Food Cowboy Rescues Food from Supply Chain Waste

Paul    June 24, 2015

Title of Post: Food Cowboy Rescues Food from Supply Chain Waste

Organization Name: Food Cowboy
Industry: Technology & Feeding People
President: Roger Gordon
Web references: Food Cowboy  Feeding America  Food Policy U of M  World Food Day

Food Cowboy is a tech company, a supply chain hub, a re-distributor, and most importantly; helps feed people. The Washington D.C. organization was founded in 2012 by Richard Gordon (trucking entrepreneur), Barbara Cohen (public health/nutrition expert) and Roger Gordon (management consultant/entrepreneur). The Cowboys use, “mobile technology to safely route surplus food from wholesalers and restaurants to food banks and soup kitchens instead of landfills”. Food Cowboy, in effect, corrals lost value from commercial food supply chain inefficiencies. Food supply chain partners are brought together with a mobile app and social media to form a somewhat unconventional network. In other words, Food Cowboy transforms a supply chain business problem into a supply chain social solution.


What’s wrong?

The United States Department of Agriculture funded initiative, Food Policy Research Center (FPRC), has found that approximately 40% of the US food supply is never eaten. Significant levels of environmental resources such as cropland, fresh water, and energy are consumed to produce a proportion of food output that is simply wasted. Furthermore, food waste resulting from wholesale or grocery buyers at the point of delivery, or commercial food service industry excess supply, ends up in landfills. In 2013, 49.1 million Americans lived in food insecure households, including 33.3 million adults and 15.8 million children. Food banks and related charities can help, but the otherwise wasted food has to get to them.


The food supply chain, from source to retail, is comprised of seemingly siloed links each with their own set of structural inefficiencies. As for the unwanted product, at the end of it all, it ends up in a truck, grocery store or restaurant with nowhere to go except a dumpster.  Pro trucker Gerry Walker shares the experience: “Every trucker who’s hauled perishables has had deliveries refused”.

Supply Chain Waste

What’s Right

Food Cowboy has built their own food supply chain – to essentially patch the gaps of the for-profit one. Wasted food is diverted to charities who can share it with individuals and families to help overcome the problem of food insecurity. There is also an environmental component, in particular, reducing the 35 million tons of food waste disposed in landfills (2012). Truck drivers and retailers can download an app from Food Cowboy to network FoodCowboy_C_72_smallinto a different kind of supply chain. For drivers it works like this: enter what they have to donate, where they are (or going), Food Cowboy contacts charities along the driver’s route, the charities contact the driver directly to confirm if they can receive the donation, the driver decides where to deliver and Food Cowboy emails the driver a delivery
confirmation. Retailers connect in a similar way: the retailer schedules a pick-up of food, the charity sends a driver or trained volunteer, the donation is delivered and inspected, Food Cowboy sends the retailer a receipt and the retailer concludes the transaction with their rating of the charities performance. Food Cowboy is a non-profit organization, but to help fund the operation, they receive $0.10 per pound of food from recipient organizations. The model is well described in the following CNBC Nightly Business Report piece:

From: CNBC-NBR Feb. 2015



Food Cowboy and Social Media

Food Cowboy, as an organization is well represented in social media with rich content found on Facebook, Twitter, Linked In and Instagram. The emerging social media platform presents a substantiation of the Food Cowboy mission. For example, a Facebook post boldly contrasts the use of supply chain and technology for common consumption, with the Food Cowboy model of using the same ubiquitous technology and their own logistics to feed a veteran:Untitled-1 (dragged) 1Untitled-1 (dragged) 1FB Quote

Food Cowboy’s use of social media acts as a hub to promote their model, connect their network participants to the larger cause, but perhaps, also to disrupt the conventional networks of the for-profit food supply chain and the non-profit food bank industry. As President Roger Gordon explains (June 23, 2015):

PB: How important is social media to your organization in respect to connecting the parties in your chain, i.e. giver, receiver, you?

RG: We think crowdshipping and gamification can solve the Last Mile problem of food rescuing food. More fundamentally, we think social media networks can be used to disrupt two networks that are having trouble changing the status quo: the for-profit food supply chain (esp. at the retail end) and the nonprofit food bank industry.

Some Analysis

Food supply chain inefficiencies seem to be rooted the lack of coordination and collaboration among the various partners in the network. In particular, the producer practice of overplanting to secure supply, is an issue of demand planning. Given that agriculture is subject to uncontrollable shocks of climate, slack production to some extent, is necessary. However, demand and market variables are certainly known and these factors could be shared with producers in a tighter fashion through the use technology and more open collaborative networks. Final product quality mitigations left between transporter and wholesale/retail receiver are clearly dysfunctional and costly to both parties. In contrast, Food Cowboy has developed a concise technological platform to functionally connect points in their supply chain with logistical efficiency and informational visibility across network links. The app technology utilized by  Food Cowboy is supported by a social media messaging platform to bind together, an essentially virtual, organization of partners.

Can for-profit food supply chain businesses learn from Food Cowboy? They better. Food Cowboy has supplemented an inefficient model with one that works – it creates social value, not profit. If organizations today compete on the strength of their supply chains, then the next disruptor could be an emergent competitor chain with a view to profit.

Lessons for others:

1. Supply Chain inefficiency can lead to significant waste.

2. Supply Chain waste can be quantified and mitigated to capture lost value.

3. There is a relationship between Supply Chain efficiency and a broader cost/benefit effect, i.e. social & environmental.

4. Effective Supply Chain management and coordination is enhanced by the use of relevent technology and social media.

5. Supply Chain disruption can be risky to existing parties.

6. Canadian food producers, distributors, retailers and charitable food organizations should get to know Food Cowboy.

Submitted By: Paul Baumgartner, University of Waterloo, SMBP
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