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A Q&A with Food 4 Thought

by Annique Bolliger

In a Q&A with Food 4 Thought, we chat to founder Ome Demetriou about how he has designed a system for food businesses to donate leftovers to hungry bellies instead of the garbage bin. For those of you who are passionate about environmental and humanitarian causes, give this a read.   

The great thing about entrepreneurs is that they are by default compelled to cause ripples in more than just one area. And often all it takes a little innovation and dedication to a good cause that make a huge, positive difference in this world.

A pressing issue we face in South Africa is malnutrition. This, combined with the horrid amount of food wastage is a problem that needs to be solved.

In the wake of this problem, the team at Food 4 Thought is taking matters into its own hands and invites all of us to get involved.  We chat with founder Ome Demetriou who tells us that one of the most important aspects to manage in this trade is food wastage. Not only does this have a large influence on his overall expenses, but he can ensure that any leftover food does indeed not go to waste.

F4T’s goal is simple:

Food 4 Thought aims to expand the model beyond the soup kitchen to include more businesses and charities working together to help reduce food waste in the city.”


A Q&A with Food 4 Thought 


Why did you start F4T?

The idea behind the initiative came when I volunteered at the Bread 4 Life soup kitchen in Cape Town’s CBD. During my time there, I noticed that the majority of the food distributed via the NGO was donated by local businesses. I suddenly became conscious of the fact that there must be many food businesses out there with leftover food, which is ultimately landing up in the landfill.

After delving further into the issue, I discovered that there was an immense amount of research being done to better understand Food Waste in Europe and America. One statistic which stood out the most was that roughly a third of all food produced in the private sector is wasted – sometimes even  as much as half in first-world countries.

My next step was to research and study several food redistribution programmes from around the world, taking the best elements from each and adapting them to South Africa.

What is your vision?

Our vision is that as consumers and businesses become more aware of the existence and negative consequences of food waste, and that the flow from the have-s to the have not-s, will be more frequent and efficient.

We can achieve this vision by educating consumers and businesses more about how to ‘manage’ their food systems better.

Please give us the low-down on F4T’s strategy.

There are numerous organisations in Cape Town that provide meals to people in need, including to institutions like

  • childcare facilities
  • schools
  • senior centers
  • homeless shelters
  • refugee services
  • soup kitchens

On the other hand, businesses often have unsold, leftover food at the end of the day – businesses like

  • supermarkets & wholesalers
  • restaurants & hotel bakeries
  • delis, grocers & markets
  • event & film caterers
  • farms

In the absence of effective infrastructure, what many businesses and charities don’t know is that they can help each other to solve this problem.

Food 4 Thought uses a community-based approach to connect those who have too much food directly with those who have too little.


How do these organisations benefit each other?

Benefits for Charities

By saving money on food bills, charities and other community organisations can spend more money on other priorities and activities.

Benefits for Food Businesses

They benefit financially from lower disposal costs and tax-deductible donations. The positive impact on the environment (by avoiding fresh food from reaching the landfill) represents a further opportunity for businesses to enhance their brand among socially-conscious consumers. 

food 4 thought

Image taken from Afronline.org

Who are your current partners?

We have a full list of partners that you can view on our website.

What steps do you take to match a food business with a charity?

  • Step 1: Register Online

Businesses and charities register a profile on the F4T website.

For food businesses, this profile includes information about their location and the types of leftover food they typically have.

For community organisations, profiles include details about the types of food they need and the times they are willing to collect.

  • Step 2: Match a Food Business with a Charity

F4T compares new profiles with the existing pool of registered businesses & charities.

We try to match the organisations by considering what the supply/demand is, and where they are situated geographically. Once we have a suitable match, a member from the F4T team will arrange a meeting between the donor business and recipient charity in order to finalise the details of the new partnership.

  • Step 3: The Donations Begin

Once the partnership has been established, food businesses can begin donating their leftover food by sending an SMS to the charity. The SMS has details about the donation and the time period in which it can be collected.

Alternatively, the donor and donee can set up a daily or weekly scheduled collection time that is convenient for everyone.

Can each food business only partner up with one charity?

No, many of our donors provide excess goods to several charities depending on the facilities they have (e.g. number of people that need food, refrigeration, or storage) and the time of the week. Sometimes there are spontaneous leftovers.

How do you go about food safety regulations?

We encourage every organisation that registers with us to review and commit to our Donation Agreementwhich sets out the food safety procedures and quality-control guidelines. Before any donations start, we normally meet with the donor’s employees to offer guidance on issues such as

  • food selection
  • handling
  • packaging

Food 4 Thought logo

Are there laws in SA that prohibit the donation of food?

Not laws, but there are several acts and regulations that define what food waste is and how it should be treated within the South African context. You can find out more on this by reading up on the Foodstuffs, Cosmetics & Disinfectants Act.

Two other useful resources are selected documents from Environment.co.za and the Cape Town government site.

What protects businesses in cases of things like food poisoning or allergic reactions?

South Africa doesn’t have a law that protects food businesses from this. Therefore we try to organise an understanding between the donor and donee via our Donation Agreement.

To be a partner, how regularly do you need to donate?

We do not have any restrictions or rules about that, because the nature of this business is often spontaneous and unpredictable.

Are you selective about which type of food gets donated?

In South Africa malnutrition is a critical issue, but obesity and diabetes are also on the rise. Due to limited funds, charities often can’t afford to provide meals that have the ideal nutritional value. Because of this, F4T makes sure that only nutritious, healthy food makes its way to the charity’s table. We call this our ‘Nutritious Food Rescue Commitment.

food 4 thought pie s

% of food wastage generated in SA (CSIR 2013 results)

Who picks up the food and how does it get transported?

The charities are responsible for collecting donations. For charities that lack transport, F4T will make arrangements to make sure that those charities are matched with a food business that is willing to drop off leftovers.

A future goal would be to find a way of sharing logistics/transportation facilities between several charities to reduce the need for several trips along similar routes and to encourage a more sustainable/efficient use of available resources.

Has F4T had a lot of success?

In our first year (2014), we assisted in the redistribution of 5 tons of food waste, and it has increased by about 5 tons per year ever since. Although these figures may seem impressive, it represents only a small percentage of what’s out there in terms of food waste. There is still a lot of work to do.

How are you trying to get the word about F4T out there?

Most of our exposure is via word-of-mouth. Owning my own food business has opened up opportunities for new collaborations among some of our suppliers to donate their excess food to charities on our database. We also give talks at related conferences and collaborate with other organisations that host events.

How can regular people or households get involved?

People who own food businesses (or know people who own food businesses) can get involved by visiting our website and uploading information about the leftovers that are available.

If you have leftovers from home, for example after you had a big event or big dinner party, you can visit the Partners page on our website to make use of our Service Areas map. This is an interactive map highlighting the charities which are currently on our database. It will make it easy for you to find the closest charity so you can go there and donate. Try to first call the charity to make sure that they can actually accept the food (for example, they might need Halaal only), and also to inform them how much food you have to donate.

Get Involved

Do you know anyone who owns a food business? Any friends who work for a catering service, restaurant, or deli? Or perhaps you know some people who are planning big 18th or 21st birthday parties that are bound to have leftovers afterwards. Try to get the word out there that everyone can get involved.

It doesn’t actually matter how much or little is leftover – someone will appreciate the meal or snack.

EduConnect 2cents

If you want to find out about other ways you can give back or get involved with a charitable cause, have a look at this volunteering article and Choose Your Charity.

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