Do you know where your next meal is coming from? Will you cook up something fresh or stop for something quick on your way home from work? If you are like me, you don’t always know what you are going to eat, but you never worry that you won’t have anything at all. Unfortunately, many Americans are in a very different situation. Over 50 million people in the United States struggle with food insecurity, meaning they do not know where they’ll find their next meal. And this number would be much higher without the aid of food banks.
In May 2017, West Monroe had the opportunity to be involved with the 5th Annual IISE Sustainable Development Division volunteer event at Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank (the Food Bank). The day allowed for a group of industrial and systems engineers to come together and identify some areas of process improvement that would have a profound impact on the way the Food Bank operates and their ability to provide meals to the Pittsburgh community.
Following the May event, I had my own opportunity to work with the Food Bank. This food bank provides over 33 million meals annually in southwestern Pennsylvania and is aiming to nearly double that number in years to come. However, to meet this commendable goal, they will have to overcome some challenges to scale so drastically.
The Food Bank faces many unique obstacles with their mission to provide meals to the community, including unpredictable demand, donated supplies, and changing workforce expectations. Additionally, the Food Bank was unsure if their current facility’s capacity could support their plans for growth. West Monroe Partners offered its resources to help them measure their current state and conduct assessments, enabling the ability to make data driven decisions for future increased operational efficiency. Given West Monroe’s years of experience in a food distribution environment, we felt that we could provide the Food Bank with valuable recommendations to support their vision by completing an assessment of their operation.
The workforce optimization team has helped some of the nation’s largest food distributors improve their operations and our goal was to apply our industry experience to drive significant improvements for a non-profit organization. The primary focus areas for West Monroe’s work with the Food Bank were capacity and space utilization, productivity, and labor planning. A new perspective on these three challenge areas for the Food Bank will allow them to achieve sustainable improvements as they grow their operation.
The food banks of America play a crucial role in feeding those who need it most. Operational inefficiencies for our typical clients result in lost sales or increased cost to serve, but the missed opportunity for a local food bank could be considered costlier as it impacts those who struggle with hunger. The number of food insecure people in the US has held stable over the past few years, but any number above zero is too high. Our work with the Food Bank has shown us that even making small tweaks to food bank operations can lead to increased efficiency and have an even more profound impact on the community they work to serve.