Client Feature: 412 Food Rescue

BY: Level Agency
January 19, 2022

In our latest episode of Test. Learn. Grow., we welcomed the first client of our 2022 lineup, 412 Food Rescue. Transported by a growing network of volunteers, 412 Food Rescue directly transfers food to nonprofit partners that serve those who are food insecure in the Pittsburgh, PA, area. They’ve also developed technology that’s helping those with the same mission succeed nationwide. Read on to learn more!  

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Rather listen than read? In this podcast episode, co-host Myles Biggs and Level account manager Emily Halpern learn how marketing is integral to the growth of 412 Food Rescue’s organization. 


What is 412 Food Rescue? 

In the United States alone, 40% of the food we produce is wasted. Food waste is an environmental hazard, as this degradation in landfills causes greenhouse gas methane. Meanwhile, one in six people, on average, are going hungry—a number even higher once you drill down into certain communities. Children are particularly vulnerable to hunger, as are female-headed households.  

Enter 412 Food Rescue, an organization founded in 2015 that was determined to look at these two epic problems and find an elegant solution—a way to bridge the gap between the fact that we waste so much food while so many are hungry. They accomplish this by rescuing perfectly good food from grocery stores, restaurants, universities, and consumer-facing businesses that have food waste. That food is then delivered to people who need food, through agencies, food pantries, soup kitchens, housing authorities, and other nonprofit partners. 


The Food Rescue Hero App 

The team at 412 Food Rescue developed an app internally, Food Rescue Hero, to help with the logistics of food rescue, which is often a last-minute, last-mile project that takes an enormous amount of human intervention to make it happen. 

Food waste happens in a highly distributed network. Think about all the businesses where food waste is happening—the grocery stores, the convenience stores, the high schools, junior high schools, elementary schools and colleges, bagel shops, and restaurants. There are thousands upon thousands of places where food is being rescued, and a lot of times that food is not anticipated to be surplus. For example, a restauranteur may be expecting a busy night, but a snowstorm unexpectedly keeps patrons at home, leaving them with a lot of extra food that they’d like to see delivered to people that can use it. Figuring out how to 1) match that food to where it needs to go and not end up as garbage, and 2) get somebody to pick up that food is an incredible undertaking. The Food Rescue Hero app is a technology that allows the organization to leverage the power of a huge volunteer network to make it happen. 

Similar to a ride-share program, Food Rescue Hero sends a notification to all volunteers that there’s food to be rescued. If a volunteer is available, they’ll accept the rescue, then pick up and drop off the food where the app has directed them. Not only is it easy, it also makes it possible for 412 Food Rescue to scale up and impact both food waste and food insecurity.  


The business incentive 

Curious about the incentives for businesses to become food donors? While there are enhanced tax benefits for food donors—they get more of a tax write-off than they would if they throw the food away—Jen tells us the strongest motivator they see with their donors is a desire to do the right thing. Being in the food business themselves, donors don’t want to see food thrown away or wasted and have become strong advocates for the process of food rescue and food donation. 


How marketing helps 

For 412 Food Rescue, marketing is crucial. In Jen’s own words, “We could not do what we do without marketing.” As we pointed out earlier, the team is working to alleviate a highly distributed problem, which requires a huge network of volunteers. You can’t get that huge network of volunteers without marketing—it’s how they find out about the organization and food rescue in general. It’s how people know they can be a part of the solution. And marketing not only brings in volunteers, but their donors and nonprofit partners, as well.  


A national outreach 

While 412 Food Rescue is a Pittsburgh-based company, much of the marketing work done here at Level has centered around giving the Food Rescue Hero app a more national voice through outreach to food rescue organizations across the country. The goal is to let those rescues know that the app is a tool that they too can use to make an impact in their own communities. 

