In this episode of Unstoppable Talk, I sat down with Jeffrey Miller, CEO of Fourth Harvest, LLC to discuss local efforts in Cincinnati to reduce and recover wasted food. Jeffrey is speaking on managing food waste logistics and expectations at the upcoming 2019 Food Waste Forum on September 11th, 2019 at Memorial Hall in OTR, Cincinnati, OH.
Sam Schutte: Today’s show, we have Jeffrey Miller. He is with Fourth Harvest, and we are going to talk about food waste reduction efforts and technologies.
Sam Schutte: Okay, Jeff, welcome to the show. Maybe a good place to get started is to talk about how you got into this field, and your background.
Jeffrey Miller: Well, thanks for having me come here. I appreciate the conversation. I got into this field probably 14, 15 years ago. As a early mid-life crisis, I just decided to go to cooking school, when I was living in Chicago. Prior to that, I was working in the marketing industry, or at the same time, I was working in the marketing industry, doing a lot of live branded events and working with a tremendous amount of packaged goods companies. So I was kind of exposed to live events, and working with food, and seeing a fair amount of waste going on in just the overall marketing of product through sampling programs, and then going into cooking school, it was more up front with it, and seeing it, and getting closer to the dishes, and seeing what’s going on.
Sam Schutte: Okay. What’s sort of been the evolution of Fourth Harvest? Tell us a little bit about the mission of that organization.
Jeffrey Miller: The evolution of Fourth Harvest came through… Initially, the first stage of it was through a grand awarded through People’s Liberty here in Cincinnati, and it was originally called… Its initial inception was called Epicure Cincinnati. That grant was focused on trying to understand, build kind of a creative conversation around our consumer perception of imperfect food, otherwise known as ugly food or wasted food. There’s a lot of different terms that are used in the field, but why people… Really what I’ve tried to use with that grant to have conversations with people about why they throw away food. What is it about imperfect food that repels them or forces us to throw things into a trashcan and add to the volume of waste that we’re generating today.
Jeffrey Miller: From that initiative, I became really interested in how to create or communicate the financial value to companies, on a commercial level, companies that are generating a lot of food excess, have food excess, or excess food inventories, try to communicate to them the benefit of reducing their waste footprint through the financial values, and various channels available to them to monetize that excess food inventory. Instead of throwing it into a dumpster, what things or options are available to them? That’s what Fourth Harvest eventually became, was that conduit to helping companies monetize that excess food inventory, whether through cash sales, selling of excess inventory, or generating incremental tax benefit.
Sam Schutte: Okay. And with the Epicure Cincinnati project, how did you kind of execute on that. I mean, how did you get that word out and spread that awareness? What were some of the techniques you used for that?
Jeffrey Miller: Facebook was a big part of that. Social media, just being part of the grantee network at People’s Liberty. For those who aren’t familiar with People’s Liberty, it is a granting organization as part of the Haile Foundation here in Cincinnati. I was awarded a grant in late 2017, to create this program, Epicure Cincinnati, so I spread the word of what I was doing not only through their support and through their social media efforts, but I used Facebook as kind of a communication vehicle for some of the research I was doing, and trying to push people back to my website, to answer questions about their perception of ugly food, as well as an event, called Rescue, which was something I hosted down at the People’s Liberty space last year, which was focused on kind of a very creative communications around the food waste issue and our perception of ugly food.
Sam Schutte: So that led into… Like you said, that led into Fourth Harvest, which was initially supported by Green Umbrella, I think you said.
Jeffrey Miller: Yes.
Sam Schutte: And Green Umbrella is a local group involved with… Can you talk about them a bit?
Jeffrey Miller: Green Umbrella is an alliance, a local alliance, focused on green initiatives across the Greater Cincinnati Area, so it includes not only local food buying and food waste reduction issues, but our park systems, water, and other green-related topics that affect the Greater Cincinnati Area.
Sam Schutte: Yeah, recycling, and you know-
Jeffrey Miller: Recycling.
Sam Schutte: … even like neighborhood gardens and things like that, I think.
Jeffrey Miller: Yes.
Sam Schutte: You know, kind of anything environmental friendly. So, for Fourth Harvest, you talked about the sort of financial benefit clients and companies can gain by implementing some of these approaches. How does that work, and how can companies save money doing this?
Jeffrey Miller: The business model for Fourth Harvest, basically, it very simply works in the following manner. For an organization that has… I’m just going to call it excess food inventory. Let’s call it just produce for now, because that’s been the predominant focus of what I’ve been working on, is organizations, wholesalers, resellers, anybody that has a large volume of produce, that for some reason or another, it either wasn’t sold or can’t be sold, and they have to… They’re going to dispose of it some way.
Jeffrey Miller: What Fourth Harvest brought to them was basically two options in how they could monetize that excess inventory. I can either take it and sell it through online portals, specifically my partner, Local Food Connection here in Cincinnati, and create cash value for them. Obviously, I’m taking product and selling it at a discount. It’s perfectly healthy items, or safe items to sell, but it’s going out through that network and turning it into cash. The second option was for these companies to… for me to move that product into the donation stream, get it to pantries and soup kitchens, and they generate incremental tax benefits from the donation of that product.
Sam Schutte: And who are the buyers that would be buying the discounted food in that case? I mean, what kind of companies buy that?
