Steve Clifford – SecondBite – Ep 35

Steve Clifford, CEO at SecondBite

In this episode of “Let’s Talk Farm to Fork,” we’re joined by Steve Clifford from SecondBite, who we will be talking to about how their not-for-profit has been a useful tool in both saving food supplies and feeding hungry families within Australia.


[00:00:00] Mitchell Denton: Hello and welcome to “Let’s Talk Farm to Fork,” the PostHarvest podcast that interviews people of interest across the food supply chain.

Today on our show, I’m joined by Steve Clifford from SecondBite, who I’ll be talking to about how their not-for-profit has been a useful tool in both saving food supplies and feeding hungry families within Australia.

So with no further delays, let’s get started.

Well, good morning Steve. Thanks for joining me. How are you?

[00:00:26] Steve Clifford: I’m well, thanks, Mitch. Very good, thank you.

[00:00:29] Mitchell Denton: Great. Well, before we get into it, I was just wondering if you could tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do, and maybe just a fun fact about yourself while we’re at it.

[00:00:38] Steve Clifford: Okay, well, I’m the CEO of SecondBite and have been there for 18 months, but before I was at SecondBite, I was actually a corporate lawyer for 30 years. With one of Australia’s top law firms. I, I worked for a few years in New York and was in, uh, Asia, heading up our Southeast Asia offices. And after three decades of doing that, I’d always been involved with the social justice sort of side at work.

I was chair of the charity committee and, and it sort of struck me that there was something else I wanted to do. So, um, it’s a bit of a fun fact. I suppose eight years ago I made the transition from the corporate world to the not-for-profit world once our three kids were young adults. 

So, sort of always been part of my life plan. I had a father who was very involved in his local community. So, um, that’s what I’ve done. 

Uh, and the, the other part of it that’s a little bit of a fun fact, I suppose, is, uh, when I did start that transition about eight years ago, I took off about 14 months on a sabbatical.

And I’m a passionate hiker, Mitch. So it gave me the opportunity to go through some of my bucket list of hikes in Australia and overseas. So that was a bit of fun.

[00:01:40] Mitchell Denton: Yeah. Wow. I just got back from New Zealand myself and, uh, just doing a bunch of hikes over there. Love a good nature trail.

[00:01:47] Steve Clifford: Absolutely. I suppose the Routeburn, the Hollyford, the Milford.

[00:01:51] Mitchell Denton: Exactly. You nailed it in one. Yeah. 

[00:01:53] Steve Clifford: Yeah. I’ve spent months there. It’s just such a fantastic country for hiking. A bit like in Australia, Tasmania, I think would be our equivalent of, you know, it’s a bit like New Zealand in a smaller spot. Anyway, we could talk about um hiking…

[00:02:06] Mitchell Denton: I’m sure we could. I’m sure we could. But, before we get stuck down that path, would you mind telling us a little bit more about that journey from the corporate world to working across several not-for-profits, including one of Australia’s largest food rescue organisations, SecondBite.

[00:02:21] Steve Clifford: Well during, during that, um, uh, sort of sabbatical, I suppose you’d call it. While I was trying to work out how best to make a contribution in a, in a second career. I actually had about a hundred and, well, exactly 171 coffees. And, and what that was all about was, I knew I had contacts in the corporate world that could tell me about what a leadership role in the not-for-profit world would be like.

But it was a matter of sort of getting as much information and, and data as I could. To, to help along the way with that journey. So I, I would literally, with a, with a help of a career coach, set up a program to meet people, and I had three questions for them, Mitch. 

The first one was, um, “Do you think there’s a role for a worn out corporate lawyer in, in the world, you know, you think there’s, and, and people were generally very nice. I got first past that first question pretty easily. And the second one was, um, “If that’s the case, what would I need to sort of hone up on? What would my weaknesses be?” 

And people were very, um, sort of helpful on that front, giving me some areas where even if you think you know how to run a business or how business world works, it’s very different obviously in the not for profit world. 

And the third question was, “Can you introduce me to two more people?”. So through that process, I managed to build an amazing network of not-for-profit connections that I’ve been using to this day. And they’ve, they’ve been terrific people who understand the world’s a bit different in, in, uh, for purpose layer. We need, we need, I think it really helps to have the corporate rigor, but there is a piece of heart that’s involved in the for purpose world that is really important.

