Saving Food – Together

All over the world, food banks provide food for charities that help disadvantaged people – including in Romania. With the help of METRO and the European Food Banks Federation (FEBA), a network of companies and producers has supported the creation of a national food banks federation to combat food waste and contribute to society with fresh and varied food.

METRO supports Food Banks

Alin Panican runs the Bread of Life children’s home in the Suceava region. Currently, the staff of the facility cares for 60 children and young people. Every day, 260 meals are prepared at the Bread of Life centre for children, employees and other needy families in the neighbourhood. ‘Before we started working with Banca pentru Colectarea si Distributia Alimentelor – which translates as ‘bank for the collection and distribution of food products’ and is known as Banca pentru Alimente (Romanian food bank –Ed.) for short – we were only able to buy the food we needed to survive. We couldn’t afford to pay attention to quality and variety in the menu,’ he says. ‘When the Banca pentru Alimente started to supply us with food, the children immediately saw that there was suddenly fresh produce in a variety that was completely new to them. And even the odd piece of candy – that made them especially happy!’

METRO Store Romania
Photo: METRO Romania

The success story of Banca pentru Alimente began over a cup of coffee, recalls Alina Trufas, Special Projects Manager at METRO Romania. ‘Roland Ruffing, then CEO of METRO Romania, and I were sitting together over a cup of coffee and talking about whether METRO Romania couldn’t tackle the problem of food waste and help for disadvantaged people. He had already gained experience in setting up a food bank infrastructure in Hungary with Magyar Élelmiszerbank Egyesület (Hungarian Food Bank Association –Ed.).’ So METRO contacted the Banca pentru Alimente organisation, which was then still in its infancy. ‘At that time, the initiators were looking for funds, storage and transport facilities for donated food,’ Trufas explains. ‘It was clear to us at METRO that we could only really make a difference and help people in need if we joined forces with other retailers and producers – and so we brought them all together around the same table.’

7 million Romanians live below the poverty line

That was in 2018. Meanwhile METRO Romania alone has saved more than 600 tonnes of food from going to waste and reached more than 150,000 people in need. This also includes the children under the care of Bread of Life. One of them is Estera. ‘During my 4 years in secondary school, I lived in a shared apartment with other girls,’ she says, ‘We had very little money available for food – so it was a challenge to cook varied and healthy food. But from the moment we started getting food from the Banca pentru Alimente through Bread of Life, it became so much easier because we suddenly had a selection of fresh and really good food!’ Sometimes she even felt spoiled, says Estera, because there were all kinds of fruits and cookies.

It is our responsibility to take care of disadvantaged people.

Alina Trufas, Special Projects Manager, METRO Romania

If you want to understand the real meaning of the Romanian food banks, just look at the numbers: 7 million Romanians currently live below the poverty line – that is 1/3 of the total population. Fully 66% of families from rural areas do not have sufficient financial means to put food on the table every day. And 50% of children in rural areas face the threat of extreme poverty. By contrast, in the European Union 88 million tonnes of edible food are thrown away every year. To solve this problem, competitors have become allies: in addition to METRO, also Lidl, Penny, Kaufland, CHEP – part of the Brambles Group – and the French supermarket chain Auchan, as well as large food companies such as Danone and Kellogg’s have entered into firm partnerships with the Banca pentru Alimente and donate safe and edible food that they are no longer allowed to sell. The fact that they can do this within a legally regulated framework is thanks to their cooperation with the European Food Banks Federation (FEBA).

Raising awareness so that waste does not occur in the first place

‘One of the most important requirements for the operation of food banks is that they follow the FEBA values and principles,’ says Alina Trufas. ‘And the second requirement is compliance with the legislative regulation framework.’ Together with FEBA and partners like other retailers, producers and public authorities, METRO Romania has succeeded in achieving an improved version of the legislation with tax incentives for companies when they donate food to food banks. ‘But we are not only concerned with avoiding food waste by donating,’ says Alina Trufas. ‘We also want to do educational work in schools so that this waste does not occur in the first place and people appreciate food more. We are currently working on a programme to achieve this.’