Jeffrey Miller: Could be anybody who’s creating meals. Could be a hotel. Could be a commercial kitchen. Could be restaurants. Could be the Cincinnati Public School System, but anybody who has a commercial kitchen of any type would be interested in buying product that is at a reduced price.
Sam Schutte: Yeah, okay. And what are the… There’s some very specific tax programs out there, that people use for this I think as well, right?
Jeffrey Miller: For the purchase of products, or-
Sam Schutte: Well, like you talked about the PATH.
Jeffrey Miller: Oh, the federal PATH Act.
Sam Schutte: PATH Act.
Jeffrey Miller: For an organization that wants to donate products, this is purely for… What the PATH Act allows is any for-profit organization that has excess food, that wants to donate it or can donate it to a charitable, legitimate, 501(3)(c) organization, that food can be donated… Not only can the company take the value of the product, but generally speaking, 50% of the gross profit of that. So it’s actually an incremental value opposed to just writing off the cost of goods sold, and that’s what I… Shockingly, I’ve found that a lot of companies, a lot that I’ve spoken with in the past, had no idea that that incremental tax benefit was available, if they just initiated that donation to a charitable organization.
Sam Schutte: So how is Fourth Harvest kind of executing on its business model here? What are some of the activities you’re doing to raise awareness about this, and sort of bring people these solutions?
Jeffrey Miller: It’s come in two ways. Initially, when I received the grant money, the grant money was distributed through the Green Umbrella organization, through what was called Save the Food Cincinnati grant program, and my fiduciary partner, Local Food Connection, which is a distributor of farm-fresh product across Southwestern Ohio and Northern Kentucky, basically let’s say Louisville, Lexington, to Dayton. That’s my fiduciary partner. And part of the process was tapping into that transportation system and being able to, for buyers who are already coming into that network, I was able to offer to Local Food Connection basically a discounted channel, so organizations, their buyers, which are typically… A lot of them are restaurants and food service organizations would have the opportunity to buy wholesome product at a discounted price. So the goal of the marketing side was to partner up with that organization and promote that on that level.
Jeffrey Miller: From the donation side, that became a lot of word of mouth. That was also, as I was talking to these suppliers, people who were supplying the product, giving just through the opportunity of like, “Do you want to resell product and monetize it that way, or do you want to go out to the donation stream?” Corporations, you know, their own charitable organizations, their own granting initiatives, their own community support initiatives, I thought it was better to give them both opportunities, because not everybody wants to resell wholesale product, they may want to just give it out into the community. They just didn’t have a mechanism in which to get it out into charitable organizations, to food pantries, to distribution hubs, because purely, just the system… They just didn’t have those networks in place, or how to navigate them.
Sam Schutte: It does seem like transportation is one of the biggest parts of the problem in general, just when it comes to wasted food.
Jeffrey Miller: Transportation is a huge challenge in the food redirection process, on all levels. That’s a big area of challenge, and how do we… What kind of solutions are out there, and the last probably five to 10 years, we’ve seen a lot of technologies that have been trying to, or attempted, have been created to address exactly that, is transportation solutions to move more food to pantries or people in need, and away from landfills.
Sam Schutte: Talk about some of those solutions, maybe. Are you talking about some of the apps and platforms we discussed, or…
Jeffrey Miller: There are a number of different types of technologies out there. It’s a great question. I’m looking at my phone, because I’ve got a whole bunch of them that I’ve saved on my phone, that I always kind of go back and reference every once in a while, and check those sites. Technologies have been used, or have been created, and continue to be created to address the food waste initiative in a lot of different ways. Some of them are purely transportation mechanisms. Here in Cincinnati, there’s Food Rescue US is a platform that La Soupe is using. In Pittsburgh, Food Rescue… Or yes. There’s a Food Rescue app. 412 Food Rescue is a technology that’s regionally being used in that area.
Jeffrey Miller: Those are typically platforms, online marketplaces that are basically giving suppliers, or creators of excess inventory, organizations that have excess inventory, making what they have available out into the community, partnering within organizations who need it, and then using technology to pair up volunteers who will go transport that product from supplier to the organization that needs it, which is radically very different than what historically has been going on when you have organizations like Feeding America has predominantly moved product via trucks.
Jeffrey Miller: So those types of technologies have been pretty radical in changing the whole transportation marketplace and trying to really leverage or create large volunteer networks that, using technology, can move small amounts of product in a very short distance, but notifying people in real time in their everyday course of transportation. “I’m driving from here to work. I get a notification that there’s a donation available at this grocery store, and I can take it to this pantry, and it takes me five minutes out of my way to do this, and I feel good at the end of that experience, that I just helped out, and I’ll do that two or three days a week, simply by the technology that’s available on my phone.”
Sam Schutte: Yeah, a little bit of like an Uber for food donations type thing.
Jeffrey Miller: Very much.
Sam Schutte: Which is interesting, because you know, there’s always been volunteer drivers for food delivery. I mean, Meals on Wheels, you know, has been around a long time. But even that is a pretty set thing, and it’s very hyper-organized, and there’s a schedule, and there’s a route, and there’s set deliveries, whereas this is more ad hoc. And I know we’ve talked a little bit about… I mean, there’s some challenges there, with did someone actually arrive and pick something up? Because if a caterer says they have, I don’t know, 20 trays of lasagna left over or something that they want to get somewhere, or whatever the case might be, if someone doesn’t show to pick it up, it kind of is a fail, right?