And one of the things I’ve learned in this, in the leadership roles and in this world is, um, there’s a saying that I’ve heard a couple of times in the sector, which is, “We don’t care what you know, until we know you care”. And I found that’s been really quite insightful, it’s a different world. 

We have a lot of passionate people in this sector. So, that’s what the journey’s, um, involved. In fact, there’s a book that I, I wrote along the way called “From Profit to Purpose”. 

So if, if people are interested, they don’t have to make the same mistakes that, that I did, Mitch. But it’s been, it’s been a heck of a journey. 

And along the way, the first gig I had was actually working with kids in the youth justice system. So it was very different from Food Rescue. I was head of Australian operations at Save the Children, so working a lot with indigenous communities around the country, um, had 150 staff really doing amazing jobs all around the country, but particularly in those indigenous communities.

And I had a stint, um, Twiggy Forrest asked me to go and be the inaugural CEO of his Thrive by Five Early Childhood Initiative, part of The Minderoo Foundation. So, it’s been a heck of a journey, but the last eighteen months, ending waste, ending hunger, SecondBite.

[00:04:54] Mitchell Denton: That’s fantastic Uh, that’s actually a good segue. SecondBite’s mantra is “Ending Waste, Ending Hunger”. What does that look like being practically rolled out?

[00:05:05] Steve Clifford: Yeah. It’s a heck of a goal, isn’t, It’s a very ambitious goal. And one of the points I, I make when I’m talking to potential supporters is here you get two, two missions, two purposes for the price of one. Um, it’s interesting to me when I was working in sort of disadvantaged youth, not everyone would necessarily share my views and those are my colleagues for, for trying to make a difference. 

For example, some people think, well, those kids should just pull up their socks and why don’t they, you know, just get a job. And it was quite interesting sometimes the pushback you get from people who don’t necessarily understand the issues. 

You contrast that to food rescue, right? I must admit, it’s, it’s such a good story, Mitch. it’s, it’s an easy sell in many ways because, you know, with waste, we’re trying to minimise good food going to landfill. That’s a, a very worthy goal. And on the hunger front, one in six Australians face food insecurity.

And in 2022 in a, in a country like Australia, that’s just unacceptable. We need to get those numbers down. So, so that’s what practically what it looks like, we rescue and redistribute more free food than any other food rescue organisation in the country. I think SecondBite’s tended to hide, hide its light under the bushel, no pun intended, in the past. 

And I think we need to probably start to spread the word a little bit better. We, we are a very efficient, very, um impactful organisation and, uh, we need to keep doing more of what we’re doing. And hopefully one day there will be an end of waste and end of hunger. But in the meantime, there’s plenty of work to be done.

[00:06:34] Mitchell Denton: Absolutely. So what are some of SecondBite’s, biggest goals, and what are some of the current challenges that need to be overcome?

[00:06:41] Steve Clifford: Yeah, yeah, sure. Um, I think probably one of the big biggest goals we have is to move into the, what I might call a farm gate space. There’s a lot of good food that’s lost at farm level. I’ve read some statistic that up to a third of the food produced is wasted. 

So, the challenge of that, of course, is that moving the food to where it’s needed from regional areas and rural areas to, to where the populations might be that are needy. It takes resources. It’s expensive. So, that’s one of the big areas we’d like to work in and where we think that the government can help in this area is perhaps with a national food donation tax incentive.

And we have sort of petition to, to government about that, and there’s a, a bit of work being started by all the food rescue organisations collaboratively to see if Canberra can help with that. Because at the moment, a well meaning, Farm Gate producer has to pay effectively out of their own pocket to, to get food to food rescue organisations. So, that’s not sustainable long term. 

So I think with that, if we can get the government on board with that tax incentive, that’ll be terrific and that’ll be one of the challenges beating. Another area that we see as a big goal is to try and match the demand of our agencies and the people they support with the supply of food.

So if you think about it, generally, someone comes to an organisation like us, a food donor. “We’re trying to get rid of this food, boomf! Here it is”. At a certain extent, we can pick and choose, but you don’t wanna be too picky or choosy. Or people might say, Well thanks very much but, you know, we’ll just put it in the landfill or, um, we’ll deal with it some other way.”

