Foodstuffs: N.H. Food Bank One Step Closer to Making its Own Food

Sep 23, 2016

By as early as next year the New Hampshire Food Bank will start making its own food - something only one other food bank in the country has done before.

For this week’s installment of our weekly series “Foodstuffs,” NHPR checks in on how this project is shaping up.

At a typical food bank, everything that goes out the door comes through donations…every loaf of bread, box of cereal or can of soup.

The biggest donors tend to be grocery stores but Bruce Wilson, the operating director at the food bank in Manchester, says that supply has gone down over the years.

“As our grocery partners got better at what they do, maximizing their profitability, that whole business model has changed so food banks now are forced to purchase more product to meet that need,” Wilson says.

That number is roughly 12 percent, which Wilson says cuts into funding for programming such as nutrition classes, culinary job training and food stamp outreach.

Here's a drawing of what the machinery line is planning to look like when its finished.
Credit Paige Sutherland/NHPR

The number of people in need is also going up. Last year the Food Bank helped nearly 140,000 people in New Hampshire – of which 41,000 were children. And if you break that down into food – last year the food bank distributed 12 million pounds and expects it will be as high as 13 million this year.

That all makes this new idea of making your own food - really attractive.

Wilson says this is how it works:

“Our containers are set up, brought down, and then whatever you are putting in is filled in through vertical hoppers. It’s now hermetically sealed – heat sealed. It goes down it is now labeled and goes down into the collection bin,” Wilson explains.

Now that construction on the manufacturing room finished earlier this month, Wilson hopes to have the machinery up and running by next year but what products will be made here is still up in the air. For now the plan is dry foods such as mac and cheese, rice and beans and by next year wet foods like soups and sauces.

"No we are not looking to compete against the Krafts of the world but a lot of it is again sustainable revenue for the food bank and our programs," Bruce Wilson of the N.H. Food Bank said.

Wilson would not specify the exact cost of the project, instead saying it’s in the low six-figures. The food bank receives zero state and federal funding - all its funding comes from donations.

That's why they’re also planning to sell these products.

“No we are not looking to compete against the Krafts of the world but a lot of it is again sustainable revenue for the food bank and our programs and also it helps increase awareness as we continue to brand our name,” Wilson says.

These items will be sold with a “New Hampshire Food Bank” label. So far Ocean State Job Lots has agreed to sell them.

Besides bringing in more revenue – Wilson says once the production starts up – it will also offer job training opportunities.

“We would be able to train anywhere from one to probably one and a half to two employees and that rotation cycle would probably be six to eight months per employee because they will receive your basic manufacturing training, which would include OSHA safety awareness, process control, inventory control and management material handling as well,” Wilson says. 

The only other food bank to make and sell its own food is Second Harvest in Tennessee. Wilson says they’ve definitely reached out to them for advice. But now Wilson says he’s the one getting calls from other food banks interested in starting up their own food processing plant.