14 August 2020, 09:54 AM
  • The start-up aims to make it easier for food banks to receive donations and the supplies they need, while ensuring lower prices and zero waste
Food bank donation service Bankuet wins Speciality Food’s Covid innovation competition

The UK’s first online food bank donation service Bankuet has won Speciality Food’s Instagram competition - run in collaboration with The Food Marketing Experts and Speciality & Fine Food Fair - to find the most inspiring Covid-19 innovation story.

The tech start-up was launched a year ago by Founder and CEO Robin Ferris with two aims: to get food banks the supplies they need when they need them, and to make it easier for people to donate.

Instead of giving food and other products to food banks, donors give their money to Bankuet. Food banks then share their shopping lists with Bankuet, which uses the donations to buy supplies in bulk – meaning the money stretches further – and delivers them to the food bank. Plus, because Bankuet is only buying the products that food banks request, nothing goes to waste.

Bankuet was already an innovative idea, but its mission gained a new urgency when the coronavirus outbreak began. “We ran our first pilot last year in July, and little did we know that eight months later we’d be hit by a global pandemic, which meant for some food banks in the UK we’re their sole source.”

Since the Covid-19 crisis began, almost three million people have gone hungry, according to the Food Foundation. In the first three weeks of lockdown, a report by the group found that 1.5 million people went a whole day without food. During the lockdown, Bankuet reports that food bank use increased by 325%. But just as demand was rising, food banks were seeing a drop in donations and volunteers due to Covid.

With Bankuet, people can easily make donations from the comfort of their home. The simplicity of the system has been reflected in its success: from February to March this year, Bankuet saw a 5,000% increase in donations month-on-month. “Donations were coming through every single minute,” Robin says. “Throughout lockdown, we have delivered hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of essential items nationwide. Every single week, we’ve been shipping food to food banks across the UK.”

At the end of 2019, Bankuet was working with 10 food banks and had fed just over 500 people. Now, the company is working with nearly 100 food banks and in March alone the group fed 3,000 people.

This rapid rise in demand pushed the company to scale up massively in a matter of weeks. At the beginning of March, Robin was running the business with a bit of help from family and friends. In just a few months, he was managing a team of over 100 volunteers.

Unfortunately, Robin doesn’t see demand for food banks dropping any time soon. “Last year, December was the busiest time ever for food banks in the UK – and that was in a robust economy. So if we’re going to be in a depression this year, you can see what the knock-on effects are going to be.”

For this reason, the company has made strides in raising awareness about the issue of hunger in the UK. In June, the firm’s Big Eat In campaign aimed to get people in lockdown to recreate their favourite restaurant meal at home and donate the proceeds to a food bank via Bankuet. “The aim was to try and do something that was a bit of fun and engaging.” Robin describes the campaign as “hugely successful” with many people joining in on Instagram and Facebook. In total, Bankuet raised over £36,000 through the Big Eat In. “That enabled us to then go out and buy more food to keep the trucks on the road.”

“Companies must innovate and change”
How does a company adapt to a whole new reality practically overnight? Robin says Bankuet’s start-up status helped, allowing him to be agile and experiment with new ideas. “I say to my team all the time ‘we’re still in pilot mode’. Let’s try something and let’s measure our learnings.”

A decade-long career working in music and entertainment showed Robin the importance of technology, which transformed the shape of the record industry. “It’s innovate or die,” he says. “Companies must innovate and change, and be willing to learn from and collaborate with others, and not be afraid to fail.”

Robin has also looked at ways to innovate with his business beyond technology. For instance, the company had Gift Aid collection agent status approved by HMRC – something that’s usually reserved for charities – which means donations can be multiplied even further. “We call it the maximiser effect.”

Going forward, whatever happens with the pandemic, Robin plans for Bankuet to stay focused on its mission: there are over 2,000 food banks in the UK and he wants to help them all. “I say to my team the better Bankuet becomes, the more people we can help.”

For more information, including how to donate, visit bankuet.co.uk. Food banks interested in joining the community can visit bankuet.co.uk/joinbankuet.