Accounting for impact: Why every food brand needs to make this change

Donating unsellable foods and beverages helps reduce food insecurity and boosts companies’ bottom lines. Find out how this works.

Victoria Fiore Cohen is founder of Assembly and board member at Conscious Alliance. Justin Levy is executive director of Conscious Alliance.

It's beyond disheartening when perfectly good food ends up going to waste.

This reality hit home recently when one of Conscious Alliance's esteemed partners, who had previously contributed numerous semi-truckloads of food, faced a perceived budgetary hitch that led to three trucks filled with a total of 90,000 pounds of food being diverted to a landfill. That equates to a heartbreaking waste of 90,000 potential meals that could have made a significant difference in alleviating hunger.

Unfortunately, this is the norm. In the United States, 120 billion pounds of food go to waste every year—a staggering statistic. Yet, there is an exceedingly simple way brands can help while also making a meaningful impact on food insecurity, the environment and their own bottom line.

It all comes down to a simple accounting shift. Really, it’s that easy.

We are calling on brands to make a basic, yet paradigmatic shift in their budgetary line items. In collaboration with accounting teams, brands can reclassify the allocation of close-to-code, excess and unsellable-but-still-awesome products as write-offs rather than as marketing expenses.

Let us explain further. Most marketing teams have a budget for “buying” products from their organization, typically at cost, for sampling or even donation. That product, which could have otherwise been sold, needs to be accounted for as a marketing expense. Makes sense. 

When it comes to product that cannot be sold—because it is nearing expiration, was produced before packaging change or has minor flaw—that product can either be donated or destroyed. Sadly, it’s often destroyed simply because of the misapplied rule that donated products are a marketing expense. Not only is this a waste, it’s irrational: Destroying product costs money, whereas donating it is cost-neutral and comes with clear marketing and sustainability benefits. 

Donating not only mitigates the additional financial loss, but also channels surplus goods toward philanthropic causes:

  • Convoy of Hope, a faith-based organization with a driving passion to feed the world through children’s feeding initiatives, community outreach and disaster response, in partnership with local churches, businesses, civic organizations and government agencies.

  • Taste for the Homeless, founded by Chef Michael Airhart to provide services to uplift homeless people who live on the street and in shelters to become contributing citizens by providing hot food, clothing, hygiene items and social services.

  • The Store operates as a year-round free grocery store and allows people to shop for their basic needs in a way that protects their dignity and fosters hope. There is no charge to those referred or to the people and agencies that send them. They may shop for food to supplement their income during times of crisis and as they work toward self-sufficiency.

  • Conscious Alliance, which has served 13 million meals to kids and families in need since 2002, thanks in part to the product donations of  more than 70 food partners, all of which were picked up. Conscious Alliance also engages in carbon offsetting for its trucking—a sustainability perk the donating brand can claim. 

By coding close-to-code products as donations rather than marketing expenses, brands can align financial prudence with social responsibility.

It’s important to point out that this is a shift in practice, not a new legal requirement, regulation or standard. Like many accounting practices and behaviors, budgets may be set a certain way and not revisited due to a “This is how we have always done it” or “set it and forget it” mentality. We’re not pointing fingers, but rather challenging brands to take a fresh look at their books and budgets with an eye towards shifting their thinking and doing.

Imagine a world where surplus products fuel social initiatives and environmental stewardship. It's a world where every contribution, no matter how small, makes a difference. By redirecting surplus products to those in need, brands contribute to food security efforts while also addressing environmental concerns.

At its core, this simple shift in accounting practices represents more than just a financial adjustment—it's a reflection of values and a commitment. It's about recognizing that success goes beyond profit margins and quarterly reports—it's about making a tangible difference in the world around us.

As brands embrace this new approach, they not only reduce waste, but also foster a culture of giving back. They become catalysts for change, driving innovation and inspiring others to follow suit.

Let’s feed kids, not landfills.

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About the Author(s)

Victoria Fiore Cohen

Victoria Fiore Cohen, founder of Assembly and board member at Conscious Alliance.

Justin Levy

Executive director, Conscious Alliance

Justin began with Conscious Alliance in 2004 after a transformative experience working with youth on the Crow Creek Indian Reservation in South Dakota. He quickly broadened the organization’s scope by engaging young people through service-learning. Over the last decade, Justin’s role with Conscious Alliance has evolved and grown. As Executive Director, he first strengthened partnerships with talented artists across the nation and in the music industry. Through deepening these connections, the “Art that Feeds” food drives became more prominent at major concerts and events across the country. Recently, Justin’s vision has led to powerful new partnerships with many natural food companies and other nonprofits, which have expanded the impact of Conscious Alliance. The organization now provides nutrition and exercise education as well as workshops that connect Native American youth with their culture. Justin received his degree in Service-Learning Program Development at Warren Wilson College in Asheville, North Carolina, where he was the recipient of the leadership and service awards.

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