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Supply Chains: from production to purchasing and implications for Food Banks

Jun 7, 2022

Many people think of food security as the opposite of food insecurity, which refers to a household’s ability to afford the food they need. However, food security goes one step further to encompass the structure and operation of our food systems. The United Nations defines food security as having consistent, reliable access to safe, nutritious food, as determined by four components: 

    Availability: “Does food exist near me?” 

    Access: “Can I get to food easily?” 

    Utilization: “Will this food contribute to my health and well-being?” 

    Stability: “Will food be available tomorrow, next week, next month?” 

The Institute for Community Prosperity (2021) describes two different ways to look at food security and food insecurity: 

1. From a consumption perspective, which looks at the availability, accessibility, and utilization of food.  

2. From the production standpoint, which is focused on the stability of food and the food system.  

When we think about food security, we need to examine the chain of food production. This includes everything from climate, location of stores, transportation of food, access to locally grown food, and more. We sat down with Tim Maslen, who is a part of the purchasing team in Calgary Food Bank’s Corporate Services department, to hear more about how events over the past two years have impacted food procurement at the Calgary Food Bank. 

Where Does Calgary Food Bank Food Come From? 

All over the world! We purchase container loads of canned fruit from overseas, usually China. Produce typically comes from the prairies or California, and we buy a lot of food items from wholesale distributors in Calgary, as well as from Ontario and Quebec. Our milk and eggs are local, from Alberta producers. We also purchase a lot of locally grown produce and receive these donations through our Grow-ARow program.  

From March 2020 to now, how has COVID-19 impacted the Calgary Food Bank’s ability to procure food for distribution?

The price has increased for everything that we purchase. A lot of this has to do with increased logistic costs, which are in response to increased demand. A shortage of food and supplies led to increased freight costs and warehousing costs. As well, food costs have continued to increase with inflation.  

Several production facilities where we normally receive items shut down, so some products, especially products from overseas, have taken probably double the amount of time to receive.  

 

Demand for food assistance continues to rise. What does that mean for the Calgary Food Bank in terms of food procurement?

We are doing everything we can to ensure that we have food available to meet demand. We have increased the volume of food that we purchase, especially for the food staples (think peanut butter, canned tuna, pasta) that we include in our emergency food hampers, and across our partner programs (the Food Link Program, the Weekends and More Program and the Hampers for the Homeless Program to name a few!) Our COVID-19 Impact Report highlighted the wider need to explore the global food system and landscape for food insecurity to prevent food procurement challenges in the future.   

 

Was there one world event that disproportionately impacted the supply chain at the Calgary Food Bank? What was it and what happened as a result?

COVID-19, the floods in British Columbia and the invasion of Ukraine all affected lead times, caused difficulty finding the right product, and all-around increased prices. COVID-19 severely impacted the supply chain. Grocery stores could not keep food on their shelves for a while, which impacted our ability to purchase. Wholesalers from whom I would normally purchase were prioritizing the grocery stores, so we had to purchase elsewhere.  

The floods in British Columbia really impacted our ability to purchase frozen fruit for a few months and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine led to an increase in oil prices, which in turn raised transportation costs for us.  

 

What is your food bank food procurement strategy? Do you anticipate food market fluctuations, over-production, or something else? What guides your purchasing? 

Purchasing is determined by where there are gaps in our donations. Our programs have specific staple foods, so if we don’t receive enough of those products donated then we’ll purchase them. We aim to prioritize price, quality, and timeline for receiving products.  

If we ever need to rush to purchase a product, the price goes up, resulting in a balancing act of cost and availability. I work closely with our Warehouse and Inventory Coordinator to prioritize products and forecast inventory purchasing.  

As the war in Ukraine continues, we expect food prices to continue to increase given inflation in local and foreign markets, and the increased logistic costs from the energy sector. I do hope that we begin to see a decrease in demand as COVID-19 continues to slow and unemployment falls.  

 

It is clear from Tim’s answers that food security goes beyond a single person or organization. There needs to be a link between the production and consumption ends of the food system that prioritizes the stable, ongoing availability of nutritious food that all communities can easily access. The Calgary Food Bank’s COVID-19 impact report recommends the sharing of pandemic planning advice across the sector, as well as building collaborative efforts into emergency-response planning to ensure that future food shortages don’t impact our ability to support the community.  

At the Calgary Food Bank, we work hard to ensure we can provide quality, fresh food in a timely manner to food bank users and partner organizations, so that they can focus on needs beyond access to food. We have several satellite locations throughout the city so folks can pick up their hampers closer to home and are working to expand our capacity for fresh foods and more choice for all our programs. However, greater collaboration at local and global levels is required to ensure consistency and stability of the wider food system. 

 

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