No money for jam: How not to waste tons of tomatoes

21 February 2019 - 09:33
QUALITY CHECK - TICK: FruitLips, the company which made the “not for sale” tomato jam for Food Forward SA, is a Woolworths supplier, as is the tomato farm, Rennies.
QUALITY CHECK - TICK: FruitLips, the company which made the “not for sale” tomato jam for Food Forward SA, is a Woolworths supplier, as is the tomato farm, Rennies.
Image: Wendy Knowler

The country’s most exclusive, priceless tomato jam is reserved for the country’s most food-insecure people – those in shelters, old-age homes and creches.

It was the jam that wasn’t meant to be – the five tons of tomatoes it was made from were glorious, but surplus, and thus destined either for landfill or to be churned back into the soil they came from.

The Cape Town-based company FoodForward SA got the tomatoes free from the farmer, saving him the cost of disposing of them.

Then they got a food-processing company in Piketberg in the Western Cape to turn them into 2,000 large jars of jam at minimal cost, before adding the sweet surprise to the crates of “almost-expired” food they distribute.

Now 10 years old, FoodForward SA takes almost-expired food donated by retailers and food manufacturers – the big supermarket groups, along with the likes of Clover, Albany, Nestle, Kellogg and RCL Foods – and distributes it to 250,000 food-insecure people every month, via 600 beneficiary organisations.

It costs the organisation just 79c per meal to get all that free food delivered, warehoused and dispatched to those who need it, safely - down from the R1,73 per meal of five years ago, thanks to a refined business model.

The win-win of feeding so many people with food that would otherwise be wasted has been compounded with the recent launch of FoodForward SA’s Second Harvest initiative. And that’s where the very special tomato jam comes in.

“We opted not to sell the jam commercially, but rather to introduce it to our beneficiary organisations as an addition to their monthly food baskets, so we chose a 990g jar over a smaller size because we serve organisations that feed sizeable groups of people,” said FoodForward SA managing director Andy du Plessis.

“We were delighted with the feedback on the initial samples presented to staff and beneficiary organisations.”

It’s estimated that a staggering 50% of agricultural produce goes to waste, globally, for two main reasons – the fruit or vegetables don’t meet the wholesalers’ or retailers’ specifications in terms of size and shape or the harvest is far larger than the client ordered.

“We saw an opportunity in line with our core business – the recovery and redistribution of surplus food – so we met with a few local farms and did some fact-finding regarding harvest times, volumes and possible surpluses to get a sense of the local context,” Du Plessis said.

“Those interactions confirmed the research findings about the huge amounts of fresh food being wasted at the harvest stage here in South Africa.”

The only way to save huge volumes of highly perishable fruit is to preserve it by turning it into jams or some kind of preserve. The Second Harvest initiative is supported by the Pepsico Foundation, in partnership with the Global Foodbanking Network.

FruitLips, the company which made the “not-for-sale” tomato jam, is a Woolworths supplier, as is the tomato farm, Rennies. So Woolies played matchmaker in the sweet deal.

“We can’t predict if and when we will produce more jam,” Du Plessis said. “That depends on the kind and quantity of fresh produce we receive from our farmers, but we are happy that this pilot project has been successful and we now know that we have a viable alternative to distribute surplus agricultural produce at scale.”

  • Woolworths’ take on Black Friday last year, Give Back Friday – which had customers swiping their linked Woolworths or MySchool MyVillage MyPlanet card on selected items, and on many other festive season goodies as well – raised R2m for its chosen beneficiary, FoodForward SA. It was enough for the organisation to distribute 2,5 million meals to some of the country’s most food-insecure people.