Jeffrey Miller: Absolutely. Just anybody who has worked at a pantry, volunteered at a pantry, managed a pantry or soup kitchen, these are organizations that struggle financially, struggle with just having people on site just to do daily operations of what they do for a food pantry. Then adding in the complexity of getting product, getting volunteers to go to a location, a pickup spot, and go pick it up, and bring it to them. Organizing any kind of volunteer system is incredibly time consuming and difficult.
Jeffrey Miller: What technology has done is created… thrown out a much wider net, and to more volunteers in a tighter area, as well as simplify the process of, “I can get onto an application and I can communicate with 100 people with a couple keystrokes, and saying, ‘This is where there’s food. This is where it needs to go in this time. Who can pick it up?'” That’s a pretty big boon, for pantries to be able to potentially manage themselves more efficiently, and being cognizant of just the limitations they have with their own operation, because they operate in very tight hours and scopes.
Jeffrey Miller: So those technologies… I’m understanding, as I’ve seen them, has kind of grown very regionally. Various cities have… Some of these technologies are, like Food Rescue US is supposedly operating in 20-some cities, but a lot of those cities have very small networks, opposed to like 41 Food Rescue, which is the predominant application in Pittsburgh, and I think they have somewhere in the vicinity of five to 6,000 volunteers on that system, in that city alone. So, it’s how those technologies will then proliferate across the country. They all want to grow. It’s just a question of what’s their business model and how do they take that from market to market?
Sam Schutte: I mean, 5,000 people seems like a huge number, any city, for any kind of volunteer base, really, and it probably ties back into, you know, there’s the statistic that 75% of adults in America think that food waste is a big problem, something I believe is the number, so it kind of makes sense that it wouldn’t be that… I mean, I’m sure it’s not easy, but that you could get 5,000 volunteers for a program like that, in a city of a million people, you know? I mean, the numbers sort of line up, right?
Jeffrey Miller: Oh, I absolutely… And again, the technology enables that.
Sam Schutte: Yeah.
Jeffrey Miller: Because if I don’t have to get into a laborious process of going to a pantry, and registering, and filling out paperwork, I can do this all in a digital format, and I can in the convenience of my day-to-day life, “Oh, I got a notification on my phone that there’s a pickup, and that’s only a mile or two away from me, and I can swing by, pick that up, because I’m going to drop my kids off at soccer practice or something, or running errands, and I can take it over there.” Sure. I mean, anything that we can make more convenient, clearly our society has been headed in that direction. It’s just a convenience for all of us, to be able to volunteer on an easier basis. And that’s just one of the technologies. There are others out there, on different parts of the food chain, or the food waste reduction chain, that are equally having… equally hopefully will have a strong impact on the volume of waste that’s making its way to landfills.
Sam Schutte: Well, and without a doubt, managing 5,000 volunteers, if they had to do that with a staff, I mean, that would be at least-
Jeffrey Miller: Oh, it’s huge.
Sam Schutte: … a handful of full-time people, I’m sure, at least, you know?
Jeffrey Miller: Easily.
Sam Schutte: So yeah, it’s really… You know, the same as a taxi company would require how many people to manage all these Uber drivers. I mean, it would be a lot of employees. How do you think Cincinnati ranks, just in your opinion, when you talk about Pittsburgh, and all these volunteers, and sort of how folks are trying to solve this sort of arena of problems of food waste, and recovery, and reuse, and reduction. How do you think Cincinnati sort of ranks? I mean, we have these groups that are really pushing this. We have organizations like La Soupe, that you mentioned, that are sort of working, and got a lot of recognition in that space. But how do you think Cincinnati ranks in terms of how we’re doing on this problem?
Jeffrey Miller: That’s a great question. You know, personally speaking, I think Cincinnati’s doing a great job at what they’re doing. I’ve met many, many, many, many people who are very impassioned by this issue, are trying innovative approaches to solving the problem. Where we rank as far as from an innovation scale, and reducing the problem, I don’t have that statistic to throw out and say how do we compare, in example, to Cleveland, or Columbus, or San Francisco. I think Cincinnati has put a lot of… Since I’ve been back in Cincinnati, it’s putting a lot of energy into addressing this issue, a lot of conversation, not only in Hamilton on the level of the county, but the city and the surrounding area. I don’t see that certainly getting any smaller. If anything, it’s growing. So, I’d say Cincinnati’s doing a great job. We’ve got a long way to go, like most places, but I think the energy and the focus on it is highly important.
Sam Schutte: Yeah, absolutely. And I mentioned La Soupe earlier. Maybe we can talk about them, since they do such great work, and they were a recipient of the Jefferson Award, from My Local Cincinnati Rotary Club, and I think they’ve gone on and gained a lot of national attention from that even. So maybe we should talk about what they do, and kind of their mission.
Jeffrey Miller: Yeah. You know, organizations, there are a lot of great organization. You know, we certainly can’t discount one of, if not, the largest footprint here in Cincinnati is Freestore Foodbank, which is the largest mover of food into the pantry system. I think they service four, 450 pantries in the greater Cincinnati Hamilton County, or what was it, 16-county area, 17-county area?
Sam Schutte: Think so.
