A man using a forklift to move boxes of frozen macaroni and cheese

Going high-tech to fight food waste

Land O’Lakes is on track to donate five times more food in 2023 than in previous years

The challenge  

If you’ve ever donated old clothes or household items, you probably experienced a relatively easy, straightforward and fast process. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case for large food donations. When a dairy company like Land O’Lakes, Inc. donates food to the community, it’s typically a manual process: identifying available inventory, aligning that product with the needs of food banks, coordinating efficient transportation and recording the details in a spreadsheet. Depending on the complexities of the donation, it can take days or weeks to execute. This effort combined with the volume of product moving through the supply chain and dairy’s short shelf-life, means that there is often product that expires before it can be donated.
“No one wants to throw away quality food, but the process is time-consuming and each day matters because dairy products are more perishable than shelf-stable foods,” says Jim Spaight, sales operations manager at Land O’Lakes. “We know donating unsold product is the right thing to do, but after the sales process there sometimes simply wasn’t enough time left to get the extra product into the community.”
Nearly 40% of all food in the U.S. is wasted, and food waste is the largest contributor to landfills, according to national non-profit ReFED. At the same time, a USDA report shows 34 million Americans are food-insecure, meaning they do not have consistent access to enough food for every person in their household, one in nine of which are children. In a country where so much good food is wasted, the Dairy Foods operations and logistics teams, in conjunction with the Land O’Lakes Community Relations and Foundation team, knew they had to come up with a solution to get more of our food to people in need. 

The solution  

While donating excess product with remaining shelf-life seems like a no-brainer, figuring out the logistics to do so was a daunting task until Land O’Lakes engaged with Spoiler Alert, a consumer packaged goods (CPG) sales software platform that digitizes and streamlines the sale of short-dated inventory by introducing automation into existing workflows.  
The first step in our Spoiler Alert process is making secondary-market sales of unsold product. Once complete, the remaining lot is offered to Feeding America food banks near Land O’Lakes distribution centers. A manual process that used to take days and weeks now takes hours through the power of technology. It’s an efficient and effective way to move quality food through the sales cycle on a weekly basis and donate the rest. And, with the Land O’Lakes Community Relations and Foundation team providing transportation costs, the process is free of charge for the community.
“By automating manual tasks and streamlining processes, we’ve helped free up valuable hours for the teams at Land O’Lakes that can be redirected toward other important initiatives,” says Lisa Swyzen, senior marketing associate at Spoiler Alert. “We estimate with these changes that 64% less time and effort are being spent on the secondary sales and donation processes"

The waste-reduction impact 

In 2022, the Land O’Lakes Foundation worked with the Dairy Foods and Logistics teams to donate 750,000 lbs. of product to communities across the country. This includes both new and unsold product donated primarily to Feeding America food banks located where our employees and members live and work.
Since joining forces with Spoiler Alert, over 2.9 million pounds of Land O’Lakes product has been donated to hunger-relief nonprofits for less than $100,000 in freight costs between January and September 2023. This has saved the business nearly $160,000 in recycling and landfill fees in nine months. Savings are estimated to continue to grow, as Land O’Lakes is on track to donate five times as much product as in previous years. 
In 2020, Land O’Lakes, Inc. set an enterprise goal, aligned with the UN Sustainable Development Goal of Zero Hunger, by committing 3 million pounds of product donations by 2030. We are projected to surpass that number in 2023 alone.  
“Working with Spoiler Alert and Feeding America is helping us feed more families in need while simultaneously supporting Land O’Lakes’ goals to reduce food waste,” says Amy Podlesak, Community Relations and Foundation manager, “As an organization, we’re constantly exploring how to use innovation in problem-solving. This is one of the unexpected ways leveraging technology has helped our farmer-owned cooperative improve food security across the country.”  

The community impact  

The Feeding America food bank in Fresno, California, is one organization receiving these donations. Since March, Land O’Lakes has provided over 624,000 lbs. of donated items to the food bank.   
“Countless times our member partners have shared how much our community loves receiving butter, cheeses and other foods that supplement their meals,” says Casondra Webb, director of Programs & Partnerships at Central California Food Bank. “We truly value this partnership, and so does our community!” 
The Northern Illinois Food Bank in Geneva, Illinois, has also been receiving Land O’Lakes donations and sends dairy products to over 40 agencies in their network, ranging from food pantries to school distributions.  
“Since February 2023, we have received an incredible 96,009 pounds of food donations. That’s equivalent to over 80,000 meals, enough to feed 73 people three meals a day for a year,” says Jacob Lamplough, interim director of Food Procurement at Northern Illinois Food Bank. “These donations have been instrumental in providing our neighbors with the high-quality Land O’Lakes products that they love, need and deserve.”