So in the past we’ve tended to pretty much take whatever we’re given and then in a way hoist it onto the agencies, even if it’s not necessarily exactly what they’re after. So something we are really focusing at the moment I’ve been focusing on since I’ve been at SecondBite, is to listen more to our agencies.

We’ve got 1100 agencies, what food do they actually need for their, their clients? Cultural appropriate food, obviously a big issue that wasn’t there in years past, food requirements or allergies. So that’s, um, a challenge, but also a huge opportunity to to better serve the people that ultimately, take the food that we’re rescuing. 

And, we started, just finished a fairly detailed research piece, listening to our agencies and, and seeing how we can, can get better at that.

So I think that’s another area that we’re excited about. And probably the third, third area where we’ve got a big goal, of course, is just increase our impact around the country, save more food from going to landfill feed more hungry Aussies.

And the challenge there is basically a matter of increasing resources and funding. So it’s, it’s always a case that one of the limits to our impact is the amount of, um, support and funding we can get. 

And we have a heck of a lot of really great support from Coles, from corporates, from government, from trust and foundations. But there’s so much need out there, Mitch, we need to just keep working at that. 

[00:09:36] Mitchell Denton: Yeah, definitely, definitely. As a lot of listeners would’ve heard by now, fruits and vegetables have the highest food loss and waste percentage numbers. When it comes to the food recovery of fruits and vegetables, what are some of the requirements in order to effectively give fresh produce a second life?

[00:09:53] Steve Clifford: It’s not that complicated with fruit and veggies in, in many ways compared to, say, meats and dairy and all those that need to have a, a cold chain. Um, That we can make sure we’re not, uh, gonna be hurting anyone with the food we provide. 

But with fruit and veggies, basically, it just needs to be in good condition for our ultimate clients, we want to make sure that the food that they get is the food that they can be proud to eat we don’t want any food shaming or anything like that. So all, all that means is we, we need to move it quickly. 

You have a lot more time, obviously with potatoes than you do with bananas, but basically it’s a matter of making sure that we have a really good food chain to get food from our donors to the, the ultimate beneficiaries. 

And one of the ways we do that is, um, we have a community connect model which matches up agencies with food donors directly. So, you know, a local Coles store, for example, might have a local agency that provides food to the local community.

That agency can collect the food directly from Coles. We monitor, we help maintain the relationship and keep a track of the kilos that are moved and so on. But in that situation, it’s very efficient, um, but tends to be smaller quantities. 

With larger quantities. We, we have what we call a direct delivery model, and that involves SecondBite vans and my staff and our warehouses.

We’ve got five warehouses around the country moving larger amounts. Maybe it’s from distribution centres or where there’s significant amounts of food from donors or, or farmers or whatever. 

And that way we can get the food quickly from donors to, to beneficiaries. So it’s, it’s challenging, but the end results, we’re really proud of what we have managed to achieve in the last, uh, 17 years.

[00:11:31] Mitchell Denton: Yeah, definitely. Let me follow that up by asking at, at what point does an attempted food rescue lose its value or become more trouble than it’s worth?

[00:11:40] Steve Clifford: Yeah, interesting. It’s simply a matter of ageing, really. I mean, uh, with bananas it’s gonna be quicker than, than, uh, than carrots. It basically gets to the stage where sometimes some of the food that we are offered, unfortunately we can’t, we can’t accept because there’s no point us taking away food that’s virtually, uh, inedible and then having to find somewhere to, you know, put it into waste ourselves.

So, um, it’s, it’s, it depends. The answer to that question, Mitch, very much depends on the, uh, on the, on the food product with, with groceries, for example, pasts and rice and so on. You have a little bit more time. In fact, we’ll take food. Or close by, used by date. And we still have some flexibility there. Um, staple foods and cans and so on.

Again, you’ve got more potential to get that food to the people we need to serve. It’s fair to say we have some protection. There’s some good Samaritan legislation around the country. That means as long as we act reasonably and do all the right things, you know, no one can take us to task if it happens that, you know, they’ve eaten a, an apple that’s, that’s gone off and, and they get sick.

So, having said that, I’m not aware of that ever having been done. But you know, that’s the sort of thing we have to deal with.