Jeffrey Miller: There’s a lot of great organizations that are doing work. Our Daily Bread, down in the Findlay Market area, CAIN up in the Northside area, all kind of attacking this issue from different angles, and doing different things. Clearly, what makes La Soupe unique in its own right is the fact that it’s a chef-created organization, and Suzy’s background in the restaurant industry in creating… taking product that is visually imperfect or on the verge of not being usable, but creating delicious food, it certainly brings to awareness, hopefully, a consumer perception of what we’re doing at home, and changing that mindset. Just because something is brown or bruised doesn’t mean it can’t be used or shouldn’t be used, and can be re-imagined in a different way, and yeah, my hat’s off to the efforts they’ve made, in not only slowly reducing the amount of waste, and redirecting food, but maybe more importantly, changing the perception that people have of that product, and eventually changing the way people shop and eat, and cook and eat at home, which would be enormous.
Sam Schutte: Absolutely. Absolutely.
Jeffrey Miller: Because that’s where the largest amount of food waste actually comes from, shockingly to most people’s lack of awareness, is most of it comes from… Almost 50% of it comes from homes.
Sam Schutte: Yeah, and maybe let’s get into some of the sort of technical details there a little bit. I think the statistic is 40% of our food is wasted, I believe.
Jeffrey Miller: Yes.
Sam Schutte: So my question, I guess, is when you’re looking at reduction and recovery, which are kind of two sides to a coin, right? Reducing is just you end up wasting less, and recovery is you’re saving stuff that would otherwise be thrown away. But you know, what are some of the cutoffs when it… I mean, are there legal rules around when you have to throw bananas away, let’s say, or when you can’t reuse something? And then, you know, kind of on the reduction side I guess, as well, you know, when can someone continue to use something instead of throwing it out? You know, what are some of those cutoffs when you look at different food?
Jeffrey Miller: Actually, it’s a great question. I’m going to ask you a question. Do you know what… There’s only one product that is actually… that the FDA monitors as saying that it has to be… there’s a true expiration date on it, that it cannot be used past an expiration date. Do you know what that product is?
Sam Schutte: My guess would be either like meat or maybe baby formula? I don’t know.
Jeffrey Miller: You have the second one. It’s baby food.
Sam Schutte: Okay, yeah, because I know that’s heavily… like almost pharmaceutical grade regulated.
Jeffrey Miller: Baby food is the only product that the FDA monitors as the expiration dates… by law have to have expiration dates on it. Everything else is by the choice of the manufacturers. So of course, you know, the confusion that we all experience going into the store, fresh by date, best by date, best sold by date, expiration date. These were dates… Expiration dates specifically were created by the packaged good industries, I think back in the… if I remember my history correctly, back in the ’50s, because there was a backlash on behalf of the consumer when they realized that packaged foods, how long canned goods could stay on the shelf. There was almost a fear factor involved, of like, “What’s really going into these products?” So expiration dates were put on there somewhat… probably to no small degree put on there as a response to that fear, of like, “Oh my god, this product can last in a can for 20 years, or 25 years, or even longer.”
Sam Schutte: Yeah.
Jeffrey Miller: So, the confusion of those dates, and those labelings, are constantly adding to the problem. Packaged goods companies put them on there. Retailers put them on some of their own product. But if you read [inaudible 00:26:03] most of those things are, again, they’re on the product label based on the manufacturer’s requirements. That doesn’t mean that a product, just because it’s past an expiration date, is going to harm you on any level.
Sam Schutte: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, and there’s a certain amount of sort of worst-case-ness to it, I think a little bit, like, you know, whatever the true expiration is, let’s just have that and say like, maybe it could last 10 years, but let’s say five to be safe, you know? Or whatever I imagine, any kind of overkill, right?
Jeffrey Miller: Right. I mean, ultimately, what you learn, anybody who takes the time to read or is interested in this subject, what’s referred to as the smell test. As ridiculous as that sounds, if you have a piece of fruit, or protein, or something, and you’re not sure, and it’s past an expiration date, just smell it. If it doesn’t smell right, then don’t eat it.
Sam Schutte: Sure.
Jeffrey Miller: And hopefully, whatever you do is then you put it into some kind of composting mechanism, so it doesn’t go into a trashcan, and that’s all appreciated if you don’t throw it into a trashcan, and so it finds its way to a landfill. But it’s simply put, the smell test. I’ve talked to a lot of people who are completely freaked out about spoiled milk, like, “Oh my god, you drink spoiled milk and it’ll kill you.” I’m like, it doesn’t kill you. It may not taste good, but ultra-pasteurization is what basically kills all the bacteria in milk, so what you’re drinking, ultimately, is very similar to buttermilk. It doesn’t taste great, but you can drink it.
Sam Schutte: Yeah. Well, that’s interesting, because my wife points out the organic milk from Costco, I think it is that we buy, lasts much longer than the regular Kroger milk, and I think it’s because it’s ultra-pasteurized, or ultra-homogenized, or something like that, is her theory, right? Which I guess sort of makes sense-
Jeffrey Miller: I can’t speak on behalf of either product, so-
Sam Schutte: Yeah, so-
Jeffrey Miller: But there’s some reason-
Sam Schutte: But it’ll last, you know, a week past expiration date on it, you know? Which it’s like, “Wow, this is still good.”
Jeffrey Miller: And again, then, like what is a week past? It’s like, “Okay, when am I doing it from this point on?”
Sam Schutte: Yeah, but there are certain people that’s like, “You’re going to die. It’s past the date. You can’t eat that, can’t drink that,” right?
