Egg breakfast sandwiches, snack-worthy bistro boxes filled with healthy treats such as edamame and hummus, or fancy turkey panini and chicken salads for an on-the-go lunch or dinner option. If you’ve been to Starbucks over the past few years, you know it has scaled up its food offerings beyond croissants and muffins. But although the company has donated its unsold pastries to food banks since 2010, safety concerns about perishable items have kept it from doing the same with its new crop of meals.
That all changed on Tuesday with the company’s announcement that it will begin donating 100 percent of its unsold food items to food banks nationwide. Instead of panini being chucked into the Dumpsters behind its roughly 7,600 locations across the United States, Starbucks estimates that it will be able to donate nearly 5 million meals by the end of the first year of the initiative, and it will scale up to 50 million meals by 2021.
“I’m not looking for any pat on the back. This is not about a marketing thing,” Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz said in an appearance on CNN Tuesday morning. “All we’re trying to do is advance the cause of people who, for one reason or another, are being left behind because of failed leadership.”
The donations will be facilitated by Starbucks’ new FoodShare partnership with the national nonprofit Feeding America and the Food Donation Connection, which manages food donation programs for restaurants and food service companies. Local reps from the Food Donation Connection will swing by Starbucks locations, pick up leftover items, and drop them off at the approximately 200 food banks and 60,000 food pantries in the Feeding America network.
Schultz acknowledged that strict food-safety requirements exist for “the right reason.” Research has found, however, that although items might not be as aesthetically pleasing after sitting in a cooler for a few hours, sell-by dates are often arbitrary, meaning much of the food we toss into the trash is still edible.
Indeed, the baristas who staff Starbucks stores have been frustrated with throwing out so much safe-to-eat food, said Schultz. With 49 million Americans going to bed on an empty stomach every night, Starbucks employees often see hunger in their communities firsthand. So they lit a fire under the company’s executives to figure out how to make donations work.
“Our people just felt so badly. And this has been going on for quite some time. And so we started doing our homework—municipality by municipality…. Our people drove this,” Schultz said.
Schultz connected the food donation initiative to Starbucks’ other attempts to fill some of the social gaps in communities, such as its free college programs for employees and veterans’ families. “It’s just trying to be the right kind of citizen in a world that I think needs as much participation and leadership as possible,” he said.