Food for thought

A vision for aid in Amsterdam

At the VoedselMarkt in the south of Amsterdam, customers can find everything they’d usually expect from a grocery store: fruit and vegetables, meat and dairy products and a selection of tinned goods. They choose what their family needs for the week, then head over to the cash register.

But that’s where things change. Because here, what they don’t do is pay.

This new style of foodbank is making sure people have enough to eat, while helping to build a fairer society and tackling the nation’s sizeable food surplus. And a group of Deloitte volunteers have been analysing how to take the foodmarket concept to the next level.

A lifeline for those in need

For many of the country’s one million residents who live in poverty, Voedselbank Nederland is a lifeline. Through its network of 171 volunteer-run foodbanks, they can get free crates of donated items until they get back on their feet.

In 2020, the organisation helped 160,500 individuals, distributing 44 million products worth €74 million. Much of that would have otherwise gone to waste.

It’s a vital service, but there is an issue. People don’t choose what they get, so they don’t always get what they want. Some are given items that, for dietary or religious reasons, they can’t use. This means the aid isn’t as effective as it could be and supplies that could help somebody else are thrown out.

At one location, they built a ‘supermarket,’ where customers can select items for themselves and pay with points, called the VoedselMarkt. Open for business since January 2020, it also offers a welcome meeting space and a free soup or hot drink. This has proven to be especially important to anyone feeling isolated.

How the foodmarket works

Every customer who uses the foodmarket is given a number of points to spend on different food categories each week. The number of points depends on the size of their family. They choose what they want, check out with a cashier and pay with their points.

The aid is intended to be temporary and, along with giving people the food they need, the system offers a further benefit.

As Sophie explains, “The foodmarket enables customers to move back into society. The points help them to see what they can and can’t spend and make healthy choices.”

Donating our time and skills

Could this new concept work even more effectively? And could it evolve to help more people, especially since the number of individuals using the service doubled during the pandemic? That was where our experts came in.

Having worked with Voedselbank Nederland in the past, we offered to run a pro bono project to research and evaluate the way the site operates. With support from our Deloitte Impact Foundation, we surveyed customers and volunteers, looked at the financials and logistics and analysed other foodbank models in Arnhem and Rotterdam. We also helped with their social media strategy.

Sophie Nijenhuis, a senior consultant in our Risk Advisory practice in the Netherlands, was part of our volunteer team. She explains, “Everyone at Voedselbank, from the board to the market staff, is a volunteer. They don’t have the time to do the deep research necessary to know what’s working and what could be improved. We have the expertise and were able to donate the time, so it was logical that we worked on this together.”

Using our findings, our client is now examining how the foodmarket might develop. This includes whether the model could be replicated across Amsterdam, replacing other crate-distribution centres to give families more choice.

Transformational projects like this motivate you and show the personal impact you can have.
Sophie Nijenhuis

Senior consultant, Deloitte Netherlands

Helping to change people’s lives

Through the Deloitte Impact Foundation, we have an annual budget of 1% of total direct hours available (approximately 60,000 hours in FY21) to support initiatives with the potential to drive lasting social change.

“The data analysis, the strategies – this is similar to what we do every day,” says Sophie, “but it’s such a different way of working. Here we’re talking about people’s lives and whether or not they have enough food.”

“It’s been great to use the skills we have to look at how we can create an even better foodmarket for customers. Transformational projects like this motivate you and show the personal impact you can have.”

Waste not…

Food waste is an important issue as, across the western world, one-third or more of all food produced is wasted, amounting to between six and eight percent of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions.

The UN has an ambitious goal: to halve food waste by 2030. It’s a target the Netherlands has adopted wholeheartedly, and Voedselbank Nederland is making an important contribution.