Jeffrey Miller: Wilted greens, brown strawberries, you know, fuzz on strawberries, “I can’t eat those. Those’ll kill me.” I’m like, “No, it’s not going to kill you. It’s not going to kill you at all.” Besides, there’s probably just one of them in that package of strawberries that’s fuzzy, so why don’t you just throw that out, or maybe the one or two around it, and then take the rest of them, even though they’re brown, and put them in a freezer, and save it, and make a smoothie out of it?
Sam Schutte: Yeah, sure. So, I guess if I go back to Fourth Harvest, tell me a little bit about the first customer you’ve worked with there, in that project, and what that looked like.
Jeffrey Miller: My first customer, or let’s call it my beta test for Fourth Harvest, was a regional wholesaler, and I was contacted by this organization because they initially were interested in looking for farmers. They had a lot of produce that, for various reasons, was being thrown away into a dumpster because of various reasons. Either a client customer wouldn’t take it, or it was an overstock, let’s just call it excess inventory, and they were actually looking for farmers in the area who would take this product and use it as animal feed.
Jeffrey Miller: So I had a conversation with this individual about that, but at that same time, I was like, “Well, if that doesn’t work out for you, Fourth Harvest can do the following,” and that’s where the conversation kind of started. “This is what Fourth Harvest does. I give you two ways to monetize this product, either through discount resale or through donation methods.” So they were very intrigued by that, and of course, because no one had been approaching them on how to monetize excess inventory, as far as they were concerned, it was just, “How do we get rid of this?” That’s the standard process for the wholesale industry. “Let’s just dump this stuff and get on with it.”
Jeffrey Miller: So, we started the conversation, and the first initial step was explaining how the process works. It was going into detail like what is the federal PATH Act? What does the IRS award you, or how can you capture that benefit from a donation basis? What is the Good Samaritan Act, which is the indemnification that the federal government provides to organizations who are donating food, protects them from someone who becomes sick or dies from a donated product. So what does the federal government provide? So once-
Sam Schutte: Because otherwise, they wouldn’t do it at all, probably, if there was any risk, I imagine. [crosstalk 00:30:52]
Jeffrey Miller: That’s a big issue. And there are, again, a lot of organizations out there who even though they’re protected by the Good Samaritan Act, still want zero liability, and won’t do anything, because they don’t even want bad PR, or even the idea that a product of theirs somehow or another got somebody sick or something along those lines. So, there’s still the human element into that.
Jeffrey Miller: So once we got past that, then the next step was to go back and look at waste logs that they had kept for a previous year, and they were great. They worked very close with me so we could research the appropriate numbers of financials, so that I could come back to them and say, “Had we last year initiated a donation program, a location-based donation program, or regional donation program, I could have generated for you, based on these waste logs…” let’s say hypothetically… I don’t even say hypothetically. Literally, about $80,000 in incremental tax benefit, based on the information they’ve provided. And then my fee associated, the way my business monetizes itself is I take a 20% fee of the benefit, either the cash value I create or the 20% of the tax benefit I create. So even with my fee associated with the donation program, it was still going to generate added cash value, financial benefit, and they love the process. Like, who would turn away from that?
Jeffrey Miller: So the next step was then to utilizing and looking at their inventory management systems. How could we simplify the process of notification of what’s the product, how am I notified that there’s product up for consideration for donation or resale, how are they tagging the system, the product, once it comes back to the dock, or comes to the dock? So we work through some steps with that, and basically, what I netted out with was an email notification system any time some product was tagged for… let’s just call it redirection, I would receive an email, same time every day, every 24 hours, of what the product was, all the information I needed to then tabulate the incremental tax benefit, but also I knew what the quantity was, so then I could then start the process on my end, of moving that product into the donation stream, and working with my local partners in getting that product into the space. So, it was a great pilot program. It was a really great pilot program, and hope that at some point or another, we’re going to go back at that and take it out to their other facilities.
Sam Schutte: Yeah, I was going to ask how you sort of tracked that. I’m assuming… Is that something where there’s a person inside the plant or whatever, and sort of like an inspector, that they’re looking at it and saying, “This should go here, this has to go here,” or they’re the one tagging that sort of from a visual inspection or something, or are they looking at expiration date, and that’s where they make their determination, I guess?
Jeffrey Miller: It’s a combination of things. Wholesalers work on many different levels with their customers. Every wholesaler has a different operating procedure, in how they either take product back or if a product is inspected at a drop-off, at a client location, whether they’ll take it or not, whether they still need it or not. This particular client I worked with had a… Just, their policy was, “If the client doesn’t want it for whatever reason, we’re going to take it back.” So, once it came back to their dock, it was a question of what does… The warehouse manager then would assess the situation and assess the product, look at expiration dates, look at the quality of the product, and then tag it at that point, for consideration for redirection. That was the first step of it.
Jeffrey Miller: Of course, once I saw and inspected the product, I always had the right, and that was part of my agreement with this particular… with this client, was that if I saw or looked at product and felt like, “I can’t move this. This should not be moved out into the donation stream. It’s too far gone, or by the time I can get it out to a pantry organization or a soup kitchen, it’s going to be too far gone,” then at that point, we would look at disposal in a different way.
Sam Schutte: So, do you know how many pounds you sort of rescued via that project, or over time?
Jeffrey Miller: During that period of time, I was working on this beta test, I think we had redirected somewhere in the vicinity of six or 7,000 pounds of products-
Sam Schutte: Cool.
Jeffrey Miller: … into the donation stream.