[00:12:51] Mitchell Denton: Yeah, that’s great to clear the air because that’s definitely been a bit of a myth that’s floated around, especially in the, in the hospitality industry. I, I used to work in multiple kitchens and there would always at the end of shifts be leftover food and things, and you wanna make the most of that, you wanna be able to give that to homeless people that are on the same street.

And then there’s that age old myth of like, you can’t give the food because of X, Y, Z, someone might get sick da da da. So, it is good to put a spotlight on the fact that those Good Samaritan laws are kind of in place. Because I think a lot of people are kind of avoiding the ability to really, uh, stretch that food out and, and to provide to people that really . Need it.

[00:13:32] Steve Clifford: Yeah, that’s a really good point. I mean, if food that’s in good condition goes into waste. When we know there’s hungry people are out. That’s, that’s terrible. So, to shed some light on that Misconception is good. 

Having said that, um, food that’s been cooked up and sitting in a bain-marie, you often, you’ll be at a restaurant at the end of the day or um, somewhere you think, Like they’re gonna throw that food out and unfortunately, sometimes food that’s been prepared, put out on a platter.

It’s just, it’s too risky. You know, we, we don’t wanna to, uh, take food that’s been cooked and, and, and try and get that to, to hungry people when there’s a risk of some sort of, um, issue with the food quality. So we do, do it sometimes in very sort of limited circumstances. 

We’ll take food that’s been prepared and quickly get it to someone who’s nearby but it depends on the circumstances. Generally we gotta protect the people we’re serving. 

[00:14:22] Mitchell Denton: Definitely. So then whether it be within Australian homes, grocery stores, or restaurants, what would you identify as being one of the biggest pain points or blind spots when it comes to food waste?

[00:14:33] Steve Clifford: Yeah, that’s a, that’s a really good question. I think probably one of the things that we, um, have found is, an ability to move food, uh, from the, the more remote areas, I guess is one of the pain points for us. 

Just seeing the amount of food that, that’s not saved in remote and rural areas, how we can, can get that food into the system is something that sort of causes us pain and something that we’re looking at on a, you know, regular basis to see what we can do. 

In addition to that issue with moving food from the regional and, and, and rural areas and so on, just in our day to day purchases, um, from supermarkets and, and, um, and grocery stores, we often are, are a bit too choosy. I think the public is, um, Causing some issues ourselves.

The choosier, we are the more waste there is. So maybe part of the message is let’s not be too choosy. Maybe I can accept a banana with a bit of brown or tomato, which is slightly squashy. Um, I don’t mind that second bite. If that means there’s less waste coming at the back of the loading bay, because that means that the food’s not being wasted at all.

And certainly all of our donors at the same time as they’re providing their waste to us, are trying to minimise waste. And that’s, that’s a good thing for the community and to minimise landfill. So I think there’s an element of training the public here where we make sure we perhaps aren’t too choosy. We make sure we actually use the food we buy and, and, and don’t buy more food than we need.

Things like that. I mean, I, I know around our, our home here, you know, sometimes you see the milk in the fridge and it’s at the use by date. Well, you, I know if it still smells okay for a day or two afterwards, and I’m not, I’m not encouraging any bad practices here, Mitch, but if it’s still smells okay, a day or two later, like my grandma used to say, if it smells okay, you can eat it.

So, um, there’s some stuff we can do ourselves there to sort of minimise those pain points. 

[00:16:25] Mitchell Denton: Definitely. So then, has food rescue been challenging during covid?

[00:16:30] Steve Clifford: It certainly has. I mean, before Covid we had the, the bush fires, you might recall. Then Covid came, really played havoc with our supply chains, SecondBites’ supply chains, as well as the supply chain of the various food organisations, um, whether it’s retail or wholesale that we, we deal with. 

And of course that uh, challenge in getting the supply through the various food chains was exacerbated by the fact that on the demand side, there are a lot of people during, uh, Covid, of course, who are struggling to get good food. 

So that was a challenge. And, and it, it, even though we sort of could say, we’re post-Covid now, whatever that means, because Covid is still around, isn’t it?

But those issues tend to ebb and flow, there are still some sort of supply issues that come from time-to-time. What’s happened since though, of course is, is the floods then came as Covid eased off. We had terrific problems with, um, supply chain during the floods initially in the Northern New South Wales and Queensland.

