches that go into our Wanchai Ferry frozen entrées from going to waste by donating them to Feeding America. Often times, ingredients and bulk items are not priorities as food donations because people don’t think of these items as being used by a family at home. We make these donations work well by partnering with Feeding America, a national network of food banks, to repack and re-label these types of items into family-sized portions. This process saves millions of pounds of edible food from the landfill every year.
- Redirecting mis-labeled products: Recently, one of our employees identified an opportunity to save more than 8,000 cases of granola bars that had been mislabeled. These bars, a snack item always in demand at food banks and feeding agencies, were donated and re-labeled by food banks in Indiana, Pennsylvania, Illinois and Georgia. Collectively, these organizations serve hundreds of thousands of hungry people – many of them children.
But these are just three examples. We work daily to identify opportunities like these to rescue food and get it into the hands of people who need it. And one way we organize these efforts is through a group of employee volunteers called the Product Donations Action Team (PDAT), which has made it a priority to boost awareness of our product donation program.
The Product Donations Action Team
The PDAT leverages employee expertise in supply chain operations, warehousing, tax, finance and quality to help drive improvements in our food donations processes around the world. In the end, their efforts result in more food for donations to support those in need.
Last year, this team met with several groups throughout the company to educate them about the opportunities to make product donations and save perfectly good food from reaching the landfill. The educational effort resulted in an additional $5 million in food being donated in 2011.
These donations – which encompass every brand manufactured by General Mills such as Big G cereals, Green Giant vegetables, Yoplait yogurt and Pillsbury baking products – help feed children and families struggling to make ends meet.
It’s personally rewarding every time we are able to save perfectly good food from the landfill and in turn, feed people who are struggling with hunger. I challenge both companies and individuals alike to think creatively about how we can together reduce food waste and recapture usable food.
At General Mills, we are challenging ourselves to find solutions. Every day we continue our journey. We’ve made a lot of progress, but recognize that much more is ahead of us, especially as we keep our eyes focused on environmental sustainability and working with our communities.
About the Author
Mary Jane Melendez is an Associate Director of Community Action. Her responsibilities include management of the General Mills Foundation Hunger and Nutrition Wellness Grants, International Giving programs, product donations and disaster relief initiatives. Mary Jane serves on Board of Urban Ventures Leadership Foundation and on the Senior Corporate Affairs Professionals group through the Minnesota Council on Foundations.
At General Mills, Mary Jane leads the Product Donations Action Team. This is a cross-functional team that works to ensure eligible food and packaging items are donated, reducing destruction and helping to alleviate hunger. Since 2009, this team has saved millions of dollars in safe, edible product from being destroyed and directed that product to Feeding America to help feed those in need. Mary Jane received her undergraduate degree and Masters in Business Administration from the University of St. Thomas.
More from General Mills:
Causes & Consumers: Breaking Through The Brand Philanthropy Clutter
How Leadership, Relationships & Adaptability Built a Hunger-Fighting Nonprofit
It’s Not Nutritious Unless People Eat It: Consumer Acceptance Guides Companies' Responsibility Efforts
Food Waste: 3 Ways to Compel Change Among Business & Consumers
General Mills' 2012 Global Responsibility Report: Understanding Impact