As Jen tells us, there’s not a whole lot of competitors in the tech space for food rescue apps. And for those organizations around the country that are looking for a way to scale up their food rescue, technology is the natural next step. 412 Food Rescue wants those organizations to know this solution is available to anyone looking to start or scale food rescue—this tool can help them meet that challenge. 

Meeting this challenge in new ways is critical. Food waste is a national problem, and the impact it has is national, too. We see more and more localities setting goals for themselves to reduce their emissions and carbon footprints by 2025 or 2030 in accordance with UN goals, and it’s important for them to know that there's help out there. For example, California passed a law, SB-1383, that requires businesses with a certain footprint to donate edible food, and this goes into effect in 2022. There are no repercussions for businesses not donating until 2024; 2022 will be when businesses begin ramping up their donations. For this to work, there must be organizations that can take and move that food, and a lot of businesses and enforcing municipalities are scrambling to figure out how to meet the requirements of this law. It is crucial that they know assistance is available, and Food Rescue Hero exists for exactly this purpose. 


Implementing the program 

If you’re interested in utilizing this technology to organize food rescue in your area, you can contact 412 Food Rescue, and they’ll work with you to determine which package is best for you, from small, out-of-the-box solutions to custom white-label options. Along with the technology, you can also receive wraparound services to help launch your program and be successful. Whether you’re starting from scratch and need all the help you can get, or you’ve been in food rescue for several years and only need the technology, 412 Food Rescue is able to provide the customized support you need.  


Food rescue education 

Besides marketing campaigns targeting volunteers and donors, Level Agency has also assisted 412 Food Rescue with some email templates that they could use for general education purposes. Additionally, the organization has begun holding monthly webinars with topics covering everything from the Food Rescue Hero app to broader topics like what food rescue is and how to get involved in your community. 

As you can easily imagine, education is vital in the food rescue space at every single step of the process. Marketing is, in many ways, like education—you’re letting people know about available services, about what you’re doing. You’re letting people know what the problem is and why it’s serious, why they should care and what they can do about it, how they can contribute and be a part of the solution. More frequently than not, environmental news these days is grim. But 412 Food Rescue is focusing on a message of empowerment and hope and making sure people know that there’s something they can do about these pressing issues in our society. 


Test. Learn. Grow. 

Like Level Agency, 412 Food Rescue is a data-driven organization. The Food Rescue Hero app provides a ton of data that informs how they grow and solve problems, so they're a great fit for our Test. Learn. Grow. approach to marketing. Not only are they able to use the tests we’ve performed in their own marketing to better understand how to reach their audience and have successful campaigns, but they’re also able to pass that information on to their partners across the country. The value of making sure others succeed in their own missions cannot be underestimated. 


AI in the food rescue space 

With the advent of AI and machine learning in marketing, we always like to ask our podcast guests how they feel about automation tools, and 412 Food Rescue is all in. Here’s Jen’s take: “It is something that we're taking a hard look at... Equity and justice are really important to us. They're integral to our company's ethos, right? And so, when we look at how we distribute food, we want to make sure we're doing so in an equitable and just manner. We actually work with some folks to help us figure out how we can implement machine learning and AI to better distribute food and sort of get around some of the internal biases that we as humans have.”  

She hopes that in the near future, they’re able to employ machine learning to better understand what their partners really want and need. There tends to be an underlying belief in the hunger system that because food is being donated and because someone needs food, they don’t have a right to have preferences; they should be happy with what they get. 412 Food Rescue wants to eradicate that belief—they want their partners to be allowed to turn down a donation if it’s not right for them, rather than the food getting thrown away in the end. If they can learn about their partners’ needs and wants, not only does it prevent food from going in the garbage, but it also helps them be more efficient in their work. 


Get involved 

Hopefully, after reading this, you’re ready to jump in and get involved! 412 Food Rescue and Food Rescue Hero can be found on all your favorite social media platforms. And... 

Curious about what marketing can accomplish for your organization? Set up a consultation with us to learn more.  

What did we miss? Give us your thoughts in a comment!

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