We did a lot of work up there and helped a lot of Aussies, but it was certainly a challenging time for food rescue. And now we’ve got on the demand side, Mitch, the, the cost of living challenges. We anecdotally, and through our agencies here, often of, um, new cohorts coming into their, their agencies for, for food support, young tradies families who hadn’t traditionally needed help, but they, they just don’t have the work that they had before that costs are expensive.

Uh, they have to sometimes choose, do they feed the kids or do they pay the rent and, and the bills. And that’s a, that’s a really invidious decision for any family to have to make or a single person living on their, you know, on their own. There’s all sorts of challenges there with the cost of living. So, it would be good if the government could perhaps step in a little bit there.

I think it was a bit disappointing that we didn’t see a lot of support in the last budget for, um, those sort of challenges post-Covid and cost of living.

[00:18:22] Mitchell Denton: Yeah, absolutely. So, Steve, when it comes to food waste and sustainability, what’s on the horizon for SecondBite? Where is your attention and research focusing the most right now?

[00:18:32] Steve Clifford: Well, as I mentioned before, we, we are very focused on trying to see if we can be do better at matching demand with supply and just really listen to see what it, what are the needs of the agencies and the people they serve, And can we work with our donors to try and match that up a bit better than we have in the past?

And part of the way that we’ll do that was with increased technology, not just in that space. I mean, if, if you said, What are we really focusing our attention on right now? Within the organisation, it’s very much about increasing our IT capability, Uh, in our vans, where we’ve rolled out all sorts of technology.

That means people aren’t writing on clipboards anymore. We can track what’s going on with the food coming in and food going out a lot better than we could in the past. I think generally within our organisation we are moving to bring in more technology just so we can really be at the cutting edge and really increase our efficiency and effectiveness.

[00:19:25] Mitchell Denton: So continuing that thought. Is there a particular group or innovation within the industry that you’re excitedly keeping a watchful eye on?

[00:19:32] Steve Clifford: We try and keep our, our fingers on the pulse for generally what’s happening in the sector. And I think, uh, there’s probably no specific area I’d say there, in relation to an innovation that we’re excitedly keeping watchful eye on. I guess that’s the, uh, innovation I mentioned before, the National Food Donation Tax Incentive.

I think that will really be a, an incredible boost to the organisation if we can get the government involved on that front to give a little bit more support. We’ve also, as a collaboration between ourselves and Food Bank and OzHarvest, suggested to the government that we should have a fixed amount put aside every year for basically looking after the people who, not just when there’s a, a Covid or a flood or a bush fire, but day to day all through the year, people who are food insecure. 

To, to have a fund available to, to support them, and secondly, as we realise that there are more and more events and emergencies and crises that, that occur in Australian life. 

It seems to be an ongoing thing to have some funding put aside by the federal government for that so that we don’t have to wait each time an event becomes, uh, like a fire that we have to sort of wait around while people are hungry, while the government works out what they’re gonna do. So there’s a couple of, uh, innovations there that we’re, we’re kind of excited about for the future.

[00:20:45] Mitchell Denton: Yeah. Fantastic. So Steve, we are coming to a close, but before we do, I just wanna ask, what is the number one takeaway you really want the listeners to absorb from this episode?

[00:20:56] Steve Clifford: I guess the main thing for me is firstly take, uh, take account of the people in Australia, be, be a bit empathetic towards the people in Australia who are in that food insecure group. It’s extraordinary to me that, you know, one in six Australians probably approaching one in five, um, aren’t guaranteed a good meal every day.

That’s extra, You know, that shouldn’t happen in a country like ours. And maybe part of the way we can do it day-to-day help towards that is just as I mentioned before, thinking about when we are doing our own buying. Make sure that we’re, you know, in our own homes, minimising the waste that we, uh, that we put back into that landfill.

[00:21:33] Mitchell Denton: Absolutely. Well, that’s all for today’s episode of “Let’s Talk Farm to Fork”. Thanks for listening and thank you, Steve for joining me today.

[00:21:41] Steve Clifford: Thanks, Mitch. Pleasure.

[00:21:42] Mitchell Denton: For any listeners who would like to know more about Steve and SecondBite, check out the link in the description of this episode. ” Make sure to subscribe to the podcast so that you never miss an episode, and don’t forget to leave a review and share with your friends.

Until next time, you’ve been listening to “Let’s Talk Farm to Fork”, a PostHarvest podcast.

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