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Food Industry Practices Hurt Central Ohio Foodbank

Tighter inventory controls among grocers are generally good for the company's bottom line. But, the results of just-in-time deliveries and computer tracking of canned goods, condiments, and cereals have taken a toll on Central Ohio's largest foodbank.

Its Monday morning. A few minutes before eight when Dave Rutter double-checks his daily food pick-up lists. Rutter dispatches trucks from the Mid-Ohio Foodbank on West Mound street to area grocers and distributors. The trucks pick-up food donations that help supply area soup kitchens and food pantries in a 20 county area in Central and Southeast Ohio. "Bear in mind, none of these distributors or retailers really want to donate. The best scenario is that they sell it all. But, occasionally there's over-ordering or it gets closer to expiration date faster than they can distribute it and then that's what causes donations. They need to get it out of their warehouse while its still palletable, while its still wholesome food and then they call us up and we pick it up." Says Rutter.

Rutter counts on inventory mistakes or consumer fickleness to help keep a constant supply of surplus food. Sometimes, promotions with coupons especially benefit the foodbank. "A good example might be a cereal that has a special coupon on it and the coupon's about ready to expire, they didn't get to distribute all of it and now its still sitting in the warehouse and the customer isn't going to be able to use the coupon." Explains Rutter.

But, grocers and distributors are getting better in avoiding such mistakes. Kroger spokeswoman, Monica Gordon, says the Cincinnati-based company constantly looks for more efficient ways reduce inventory and rotate warehouse stock. She says daily monitoring and computer tracking keeps store shelves full and warehouse inventories low. Its good business.

With less surplus food, Gordon says Kroger now asks its customers whether they want to donate to the Mid-Ohio food bank. Through the company's "Hunger Has No Season" campaign, Kroger customers can give up to twenty dollars to buy a bag of Kroger groceries for the foodbank. The company also makes matching donations.

As businesses become more efficient, the foodbank has also adjusted. Inside his truckcab, Driver Jim Legins prepares to leave the warehouse to make stops at four Giant Eagle stores. On this particular day, Legins will pick-up more than a thousand pounds of food...including meat, some produce and what he calls "salvageables."

But, Legins says he rarely picks up a pallet full of food. Legins is one of two food-bank drivers making stops at Central Ohio Giant Eagle stores on this Monday morning. The food-bank schedules what he calls quicker turn-arounds so that little or no food goes to waste. In the past, Legins says Giant Eagle or other grocers may have thrown food away for lack of a timely pick-up. "One of the big reasons why we get the quality of the food we get is because they know its not going to be setting around in their freezer or their stockroom for awhile because they call us, they know we'll be out that day or the very next day to pick this stuff up." Says Legins.

Before noon, Legins completes his last stop at a Giant Eagle store in Grandview. At the Foodbank warehouse he'll weigh the donated food and help shelve it for distribution to food pantries and soup kitchens in Columbus, and 19 other counties stretching south to Chillicothe and Athens. "The stuff that I picked up today it'll probably be gone within the next two days." Says Legins.

During the past five years, the foodbank says demand for emergency food has increased 44 percent. That puts more pressure on Legins and other foodbank workers to keep adequate supplies in the face of a business climate that reduces or eliminates surplus food.