Sam Schutte: And when you are then… You said working with partners and reaching out to partners, to then sort of transport it I guess, from their site, is that… Did you have sort of a designated hauler, or is that a volunteer thing as well? How are you sort of moving that to the Freestore and other places?
Jeffrey Miller: That’s a great question. Because working with a… What I quickly learned in working with a wholesaler is that it wasn’t a case or two of something. It was anywhere from a half palette to four palettes of product. The volumes were significantly large, so most, if not the lion’s share of pantries themselves, can’t take anything… If they could take a case of something, that would be great, because they have their own refrigeration limitations on site. So, I found that the best distribution channel for the volumes I was working with, I worked very closely with Freestore Foodbank and Master Provisions down in Northern Kentucky, so transporting it, I worked out a system that if Freestore, which has its own trucks, if they were able to, within a reasonable… I think we agreed on a 48-hour period was able to swing a truck by my clients and pick up product, that product would go in that direction.
Jeffrey Miller: Otherwise, my client having their own trucks and own routing system, I would work closely with the warehouse manager to get product on a truck, to get that product for drop-off at Freestore, or Master Provisions, depending on their own routing… their current routing. I don’t think we ever ran into a situation where there wasn’t a truck, somewhere along the lines, available to move product in an agreeable amount of time, and keep the product at its freshest state, in the condition it was in.
Sam Schutte: Okay. Yeah, and obviously, there’s tax benefits, like you talked about, to all this. You know, what I have seen with a lot of these companies is they all have, like, zero landfill initiatives, so I imagine this sort of plays into that as well. That’s sort of the other big win for them, is they can, as much as possible… or at least sort of whittle that down a little bit, how much landfill they’re using.
Jeffrey Miller: And tipping fees. I mean, if they have less product in their dumpsters, then that’s a reduction in expense they have with tipping fees, when they have haulers come and take their garbage away. So, you know, there’s value along multiple lines of the process.
Sam Schutte: Yeah, because it has to be transported, and somebody has to-
Jeffrey Miller: Got to be transported.
Sam Schutte: … pay to-
Jeffrey Miller: And that costs money.
Sam Schutte: … transport that. Yeah. Okay. What do you think… You know, when you’re out looking for ideal customers for you to work with, or your next customers you want to work with, obviously wholesalers is a big one. You know, what are some other sort of customer prototypes that you’re looking for. I mean, is it a lot of restaurants, or is it, you know, grocery stores and places like that, or what are the ones you’d really like to get into, I guess?
Jeffrey Miller: Initially, the focus was on wholesalers, retailers, large volume, anybody who has a large volume of excess inventory, period. I’ll just leave it from that perspective, not necessarily the corner store that had a box or two. It was really focused on organizations that had distributors, brokers moving whole produce from point A to point B. Maybe a subset of that was farmers. That’s a whole other different type of complexity, but something that was on my radar. But I was really… The goal was to try to get to retailers and wholesalers, who had volume, because on the backside of it, the organizations I felt that were going to buy it if it was a product that I could sell at a discount, it was going to be restaurants, or commercial kitchens of some sort.
Jeffrey Miller: And that could be not-for-profit organizations, could be, again, pantries. It could be kitchens in retirement community, retirement centers, or any other kind of community center where people were being fed, but they still were buying food, so if they’re going to buy food, why not keep their costs down to the lowest possible point?
Sam Schutte: Yeah.
Jeffrey Miller: And at the same time, we’re keeping food out of a landfill. More recently, I have been looking at the benefits of trying to address or create ways in which more what I call post-production food, food that’s coming out of caterers, hotels, large catered events, whether they’re caterers, independent caterers, catering operations within a hotel or convention center, have product that has been produced, not food that’s been out on somebody’s table, or been touched by anyone, but something that there was a big banquet, and there’s five, six, 10, 20 pans of pasta, or spaghetti sauce that was not served, that was held at food safe temperatures, but now is excess. How can that food be redirected safely to those who need it?
Jeffrey Miller: If looking at industry reports, specifically ReFED, which is the federal organization that monitors food waste in the country, the two largest areas of excess food inventory, statistically speaking, are whole produces that’s left on farms across the country, and produced foods that are thrown away due to lack of storage or, again, served foods, or potentially prepared foods that no longer can be, or no longer needed or wanted.
Sam Schutte: Yeah, and it’s interesting too, that I think that… Obviously, one of the major sort of outlets for most of this stuff, as we talked about, is landfills, which has gotten more expensive. Transportation’s got more expensive. And then of course, another outlet is animal feed, like I think you mentioned earlier, but there’s a whole lot of people that want to feed animals their sort of waste products, especially if you look at like the local brewing scene, distilleries, any kind of food manufacturing, candy manufacturing. I think there’s been a lot more competition for that, as an outlet, and a lot of times, those aren’t necessarily industrial operations. It just sort of is a farmer that might come pick it up. So that outlet is sort of becoming harder to use as well.
Sam Schutte: So I think there’s also sort of a little bit of scarcity that drives like, “Well, how else can we prevent from throwing this away?” You know, there’s the environmental thing. There’s the dollar thing. But there’s also just the logistical problem, because if you have a bunch of stuff that needs to be used within 24 hours, maybe you could… Maybe the farmer might pick it up for instance, right? But if he doesn’t show, then you got a bunch of stuff rotting in your backyard, or in your lot, which is another problem, you know?
