Rescue Dawn

Sydney-based business OzHarvest repurposes excess food and delivers it to those who need it most. A large fleet of vans and Hino 300 Series trucks help carry out what has become the vast undertaking of distribution.

OzHarvest was founded in 2004 by social entrepreneur Ronni Kahn AO, after she noticed the huge volume of food going to waste from her own successful events business.

Seeking a beneficial solution to the obvious waste of valuable food resources, and the food insecurity experienced by some Australian communities, Ronni started out in Sydney with one van rescuing excess food and delivering it to local charities.

With a mission to ‘Nourish our Country’ by stopping good food from going to waste and delivering it to charities which help feed people in need, 17 years and more than 160 million meals later, OzHarvest now has a staff of 250 people, 50 of its high-profile yellow vans on the streets, and a fleet of 27 trucks to support them.

Richard Watson is the NSW State Manager and a part of his role involves managing the vehicle fleet which currently includes 18 Hino 300 Series trucks (with three more currently on order from Sydney’s City Hino) and one 500 Series Standard Cab FE Model (with three more of them currently on order as well).

To best suit the mostly urban environments in which they operate, all Hinos are equipped with automatic transmissions.

The Hino 300 Series 616 models each generally collect and deliver 1 to 1.5 tonnes of rescued food each day and the larger 500 Series Hino is also proving its worth and confirming the decision to introduce a larger truck into the OzHarvest fleet with the capability to handle multiple full pallets.

“In the last couple of years we took on that larger vehicle,” says Richard. “It gives us the ability to move larger volumes of food items especially when we are working with some of the online distribution centres such as Woolworths Online and Aldi Online. It also provides us with the ability of approaching the producers direct and being able to move some of that available food in bigger quantities. The larger truck allows us to try and rescue some of the food right at its source at the farm which is something we are really keen to do as there is a lot of food wastage from that point on the chain. Farmers are often unable to get some of their produce out to supermarkets for a number of reasons such as odd sized fruit — too big, too small, discoloured or not the right shape.”

As a consequence of the opportunities presented by this situation the three additional Hino 500 Series Standard Cab FE’s on order. Richard regards the Hino trucks as the most reliable vehicles in the fleet.

“Any vehicles we are retiring or are coming off their lease, we are looking at replacing with Hinos,” Richard says.

Providing food at no cost to other charities is not a cheap exercise and funding to enable OzHarvest to fulfil its roles in the community is delivered through corporate donations and OzHarvest’s own fund-raising events as well as grants from various government bodies. BP is a partner with OzHarvest and a major element of its support is the supply of fuel.

“We still have the normal running and maintenance costs of any similar sized fleets, and another one of the reasons we have decided upon the Hinos is we have very low maintenance costs with them,” says Richard.

One of OzHarvest’s major challenges is to have the ability to rescue all of the food items as they become available from organisations and businesses wanting to donate their excess food.

Richard Watson, OzHarvest NSW State Manager.

Freshness is essential and looming ‘use by’ dates require the managers, controllers and drivers to engage in a particularly urgent logistical exercise on a daily basis where vehicle reliability is an important factor.

OzHarvest relies heavily on generating its own income, mainly by running events. Due to the impact of COVID obviously this hasn’t been able to occur much over the last 12 months plus some of the regular corporate partners have been unable to continue to provide a similar level of support to OzHarvest in the way they would have during the pre-COVID period.

“But not everyone is doing badly,” says Richard. “We’ve picked up some other corporates and there are some industries out there which are doing very well. We’re also working closely with both state and federal governments which is something we haven’t done much of in the past. I think they’re now understanding the sort of work that OzHarvest is doing and how they need to support food rescue organisations like OzHarvest.”

OzHarvest supports almost 1,500 charities across Australia and the past few years have seen an increase in demand for OzHarvest’s services. This not only reflects the effect wrought by the pandemic, but also shows the long lasting effects of the bushfires, floods and droughts faced by regional communities.

With a background in event logistics himself, Richard Watson stepped out of the corporate world and into the realm of the not-for-profit OzHarvest organisation about three years ago and now heads up a team which includes logistics co-ordinators and day controllers.

The drivers at OzHarvest need to be prepared to do more than just pick up and deliver; they also act as food rescue ambassadors and engage with the businesses they collect from.

Woolworths is OzHarvest’s National Food Rescue partner and collections are also made from Aldi as well as from other generous businesses such as event centres, cafes and restaurants.

Hotels and airlines are additional sources of donations of usable food, but COVID has reduced this valuable resource as travel has been very restricted.

“Our drivers are having conversations with these people every single day and through those conversations they engage with the people who are donating the food,” says Richard.

“And similarly, they pick up and then deliver that food to one of the charities OzHarvest supports. In Sydney, for example, we are looking after 400 charities. We recruit our drivers accordingly because they need to be aligned with our mission of nourishing our country and they need to be good communicators and have the ability to have great conversations with those charities about their needs in relation to the types and quantities of food.”

Drivers are mindful that their vehicles can be high profile and they are representing OzHarvest as an organisation when in the public space. This doesn’t necessarily create any onerous expectations, however, as all of the drivers are proud of their work and contribution.

OzHarvest is becoming increasingly involved in education, too, especially in the areas of nutrition.

Richard says the education arm of OzHarvest is now as important as the food rescue element.

“Not everyone knows we are much more than a food rescue organisation”, says Richard. “We’ve got a number of education programmes such as our FEAST programme in which we go into primary schools and talk with kids in years 5 and 6 about sustainability, eating healthily, and even cooking things.”

FEAST is also being launched in secondary schools with year 7 and 8 students involved in similar subjects.

“Through our Nourish program, we put vulnerable youth through a Certificate II in hospitality and provide them with growth and employment opportunities. We also work with communities through our NEST program, which teaches adults how to cook nutritious food on a budget. A lot of our charities work with people on very limited incomes so it’s vital to know how to buy food on a budget while still eating nutritious, tasty meals,” says Richard.

In accordance with the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals, OzHarvest aims to halve food waste by 2030. It is estimated that food wastage costs the nation $20 billion annually. Conversely, almost six million Australians experience food insecurity every year.

Preventing good food from going to waste and feeding hungry people underpins the mission and underlines the ongoing success of OzHarvest.