Kandoroo launches digital platform to help address food poverty

Co-operators bring the fight against poverty into a technological age

Kandoroo, a community interest company with co-operative values and principles, is planning a financial fund which can be distributed to those in need in the form of an app or a card, so they can buy food and other essentials at participating stores.

The name Kandoroo comes from having a can-do attitude, says co-founder Tanya Noon, who also sits on the board of Central England Co-operative

“Poverty is set to increase,” she said, “and in the UK nearly half of those in poverty are in persistent poverty. This causes immense suffering, hardship and eventually, leads to massive unrest. We need to be bold in tackling the issues coming up, with new practical solutions.”

Kandoroo plans a combination of food, advice and education, “empowering those who rely on foodbanks to shop with dignity and take their own responsibility for food and non-food items”.

The organisation is applying for grants and local authority backing as well as corporate donations. In the future, it also hopes to receive public support.

Kandoroo’s difference is that it “is bringing the fight against poverty into a technological age, and it greatly reduces the need to spend donated funds on storage of surplus food, transport and distribution networks – which already exist in the retail sector,” said Ms Noon. 

“It also helps existing food banks to develop other ways to support those in need with education, training and community support.”

VME Co-op is developing the technology at cost price and will support the maintenance of the product on commercial terms. VME is a specialist provider of EPOS technology and already works with several UK retail co-ops, and will develop API so other supermarkets can also take part. VME CEO Steven Gill is also involved in setting up Kandoroo.

The team is waiting on the outcome of funding bids but hopes to be up and running in 6-18 months, with a three-stage pilot planned. “First, we need to do systems testing and run scripts to make sure the software is running as intended and there are no bugs,” said Ms Noon.

“Secondly, we’d run a soft launch. We might trial the technology with a small number of people and seek their feedback and that of the retailer. Finally, we would go to a full trial in a particular area or store, which would allow us to iron out any process issues. With the present pandemic and risk of economic depression it is paramount that we move as fast as we can to get Kandoroo operational.”

She added: “We’re not out to compete with foodbanks, but recognise that getting stock to foodbanks and enabling people to have a dignified shopping experience is a gap that needs filling. Foodbanks aren’t just about food; they provide a valuable hub for people to come and meet, share problems and get support.”

Membership will be open to anyone over the age of 16, and the organisation will admit individual members (clients and interested individuals) and supporter members (corporate donors and sponsors). 

There are benefits to every stakeholder, said Ms Noon. “For donors, it’s a cost-effective way of making sure the money they give goes directly to provide food for those most in need. It supports local authorities too, who acknowledge that the current system of foodbanks is not sustainable and is only set to get worse. Individual charities do a great job of setting up and running local foodbanks, national organisations like the Trussell Trust and Fareshare deliver donated food, but the co-ordination of these is a mammoth task and it inevitably ends up as a postcode lottery.”

And there is scope to use the technology beyond foodbanks. “Once the start-up costs are covered, the ongoing IT cost of delivering the service is £8,000 per 365,000 claimants plus staff costs and office overheads,” said Ms Noon. “There is no reason why the system cannot be expanded to manage, for example, free school meal vouchers. Currently the administrative burden falls on schools.”

But the biggest benefit will be for the client. “The ability to go into a local shop, buy the groceries you want and need without the stigma of handing over a voucher, or going to a foodbank, gives individuals dignity and normalcy. We must tackle the problems now through co-operation, not isolation.” 

There have been more food justice initiatives coming from the co-op movement over the past month, with the Co-op Party calling on local authorities across the UK to appoint ‘food champions’. The Party has set up an online tool at foodjusticefinder.com where people can type in their postcode to find out if their council has a food champion and works with a food partnership.

Meanwhile, independent retailer East of England Co-op has seen members and customers donate five tonnes of foodbank essentials during its holiday hunger campaign. The society has joined the Child Food Poverty Taskforce initiated by footballer Marcus Rashford and also hosted a Food Justice Conference in November.

And Southern Co-op has made an initial donation of £5,000 to the Feed a Family Fund for foodbanks on the Isle of Wight.