Jeffrey Miller: Yeah, there are no easy solutions to anything when it comes to food waste reduction or eliminating these areas of excess food that can go someplace other than a landfill. All of these factors are challenging, and have their own hurdles, and need specific solutions, and then sometimes those solutions have to be different on a city by city or region by region basis, based on a lot of different factors.
Sam Schutte: Yeah.
Jeffrey Miller: So-
Sam Schutte: And I think there’s a lot of sort of two-for-one-stone type situations, you know? Like, I was reading… You mentioned cafeterias and stuff, or you’ve talked about that, and recently, I think it was at our local high school in the Princeton District. There’s a lot of kids there that are on free and reduced lunches, for instance, and of course, at the end of every school lunch, they just throw out a tremendous amount of food that wasn’t eaten. I mean, just probably, again, 40% of it that the kids don’t buy or eat. So they’ve started packaging that now, and then kids can take that home with them, in like a little sort of plastic package, to take home to have for dinner or whatever, because there’s really nothing wrong with it at all. It was just cooked that day. It just needs to be refrigerated as leftovers.
Sam Schutte: I think that just started happening, but again, so now they’re saving money, or at least they’re not wasting as much. They don’t have to pay somebody to haul it, and they’re feeding these kids that may not otherwise have maybe a stable dinner when they get home. So I think there’s a lot of those sort of two-for-one situations when you look at this market.
Jeffrey Miller: Absolutely. You know, I’ve been approached by a lot of people, or been informed a lot of people… I don’t have kids in the Cincinnati Public School System, but I actually met with the food service director for the Cincinnati Public School System, and she’s racking her brains at trying to find… Her hands are tied in many ways, based on food safety laws, so you get creative in how you’re dealing with this. You’ve got a lot of angry parents, who are like, you know, kids are throwing away a lot of food, but it’s not the Cincinnati Public School System’s fault. It takes strategizing, and thinking, and patients, and over time, maybe laws will shift or change.
Jeffrey Miller: Then there’s just the pure labor issue. Like, okay, if we’re going to take all this food, and we’re going to repackage it in some way, so that kids can take it home, that’s labor expense, and the Cincinnati Public School Systems don’t exactly have a lot of money lying around, so it takes a lot of patience. It takes a lot of time. It takes a lot of effort and some imagination to attempt to do new things, but like I said, there’s a lot of people out there who are willing to take those steps.
Sam Schutte: Well, I think-
Jeffrey Miller: It’s hard, but I get where the frustration is.
Sam Schutte: Yeah. Well, and I think it takes change of habits. It’s a big thing, because you know, this is not a food issue exactly, but like my son, the other day in his bedroom, we found he had this huge pile of sporks and napkins in individual packages. There must have been 60 or… And like, “What is this?” You know? He said, “Well, every day at lunch, they give me this, and I say I don’t need it, but they won’t take it back, because they already gave it to me. It’s already on my tray. I don’t need it. I’m having, like, a sandwich and an apple. I don’t need a spork napkin plastic-wrapped combo.” And of course, we were like, “Well, what are you going to do with all these,” you know?
Jeffrey Miller: How many did he have?
Sam Schutte: Oh, I mean, it was a mountain. It was like, “Did he bring these home in his backpack?” I mean, you know, kind of shocking. I guess he has one for every day of the… It must have been some from last year, even, because he’s only been back a couple weeks, but… So there’s just that habit. All they have to do is say, “Do you need a utensil?” Right? They don’t have to give you one every time, and they would save not only a lot of money, but a lot of trash, you know? But that’s the habit they have.
Jeffrey Miller: So of course, I’m going to put you on the spot and say what did you do with them?
Sam Schutte: Nothing yet. I think they’re still there, yeah.
Jeffrey Miller: Good answer.
Sam Schutte: I guess we could open them all up and recycle the napkin or whatever, but otherwise, not much you can do, right? And I mean, I’m not going to eat off of sporks for three months in my house. Maybe we will. I don’t know. Maybe that’s what we’re going to do. We’ll see. You mentioned, also, change of habits. You also mentioned change of laws and regulation. What does food waste regulation look like when we look at other cities, other countries, Europe? I understand there’s some laws in Austin, Texas that are sort of different than other places.
Jeffrey Miller: I’m going to answer those questions, and really what I’m going to do is recount what I’ve read, opposed to even position myself as an expert in any of this area. There are a number of initiatives going on in Europe. Italy is the most recent country that I’ve read about, that is basically building laws, countrywide, around the wasting of food, forcing retailers or banning retailers from throwing away excess food. Specific, I think in the article I read, they had pictures of a grocery store. So they’re making it illegal in allowing that to happen, which is… Of course, Italy, as compared to the size and population of the United States, is a very different country. But it’s been going on in other areas of Europe for the last couple of years, and they’re great initiatives.
Jeffrey Miller: Different countries have different mechanisms of penalty and monitoring. I don’t think anything has bubbled to the surface yet of saying, “Well, this is the all-fire best way that this can be done,” but I know that in things that I’ve read in the trades is that there are city governments that are looking at and trying to find ways to bring those kind of laws into their own operation, into their own sort of governments, to stem the volume of food that’s making it to a landfill, because of the number of people, and redirecting that to people who are dealing with food insecurity.
Jeffrey Miller: Specific to the United States, Austin, Texas, has been a city recently that has passed laws to prevent… stop the wasting of food coming out of restaurants, and making that illegal. I don’t know specifically in the article how they’re monitoring that and tracking that. I think there’s a little bit of just a goodwill measure there, that if someone should report you that you’re throwing out food… It gets a little tricky, because while that’s a great… My hat’s off to Austin for being progressive in that fashion. It’s hard. What kind of waste are you talking about? You can’t redistribute food that was scraped off of someone’s plates.
