Kandoroo: Co-operating to tackle food poverty

“I was able to buy fresh products and shop with dignity”

“Kandoroo is about giving people a choice about what food they wish to eat or need because of dietary requirements,” says Tanya Noon. “We want to provide a way for individuals facing food poverty to shop in a dignified way, enabling them to buy fresh food that is culturally appropriate, and meets their individual needs.”

Noon is a director at Kandoroo, a community interest company with co-operative values and principles at its heart. It aims to address food insecurity by complementing food banks, Fareshare, credit unions and other like-minded organisations dealing with food and finance poverty. The colour of its logo is red, mirroring Sustainable Development Goal 1: No Poverty.

In the UK in 2020–21, 4.2 million people (6%) were in food poverty, including 9% of children. A YouGov survey by the Food Foundation found that in April 2022, 15.5% of all UK households were eating less or went a day without eating because they couldn’t access or afford food. 

Food poverty, or food insecurity, refers to the inability to obtain enough food of sufficient quality through socially acceptable means. Over the last few years, the problem has been worsened by rising inflation and declining wages in real terms, creating a double blow for those affected. There are now over 2,500 foodbanks in the UK, providing emergency food to people in crisis, and co-operatives – including co-op retailers – have been active in their support, through local pantries and community fridges, and direct donations of cash and items to food banks.

Kandoroo works slightly differently: it seeks cash donations from the public, the retail sector and organisations which are then used to support people referred by care professionals, social services and other agencies. Once referred, users download a mobile app, or are given a card, onto which a set amount of vouchers are added. These can then be used to purchase food and other essentials from participating stores.

“This process gives them access to essential food of their choosing, including fresh fruit and vegetables and medicines,” says Noon. “Qualification for using Kandoroo is achieved via referral from health and care professionals and food bank providers, who will each make the determination as they do currently and who will also carry and control the data relating to the users.” The organisation has recently completed three trials of the technology, and is looking to go live this spring. 

The directors and non-directors of Kandoroo meet online monthly, and between them have extensive background, experience and knowledge in CICs and co-operatives, law, technology and food poverty, and this background has been vital. Noon and fellow director Karen Bevan are, separately, employees of Central Co-op. VME co-op is providing the technology, and the stores used in the trials were those run by Heart of England Co-op

“The first trial took place in a Heart of England Store as they had the appropriate till system in place,” says Bevan. “The App was loaded onto directors’ phones and following the visit and feedback, some adaptions were made. The second trial was undertaken by the directors at another Heart of England Store, and this was successful.”

VME worked with Heart of England’s IT department to ensure the stores used in the trial had the new ‘Kandoroo’ tender set up, along with the connection details each POS (till point) required to connect to the Kandoroo server to send transaction details to authorise.  The tender was also set up to post on its own cash statement line for reconciliation purposes. 

“The third trial was undertaken by people using the Hinckley Food Bank, close to the trial stores,” says Bevan, adding that she and Noon met with the foodbank co-ordinator to see if any service users would be interested in testing the App using their mobile phones.  

“For the trial, we used monies raised from a donation at the 2022 Co-op Retail Conference. We agreed it would be a four-week trial with £25 uploaded each week for a single person and £50 per week for two or more in a family.  The Foodbank Co-ordinator gave us contact details of interested people, which we followed up with a phone call to explain who we are and about the trial that we were asking them to take part in. The response was very positive.”

Four groups took part in the trial, ranging from a single person to a family with 2 adults and 5 children.

Kandoroo ran a trial with users of Hinckley Food Bank

“On the first day, we captured some feedback with some very complimentary comments around how much they enjoyed their shopping experience, about the relief of having a choice, and how easy the transaction at the till was,” says Bevan. “But the biggest thing that came out of the feedback was how empowered it made people feel, how discrete the process was, compared with traditional foodbank use – and how this had a positive impact on the mental health of the users.”

“Food banks help, but this has made a massive difference. I was able to buy fresh products and shop with dignity,” said one user. 

Another commented that there was “more discretion” and they were “able to buy meat and fresh food and have a choice instead of tinned, so dinners were much better”.

“The Food Bank has been wonderful, but it doesn’t compare to having access to fresh food,” said another. “The Co-op reductions are always better than other supermarkets and I was able to buy sausages for less than half price.  Our family’s health and wellbeing have improved and our mental health as parents has improved knowing that we are feeding our children better.”

Bevan adds: “It’s not our place to monitor what people purchased, but the data overview from the trial showed an emphasis on fresh fruit and vegetables and a lot of reduced items too – which in terms helps with food waste issues. No alcohol was purchased. One user told us that through Kandorooo, she was able to buy a birthday cake for her daughter – something she wouldn’t have received through the foodbank alone.”

The next trial will involve 10 groups of people, and conversations are taking place with other co-op retailers who have expressed an interest in supporting the trial. Kandoroo is now in the process of recruiting a 12-month project manager, funded by commitments from co-op societies, including Central and Scotmid, and Kandoroo will be opening up for general membership later this year.

For more information and to donate, visit kandoroo.coop.

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