Publix is currently buying up surplus products from farms to donate to food banks

Before the pandemic, 1 in 7 Americans relied on food banks, according to Feeding America. Now, demand has doubled or tripled at many organizations.

Cartons of milk (photo credit: REUTERS)
Cartons of milk
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Publix, a large supermarket chain popular in the United States, is currently buying up excess milk and fresh produce from American farmers negatively affected by the sudden onset of the coronavirus pandemic, with the plan of donating them to food banks within their "operating area."
Dairy farmers have been dumping milk because of a loss of their regular buyers, and laborers and truckers are also in short supply to work farms and deliver produce.
Mass closures of restaurants and schools due to social distancing efforts to combat the spread of the coronavirus have forced a shift from wholesale food-service markets to retail grocery stores, creating logistical and packaging nightmares for plants processing milk, butter and cheese. As a result, a growing number of dairy farmers are being told by their cooperatives to dump their milk.
The lockdown in most US states that started in mid-March also created a logjam of fruit and vegetables bound for restaurants across the country. The effects of the business closures rippled throughout the supply chain, reaching even the produce still rooted in farmland as customers cancel orders.
The uprooting of crops comes as food banks across the United States witness a surge in demand as millions face unemployment due to the lockdown.
"As a food retailer, we have the unique opportunity to bridge the gap between the needs of families and farmers impacted by the coronavirus pandemic," said Publix CEO Todd Jones. "In addition to providing much needed produce and milk to food banks, this initiative provides financial support to farmers during this challenging time."
Instead of letting the food go to waste, Publix is planning on donating these products to Feeding America, the nation's largest network of food banks. Within the first week of the initiative Publix plans to donate 150,000 pounds of fresh produce and 43,500 gallons of milk to Feeding America.
Publix Super Markets Charities has also made a $2 million donation to help the food bank in their efforts.
Food banks nationwide have been squeezed between short supplies and surging demand from needy families as the coronavirus pandemic has put more than 26 million Americans out of work.
Before the pandemic, 1 in 7 Americans relied on food banks, according to Feeding America. Now, demand has doubled or even tripled at many organizations.
But farmers are destroying produce, dumping milk and culling livestock because the pandemic has upended supply chains, making it impossible for many to get crops to market. Grocery stores struggle to stock shelves because suppliers can’t adjust to the sudden shift of demand away from shuttered restaurants to retailers, which requires different packaging and distribution networks.
“The US likely has a surplus of food right now,” said Keith Dailey, group vice president of corporate affairs at Kroger Co, the number one US supermarket operator. “It’s just hard to recover and redistribute.”
Before the pandemic, Feeding America member organizations received about a third of their food from grocery store programs that “rescue” fresh food and dry goods that are imperfect or close to expiration. Almost a quarter came from government programs that provide meat, cheese and other products. The rest came through donations from farmers and grocers and purchases by the food banks.
Many farmers would rather donate food than destroy it, but overwhelmed charities do not have the labor or storage to handle such bulk donations. Neither can the government act fast enough to fill the gap left by disruptions of other sources and the sudden spike in hunger.