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USDA Food Box Lessons

During the early onset of the pandemic, businesses large and small were forced to close across the nation.

Restaurants, schools, hotels, and convention centers all shuttered, leading to unsold and rapidly deteriorating food—including fresh produce in fields, pack houses, and distribution centers.

Pending and future contract purchases and a dearth of trucks and drivers contributed to a supply chain nightmare.

At the same time, millions were suddenly unemployed, and a hunger crisis was emerging in the United States. Feeding America estimates that up to 45 million people (1 in 7) may have experienced food insecurity in 2020.

Thankfully, real-life heroes emerged, including a government agency. The fast actions of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the stellar performances by farmers, processors, distributors, and transportation firms generated greater food security in America.

This was achieved through the USDA Farmers to Families Food Box Program, a collaborative government-industry initiative that ran for more than a year, from mid-May 2020 through the end of May 2021, and delivered 173 million boxes of food to Americans.

It is easy to be critical when looking in the rearview mirror at the Farmers to Families Food Box Program.

However, there’s no denying that the USDA and key constituents were successful in a collaborative effort to rapidly establish a much-needed response to the pandemic. The program may not have been perfect, but the velocity of its rollout was impressive and key goals were achieved.

The five-round program reduced food insecurity and food waste, prevented industry layoffs, and forged new relationships between fresh produce distributors and nonprofit agencies. Ultimately, over 165 million food boxes were assembled and distributed to those in need.

Future initiatives can use the Food Box Program as a foundation to build upon. With additional industry input and some supply chain tweaks, the bar can be set high for program efficiency, service quality, and control.

This is an excerpt from the Supply Chain Solutions department feature in the July/August 2021 issue of Produce Blueprints Magazine. Click here to read the whole issue.