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The Journal Gazette

Sunday, September 10, 2017 1:00 am

Food banks brace for grocery changes

LISA GREEN | The Journal Gazette

Carmen Cumberland was paying attention when Amazon.com announced this summer it would expand its footprint by acquiring Whole Foods Market, a grocery chain.

The nearly $14 billion deal signals more pressure for profits in the highly competitive grocery business. Cumberland also wonders whether it could tighten the flow of donations to Community Harvest Food Bank, where she is executive president.

“I think it's going to hurt some of these retail establishments and they're maybe not going to be able to make the donations they did before,” Cumberland said.

Whole Foods doesn't have a Fort Wayne location, but has several groceries in Indiana and in other states where retailers including Walmart, Meijer and Kroger operate.

Community Harvest has had to buy more food the past 12 to 18 months than previously to provide hunger relief to thousands of northeast Indiana residents, Cumberland said. Roger Reece, executive pastor of Associated Churches of Fort Wayne-Allen County, also said donations are down. He thinks it's because of a perception that most people are doing OK, based on the overall economy.

If retailers find their profit margins becoming thinner, damaged items or those with rapidly approaching expiration dates might be tossed in a discount cart at a grocery store to help protect profits rather than donated to the food bank, Cumberland said.

If only Community Harvest had its own supply of food. Although nothing is imminent, Cumberland says that might be a future possibility.

Many food banks across the country are looking at owning their own farms, she said.

“It usually takes a farmer to donate their land and somebody to run that land,” Cumberland said.

The food bank gets many of its items donated, including from prominent retailers and local growers.

It already has a produce preservation center it opened in 2015 to help avoid waste.

Having a farming operation would allow the food bank to grow specific items.

“It would be a sustainable thing,” Cumberland said. “Year after year, you would know what you could count on.”

lisagreen@jg.net