IT Starter Kit Helps Food Banks Operate at Scale

The pilot stage of a new inventory management system developed by The Global FoodBanking Network increases food bank operational efficiency by 30%

Hunger isn’t caused by insufficient food; it’s caused by insufficient logistics. In more than 35 countries food banks are closing the logistics gap that drives hunger by capturing food that would otherwise be wasted and making sure it reaches the plates of the hungry. For food banks to scale, it is essential they operate these logistics at maximum efficiency, and today, more efficiencies are made possible by leveraging technology. The Global FoodBanking Network (GFN) has just piloted a new inventory management system intending to radically improve food banks’ efficiencies. Large quantities of donated food pass through food banks’ warehouses every day. In fact, in FY 2015 alone, more than 1.2 billion pounds of food moved through food banks within the GFN network. Suffice it to say, managing food banks’ inventories can be a tremendous challenge, especially since many food banks are operated by a small number of staff with limited resources. The new IT Starter Kit, which has just completed the development and pilot stages, aims to improve food bank efficiency by at least 30 percent, provide greater traceability, and enhance donor management database. “The IT Starter Kit helps food banks operate at scale,” said Anthony Kitchen, GFN Manager of Network Programs, who helped develop the new resource. “It has the potential to be a real game-changer for our members, and it further underscores GFN’s mission to strengthen and support food banks around the world.” Many food banks currently track and manage inventories in Microsoft Excel, Access databases, or simply on paper — all have certain limitations and risks. The IT Starter Kit, however, provides a more holistic approach to managing food banks’ key data. The system is based on the industry leading platform and utilizes TopShelf by Scout, an inventory management application. The integration between the applications provides food bank staff with a complete and real-time view of products coming in and out of their warehouses, as well as full details on product donors and charity partners.
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Photo courtesy of Feeding Hong Kong
GFN piloted the new system with its member food bank Feeding Hong Kong (FHK). GFN has been working hand-in-hand with FHK for six months to implement the new system and associated processes. This has resulted in a comprehensive review of how products are classified and organized, then revising operational processes and implementing the technology. “Like so many new food banks, we started out with a lot of passion and enthusiasm but limited resources. For our first three years, we ran our operations with a lean team and an excel spreadsheet. In year four, we doubled in size and the need for a more sophisticated inventory management system became critical,” said Gabrielle Kirstein, Executive Director of Feeding Hong Kong. The pilot program consisted of two phases. The first phase focused on preparation. This involved redesigning operational processes at FHK, developing and testing the technical solution, and implementing an interim solution for capturing day-to-day data. After three months of optimizing the processes, phase 2 was the actual launch of the new system. This involved migrating existing data and records to the new systems, as well as providing onsite training and support to FHK staff. “We are so grateful for the opportunity to work with GFN on this project and are excited about the opportunities it presents – not just for Feeding Hong Kong but for so many other food banks around the world. After just a few weeks of transitioning to the new system, the impact on productivity has been immediate. Quite simply, we can now rescue more food and feed more people,” said Gabrielle. GFN will continue to monitor and support use of the new system at FHK. Based off the results and lessons-learned from this pilot program, GFN aims to make the IT Starter Kit available to other food banks in the GFN network. For more information about the IT Starter Kit, email