Angela Frigo has been Secretary General of FEBA in Brussels since 2018. One of her first official acts was a visit to the Romanian food bank, where she attended a meeting of the steering committee consisting of the companies collaborating with METRO on this initiative. ‘I was impressed by the commitment and dedication of all those present,’ she recalls. ‘We sat together and worked together to accompany and support the development of the Banca pentru Alimente.’

Food Banks

To date, all 30 METRO wholesale stores in Romania are already connected to the food bank network. ‘What makes the cooperation with METRO so valuable for us is the fact that they donate more than just food,’ says Frigo. ‘They share their knowledge when it comes to sustainable production processes, and they also support our organisation and membership with monetary donations and work tirelessly to create added value for society.’ Through the cooperation with the food banks, METRO Romania also came into contact with other charitable initiatives that are particularly concerned with the welfare of children in the country – and most recently also with that of the people who have been particularly exposed to the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. This development has confronted METRO and the Romanian food banks with their biggest challenge so far. On the one hand, there were the contact restrictions and limitations in logistics, while on the other hand, products in bulk quantities that were threatening to rot had to be distributed because restaurants, canteens and cafés were closed.

‘It is our responsibility to take care of disadvantaged people,’ says Alina Trufas. ‘By supporting the food bank, we are not only providing these people with necessary food products for daily consumption. By reducing food waste, we are also doing something for the environment. As a company, we want to give something back to the society in which we all live.’ Anca Suciu, President of Annah Association in Oradea says that in 2021, they have been able to provide recurrent food aids for 100 families and to cook 2000 hot meals per month for children in need from poor families in Bihor County – thanks to the help of the Banca pentru Alimente and METRO. ‘Through METRO, the families we care for have constantly received quality food, thus significantly improving not only the quality of life but also the access of these families to other services.’In Oradea, the United Association Dumbrava feeds over 460 ill and elderly people without homes, who have been abandoned by their families. Also over 150 children with various disabilities receive recovery therapies.

What exactly is FEBA?

Founded in 1986 in Brussels, the European Food Banks Federation (FEBA) is the umbrella organisation representing food banks at European level. By rescuing and distributing food that is no longer saleable but still edible and safe, they prevent food waste and are at the same time a lifeline for charities that provide food to people in need. FEBA develops partnerships with companies, supports its members by sharing best practices and training programmes, and promotes the establishment of food banks where they are most needed. Currently, 430 food banks in 29 European countries are members of FEBA. Together, they provided 9.5 million people with 768,000 tonnes of food through 45,283 charities in 2019 – thanks to the commitment and professionalism of 32,280 employees, 84% of whom are volunteers.

Food donations mean an increase in the quality of life for the recipients

At METRO Romania, it is not only the project managers who are behind the company’s societal commitment. When the initiative was officially presented at a management conference in 2019, the employees were very impressed by the success story of the food bank initiative – and METRO’s part in it. At his presentation, Gabriel Sescu, President of the Banca pentru Alimente, received thunderous applause from the 300 attendees – who offered their personal support immediately afterwards.

In the Bread of Life children’s home, the change can be clearly felt. ‘One of the children who grew up with us came to visit us the other day and said: “Wow! When I lived here, we didn’t have such good food”,’ says Alin Panican proudly. ‘We are insanely grateful to the staff of the food bank and the companies involved, and see every day that they really consider what they do a calling.’ For 31-year-old Paula, too, a visitor to a day care centre for people with disabilities, the food donations from companies like METRO mean not only healthy, varied food, but real humanitarian support. For Tudor, an 11th-grader who receives food donations from the food bank as part of Bread of Life’s support, they mean a real improvement in the quality of life. ‘Personally, I have never been to a food bank before,’ he says. ’But I know that everyone there – beneficiaries and partners – is treated with respect.’

Sustainability at METRO

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