Supreme Winner Fair Food Charitable Trust staff members.

A gala dinner to celebrate “food heroes” who fed communities in cities and rural areas during the pandemic lockdown was one of the key events to take place on Auckland’s first day in Alert Level 1.

Transforming tonnes of supermarket surplus food – including 26,000 eggs – into fresh food parcels for thousands of people in need during lockdown has seen West Auckland-based Fair Food Charitable Trust named the country’s ‘food heroes’. The trust took out the Massey University Supreme Winner NZ Food Heroes Award title in the New Zealand Food Awards’ ‘food heroes’ campaign.

Winners in seven categories were announced last week from 48 finalists selected from over 340 nominations. They represent Aotearoa’s unsung food heroes – including a tourism company, industry bodies, community groups, small-town supermarket workers and cafés. The unique awards have shone a light on the phenomenal nation-wide, behind-the-scenes efforts of volunteers and staff from charities, businesses and individuals to ensure kindness and kai were in plentiful supply during New Zealand’s Covid-19 response.

Winners of the Greater Good NZ Food Heroes Award, Fair Food Charitable Trust was chosen as the Supreme Winner for “the way it demonstrated excellent team work and leadership in order to significantly upscale a food rescue and distribution service to provide food for over 20,000 people in need a week.” In 2019 they rescued 121 tons of food (equal to 348,000 meals) – then due to Covid-19, they radically scaled up their response rescuing on average 143 tonnes (over 400,000 meals) per month in 2020.

Fair Food was founded in 2011 and is a proven, well-established food rescue operation in West Auckland that was solely mobile. To meet increased demand they set up distribution bases in Oratia, Avondale, Henderson and Avondale. The organisation was nominated for upscaling efforts during the pandemic and building on a legacy of rescuing surplus fit-to-eat food for people in need, addressing social and environmental issues – such as food waste – that were among our most urgent even before COVID-19 struck.

Veronica Shale, Executive Director at Fair Food Charitable Trust, acknowledged her colleagues for “this critical unseen work in our local community and in pockets across New Zealand. Local food heroes each and every one of them. Take a bow!”

Professor Ray Geor, Pro Vice-Chancellor College of Sciences and New Zealand Food Awards governance board chair says Fair Food Charitable Trust; “embodies the Kiwi spirit that the New Zealand Food Awards and the NZ Food Heroes campaign stand for.

“They combined sustainability, business innovation, excellent team work and leadership – all while caring for the vulnerable in a time of need. Taking a purely mobile model that delivered 121 tonnes of food in 2019 to a distribution model with four sites to deliver 143 tonnes of food per month during lockdown is nothing short of exceptional.”

Professor Ray Geor presenting the Massey University Supreme Winner NZ Food Heroes Award

‘Food hero’ focus in pandemic twist for NZ Food Awards

Due to the huge impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the New Zealand Food Awards powered by Massey University shifted from their usual programme this year to instead delivering a community-focussed celebration of innovators across all sectors of the food and beverage industry. The aim was to showcase and celebrate the unsung heroes who worked hard behind the scenes in unprecedented circumstances to make sure people everywhere had food on the table. An online campaign was launched in July to call for nominations, and the results of public voting culminated in a gala dinner in Auckland’s Cordis Hotel last night to announce and celebrate winners.

Sikh community volunteers packing free food parcels (images supplied by Amritpal Singh Mann

Professor Geor says that; “with our history and involvement in the food and beverage sector, it has been the New Zealand Food Awards and Massey University’s honour to acknowledge the often unseen efforts of this sector during Aotearoa’s time of need. I was humbled to see so many inspiring organisations and individuals showcase Kiwi compassion and innovation while facing global challenges of an unprecedented nature.”

Winners of the People’s Choice NZ Food Heroes Award, the Supreme Sikh Society, started a food bank at the Sikh Temple in Takanini, aiming to distribute 1100 food parcels to people struggling during the lockdown. They were able to feed around 66,000 families from Auckland right down to Queenstown impacted by the lockdown with their simple motive to “recognise the whole human race as one”.

Sikh community volunteers packing free food parcels (images supplied by Amritpal Singh Mann

Other winners were the team at New World Foxton, for the way they engaged with the community, continued to support food chain industry and adapted their services – picking up donations to a local food bank and Women’s Refuge.

Local Hero NZ Food Heroes Award Winner Diana Greer developed the ‘Collective Hug’ group to help support the rural community in her Hawke’s Bay region through food parcel distribution, while Innovators NZ Food Heroes Award Winner SOS café provided much needed cash and support to local cafes with their innovative initiative.

New Zealand Food Awards trophy on display.

Industry Supporter NZ Food Heroes Award Winner, the Restaurant Association of New Zealand, was recognised as a hero for its commitment to members by lobbying for wage support, providing navigation of legal matters, as well as much needed encouragement and training webinars for their members to use the lockdown time effectively. 

The Dream Team NZ Food Heroes Award Winner Waitarere Beach Four Square were honoured for their unique, local and amazing story of Kiwi community spirit. Catering to their small community of approximately 700 people, Waitarere Beach Four Square was open every day managing the needs of their residents so that the community could ‘remain a bubble’ for a lengthy period of time.

“This would not have been possible without the dedication shown by all at the Waitarere Beach Four Square staff. To us they are the heroes who kept our sanity, provided a smiling face every day and maintained the calm which was all important during this stressful time,” says their nominator.

Sikh community members – People’s Choice winners

Category winners:

  • Massey University Supreme Winner NZ Food Heroes Award: Fair Food Charitable Trust
  • Countdown People’s Choice NZ Food Heroes Award: Supreme Sikh Society
  • New Zealand Food Safety Outstanding Service NZ Food Heroes Award: New World Foxton
  • Cuisine Local Hero NZ Food Heroes Award: Diana Greer
  • James and Wells Innovators NZ Food Heroes Award: SOS Café
  • New Zealand Trade and Enterprise Industry Supporter NZ Food Heroes Award: Restaurant Association of New Zealand
  • Palmerston North City Council Greater Good NZ Food Heroes Award: Fair Food Charitable Trust
  • AsureQuality The Dream Team NZ Food Heroes Award: Waitarere Beach Four Square staff
Damien O’Connor – Minister of Agriculture and Minister for Biosecurity, Food Safety and Rural Communities, who gave a speech at the gala dinner.

Graham Rouse, from New Zealand Trade and Enterprise, one of 20 judges for the awards, said; “It’s been incredibly inspiring to see so many worthy organisations and individuals nominated for the awards. And although our nominees span different categories and geographical locations, it was heartening to see so many of them underpinned by the value of ‘care’. That’s important because we know that consumers around the world are looking for safe, nutritious, premium quality, ethical and tasty food and beverages. Through our value of care, New Zealand is perfectly placed to meet these needs.”

Apart from Massey University, as principal sponsor and event organiser, the awards are made possible with the support of New Zealand Food Safety, Countdown, Cuisine Magazine, James & Wells, AsureQuality, New Zealand Trade and Enterprise, Villa Maria, The Intermedia Group New Zealand, Palmerston North City Council, FoodHQ , The FoodBowl, XPO, and The FoodPilot.

Winning products earn the New Zealand Food Award’s quality mark to highlight their innovation and excellence to shoppers and industry.

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  • Twitter: @NZFoodAwards
  • Instagram: @NewZealandFoodAwards

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