Sam Schutte: Sure.
Jeffrey Miller: The food laws won’t allow for that, so then you’re back to the issue of what you’re dealing with is excess food that the restaurant is creating. Then the end-all-be-all of that is that if you’re a restaurant and you’re throwing away a lot of food, and you have high food costs, you’re not going to be in business for very long anyway. How does that affect caterers? How does that affect convention centers? How does that affect hotels? These are all great questions, but at least they’ve drawn a line in the sand and put laws in place to stop it, and what I think that also does is bring more awareness to the issue for… Like you and I talked about at the beginning of the conversation, I think that statistic of our food waste, 40% of our food supply winding up in a landfill, that was not even a statistic you were familiar with. To me, I feel like I see or read it or hear it five, six times a week, so shame on me for taking that for granted, and figuring people are bored with that, but-
Sam Schutte: I figure most people know that it’s a big number, but they don’t necessarily know what the number is or see it all the time, like you said. And I think it’s interesting too, from a like regulatory standpoint. You know, there are certain things that people used to throw away all the time and nobody ever cared, or nobody ever did anything about it. So you think about like, you know, the grease and stuff from restaurants. Like, yeah, they would just put it down the drain, you know? But then of course, it caused all kind of problems, and clogged drains, and now, of course, they all have these grease collection systems, and somebody comes and… And actually, I mean, it’s a commodity traded product, even practically, that it’s illegal to tamper with or try to steal someone’s grease for your biodiesel or whatever, right? I mean, these-
Jeffrey Miller: All those Volkswagen owners are groaning.
Sam Schutte: It’ll say on the side, like you know, “It is against the law to try to take from this,” right? Because I guess people did just come and take it, you know? For their biodiesel. So that changed, you know? And now they can’t put any of that, because it was harmful. You can’t put any of that down the drain, so I don’t know how close other cities will catch up to Austin. Austin is weird, right?
Jeffrey Miller: Yes, it is.
Sam Schutte: But I think there will be changes in the sort of rules that we’ll see, particularly, obviously even city of Cincinnati is pretty progressive city within the city limits, that will pass things that are more sort of at the forefront of what other progressive cities are doing, so that could be interesting. It’ll be a while, probably, before we see anything like that statewide, or any state, probably, so it’s interesting. I understand you’re speaking on a panel at an upcoming event on September 11th, at Memorial Hall. Do you want to talk about that event a little bit, and how people can find out information about it?
Jeffrey Miller: Cincinnati Green Umbrella Organization is hosting the Food Waste Forum on September 11th at Memorial Hall. There are a number of… I wish I could sit here and recount all the breakouts and various topics, and all the various speakers that will be there, but you’re going to get a wide range of people, from farmers, to food manufacturers, to added value producers, to food policy… Network here in Cincinnati, you’re going to have a broad range of individuals there, talking about food waste on a large level, what happens at farming, what happens at manufacturing, so if that topic interests you, if you’re interested in how either you as an individual are adding to this problem, or adding to the solution, or you as a business can reduce your own food waste footprint, then I would encourage you to spend the meager $35 and come spend a day on September 11th at Memorial Hall, and prepare to learn a lot.
Sam Schutte: Yeah, and the topic you’re speaking on, specifically there, the panel was about which topic?
Jeffrey Miller: Technology, technology solutions being applied to food waste reduction.
Sam Schutte: Great, yeah. Yeah, I think that’s an all-day event, starts at 8:00 AM that day, I believe, so-
Jeffrey Miller: It does.
Sam Schutte: … kind of a whole solid day of four or five different breakout sessions, something like that. And I guess just to close, from the standpoint of Fourth Harvest, if there are folks out there, and companies listening to this, what are some of the main problems you can help them with that they should reach out to you about?
Jeffrey Miller: If you’re a… What I can help them with, if they have any organization that has an excess of food inventory. Let’s initially say if there’s… You’re a wholesaler, you’re a producer, you have whole product, packaged goods that you’re somehow moving or manufacturing, and you’re wondering what you can do with this if you find yourself that your company is putting it into a dumpster, then let’s have a conversation, see if there’s a way that I can help you through the different mechanisms that I’ve created, create value, not only create financial value for the redirection of that product, but not only help keep that out of the landfill, help feed people who are facing food insecurity, and reducing waste. If you’re not sure about this topic at all, maybe you’re on a different part of the food waste spectrum and just don’t know where to go for information, but you’re interested in this, and this problem bothers you, then you can reach out to me as well, and I’d be glad to redirect you to resources and other organizations that may be more aligned with your mission or your purpose and what you do.
Sam Schutte: Great. And what’s your website and email?
Jeffrey Miller: The company’s website is fourthharvest.com, just how it sounds. My email is Jeffrey, J-E-F-F-R-E-Y, @fourthharvest.com.
Sam Schutte: Great. Jeff, we appreciate you coming on the show. You know a tremendous amount about this topic, and we think it’s a very important thing to be working on, so it’s great to dig into this real deep with you and learn more about it.
Jeffrey Miller: Pleasure being here.
Sam Schutte: We’ll wish you the best of luck on these efforts.
Jeffrey Miller: Thank you.
Sam Schutte: Thanks.