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19 Dec 2022

Meet our charity partner: City Harvest CEO Sarah Calcutt

Meet our charity partner: City Harvest CEO Sarah Calcutt

IFE chats to Sarah Calcutt, the newly appointed CEO of the show's charity partner City Harvest, about her career to date, her plans for the future and what happens to the surplus food collected at IFE. 

Hi Sarah! You’ve joined City Harvest right in the middle of a cost-of-living crisis, how have your first few months been?

They have evaporated to be honest!  December is my first full time month and it’s been a steep learning curve so far. I am absolutely blown away by the amazing team here and all that they have achieved to date. What is clear is that there is even more to do, demand for our support is increasing daily. Our operations and community teams are working hard to introduce efficiencies into our operation which will enable us to reach more people with free food. The incredible food team are adding more sources of supply, seemingly daily, we hear from our charity partners that we offer a brilliant diet to their beneficiaries, and we are very mindful of dietary and religious needs when we are sourcing new food partners.

 

What is your background in the world of food & drink?

I am a fifth generation fruit grower from Kent. In the last 25 years I have worked throughout the amazing food industry of the UK, and globally. Over the last 10 years I have had a freelance career and have worked with some of the big names in UK food and produce. Prior to joining the City Harvest team, there was quite a list of roles and organisations I was a part of - I am still a non-executive Director of New Covent Garden Market Authority, which is a Defra appointment, the Honorary Chair of the National Fruit Show, Vice Chair of the Rural Policy Group and a Liveryman of the Worshipful Company of Fruiterers.

 

What did you know about City Harvest, and the issues around food waste in the UK, before joining the charity? Is there anything that’s surprised you?

I have volunteered for City Harvest for the last two years, sitting on our Food Council, a group of sector leaders who have helped expand the range of surplus food that we can share with the 350 charities that we support. Having come from a primary production, retail, and wholesale background, I am only too aware of the inevitable surplus within our food system. That said, it has shocked me the volume of edible food that still heads into a waste bin rather than to hungry people.

 

What plans do you have for your first year as CEO?

We have seen very rapid growth and the introduction of a lot of new staff, so there will be a strong element of embedding new procedures, efficiencies and evaluating how and why we do things.  We are seeing unprecedented demand for our help so we will be expanding our networks in order to feed more people.  We currently deliver 1.4 million meals per month; you will see a significant uplift on that number by the end of the year.

I am also working with the Rural Policy Group on an APPG for Food Security – in all elements of our food system we have major issues.  Growers are not receiving the cost of production currently, there are issues with continuity of supply, hospitality is on its knees due to cost rises plus lack of staff, and of course we have an ever-increasing proportion of our society who cannot afford good nutrition which will create a greater burden on our health service in years to come. 

In every way we need to look at food security.

 

Do you think food & drink retailers and hospitality are growing more engaged with tackling food waste?

100% yes, food is a precious commodity and speaking as someone from a farming background, it’s a deeply emotional industry to be involved in.  Nobody wants to see their hard work go to waste, far better that surplus heads to someone who really needs it.  There are great initiatives running now and we are certainly seeing more businesses coming to us to see how we can work together. Because City Harvest provides impact reports on Greenhouse Gas emissions saved, as well as the meals provided by donations, we are also a very good ESG and B-Corp partner.

 

City Harvest is a long-standing charity partner to IFE, with exhibitors at the show donating any surplus food & drink products at the end of the event. Can you give us an insight into why this is important and what happens to these products after they leave ExCeL?

Oh, the donations from IFE are wonderful – it doesn’t matter who you are, delicious, nutritious food and drink and the excitement of trying something new, are still incredibly important. The variety is also incredibly beneficial. We try very hard to ensure that the charities we work with get what their beneficiaries need, and sourcing gluten free, vegan or halal for instance, can be quite difficult.

We work with over 350 different charities, once the donations get to our Acton depot they are packed into cases and trays ready for onward distribution, the food heads across the capital and is enjoyed by all ages.

City Harvest

Finally, how does City Harvest prepare for the festive season?

We speak with all the groups we support and map the days which they are open, the week before Christmas we ensure that everyone is stocked up to meet the needs of their beneficiaries over the holiday period. We deliver to any group who are open in the week between Christmas and New Year, staffed by a skeleton staff and our amazing local volunteers so as many of the team as possible get to spend time with their families. We have some incredibly generous food donors who ensure that we share a lot of turkey, sprouts and potatoes, we do everything we can to ensure there is food on the table for those who need it.

Find out more about City Harvest here

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