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Trader Joe’s Doug Rauch

In this Feb. 11, 2008 file photo, a customer departs Trader Joe's in Los Angeles.  (AP Photos/Ric Francis, File)

(Ric Francis,/AP)

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, almost 17 million children — or one in five Americans — suffer from food insecurity, which means they don’t have consistent access to enough nutritious food.

On the other hand, American supermarkets and grocery stores throw out about $47 billion worth of food every year — 10 billion pounds of it, much of which is perfectly good and nutritious.

Doug Rauch, the former president of Trader Joe’s, has an idea: reclaim that discarded food and create healthy meals for low-income customers. Rauch founded the Urban Food Initiative, which is planning to open its first food store that will take advantage of that excess food, in Dorchester.


Doug Rauch, former president, Trader Joe’s.


Boston Globe “Rauch said he knows the concept may at first sound unpalatable, maybe even objectionable, but he’s convinced that his Urban Food Initiative has merit. The idea is to take food “waste” — perishables at, near, or past their expiration date that supermarkets throw out daily — and turn it into healthy meals priced like a McDonald’s Big Mac. Rauch compares the nonprofit’s mission to the work of Goodwill, which resells donated clothing at affordable prices.”

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  • J__o__h__n

    What a nice contrast to the jerk who runs Whole Foods.

  • Director

    I think it’s great what Doug is doing. I’ve heard many programs about it throughout the past several days on NPR. I would like to point out that we’ve been doing something similar here at Food For Free in Cambridge since 1981.

    We collect food from supermarkets, farmers’ markets, farms, Boston Organics, and other retail food stores and deliver it (for free) to 85 different emergency food programs throughout Cambridge, Somerville, Boston, Peabody, Everett, Medford, and Chelsea. Last year we “rescued” about 600,000 pounds of food that would have otherwise gone to landfill. About 70% of the food we distribute to food programs (about 1 million pounds last year including purchased and Food Bank food) is fruit and vegetables – specifically aimed at addressing obesity and diet related diseases.

    Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, and many other local stores donate hundreds of pounds of food to us every weekday morning. That food is in the hands of food insecure families by the end of the day.  We estimate that we serve 20,000 – 25,000 individuals each month.

    I would love to see NPR follow up on Doug’s story with something about Food For Free and the other organizations doing what we’re doing. Find out more at http://www.foodforfree.org

  • TheOldBear

    This is a great idea but somehow I think a better strategy would be to locate the original store in Cambridge (or a second store to be opened at the same time as the Dorchester location) where it could be embraced as “trendy” and legitimized by as a valid place to purchase good food — without being seen as something “second-class” being foisted upon a mostly low-income community.   A Cambridge-style location would serve a wide range of consumers including low-income families, budget-impaired students, and a socially-conscious middle class population concerned about the needless waste in our conventional food distribution channels.

    Also, it’s worth noting that most grocery items purchased at convenience stores like 7-11 are consumed within mere hours of purchase.  For these kind of last-minute want-it-now or need-it-now purchases, near expiration dates are pretty much irrelevant except in the mind of the consumer.   The irony is that, for the convenience, consumers willingly pay a premium even though shelf-life is not an issue.

    It seems that consumers could be educated to take advantage of a pricing model perceived as paying a premium for longer post-purchase shelf-life and saving money by buying food for immediate consumption at a lower price.

    Doug Rauch used the phrase “good food” repeatedly in the Radio Boston interview.  It sounded defensive.  My guess is that this is to quell any consumer unease that he is trading in food that has gone bad.  Possibly he’s done focus groups and other market research which has shown this to be a consumer response.  But, is this really something that is provoked by how the product is presented?   If one describes the service as “fresh food for eating now” or something similar, does that re-frame the discussion to saving money by buying what you need when you need it.   Think of 7-11 without the price premium.

    See also:  http://www.cartoonistgroup.com/store/add.php?iid=60907  (which is a “Dustin” comic strip which adorns my refrigerator door.)

  • Ms.D

    I think Dorchester is perfect. Cambridge already has WholeFoods…..Dorchester has a large amount of low income minorities who need to be introduced to organic whole foods and the only way to do that is to make it available in their area. This is a great idea because the biggest sin is throwing away good food!

  • LN

    This is an idea long overdue.  For too long, executives in the retail food spaces have been laser focused on mercenary targets, more connected to Boards of Directors or on the internal rewards of profit rather than the greater long term vision for the community and ultimately for their brands.
    It’s refreshing to see the man who led the industry in cost effective ways to provide the public with fresh and packaged offerings – pantry items and beyond – lead the way in what will, I believe, be a money making enterprise. Serving the community does pay in many ways.

  • MT

    Egleston Square in Jamaica Plain has a winter farmers market too! http://eglestonfarmersmarket.org

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