Logistics software helps nonprofits distribute food to local charities

Transportation management software can help even small fleet operations boost productivity in ways that lead to rapid growth in the near future. Organizations that specialize in distributing food to various locations throughout a city or an entire region often depend heavily on the ability to quickly organize various vans, cars and heavy-duty trucks on a daily basis. Large food service providers are typically the ones to embrace advanced logistics software and other forms of technology to enhance their day-to-day practices. However, even small nonprofit food charities can benefit from similar tools.

Helping businesses donate their surplus inventory to those in need
According to the online information resource Built in Chicago, a new startup technology company called Zero Percent has turned heads in the local food sector by developing a smartphone application that connects grocery stores with nearby anti-hunger organizations. The app ultimately allows these businesses to donate leftover product inventory to various locations around the city where it will eventually be served to those most in need. Caleb Phillips, the chief technology officer at Zero Percent, told Built in Chicago the idea for the startup came after recognizing an untapped niche created by current consumer trends.

"The country is pretty well known to throw away 40 percent of the food that we use," Phillips explained.

He and CEO Raj Karmani connected after working on similar projects in two different cities. Today, their organization works with major institutions such as the University of Illinois, Chicago, as well as area grocery stores and restaurants to deliver 160,000 meals to hungry individuals in less than one year.

Hunger is a widespread problem in many urban areas throughout the U.S. Because low-income households often lack sufficient transportation access to local convenience stores, supermarkets and other establishments, nonprofit organizations frequently rely on small and medium-sized fleets to transport goods as needed. In many cases, these groups operate with a limited number of resources, meaning it can be a challenge to keep track of multiple deliveries and assignments. The managers of these initiatives can't always afford to hire a large number of drivers or invest in vehicles that use alternative energy to save money on fuel costs.

Fleet management technology may lead to long-term growth
Utilizing simple tools such as route optimization software can equip small organizations with technology more akin to a large corporation's transportation operations. Phillips and Karmani expect to grow Zero Percent in the future. As they take on more deliveries, the ability to plan routes ahead of time and perform multiple assignments in one trip may lead to substantial cost savings.

Private companies are also becoming more heavily involved in fighting hunger in U.S. cities. A recent article from USA Today said major food companies such as Campbell's, the Dr. Pepper Snapple Group and Nestle USA participated in a corporate food drive in 2013 organized by Wal-Mart's Fighting Hunger Together Campaign. Last year, the initiative was responsible for delivering 22 million meals for some of the nation's hungriest households and individuals. Bob Aiken, president of the nonprofit Feeding America, said many people overlook the importance of donating food after the holiday season.

"Fighting Hunger Together is intended to remind people that the demand is the same all year long," Aiken said.

According to The Boston Globe, the Greater Boston Food Bank (GBFB) has also experienced recent success distributing meals around the city. In fact, the newspaper said the organization operates a warehouse that has the capacity to store up to 50 million pounds of food at a time. Over the years the food bank has improved its logistics management and now runs a relatively smooth operation.

"We're extremely successful at growing and acquiring the product, and therefore we can feed more people, but there's always more to do," Catherine D'Amato, president and CEO of the GBFB, told The Globe.

Delivering these products through ground transportation is an essential part of the nonprofit's success. Similar groups around the U.S. may want to consider investing in advanced logistics software to limit overhead spending on anti-hunger initiatives. These decisions may ultimately increase the longevity of such initiatives. As a result, cities have a much better chance at eliminating rampant hunger problems in the near future.