The Pantry: Modernizing Traditional Food Business with Scalable Technology

April 7, 2021 |
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Although being a part of an economically stable country like the United States of America, 1 in 5 residents of Hawaii struggle with hunger. During an average month, over 160,000 people in Hawaii including children and seniors go without the food they need.

The Pantry, a food distribution centre by Feeding Hawaii Together, was founded 20 years ago with the goal of helping these people in need with dignity and compassion. The idea was to provide people who are struggling with food insecurity with the opportunity to choose the food they want in a grocery store style setting. And that’s what they were doing.

Hawaii residents who needed food assistance could walk into their facility and pick up the food they wanted to take home. Before shutting down, The Pantry was recognised as the largest distributor of Hawaii Foodbank supplies in the USA. But unfortunately in 2016, The Pantry was closed due to loss of facilities.

The Pantry remained closed even in 2020 until they rented another facility in Kalihi with the goal to serve food to 161,000 of food insecure residents in Hawaii. And then, COVID-19 was announced as a pandemic making another 200,000 people unemployed on one hand and a physical “grocery store” setting unsafe on the other.

The pandemic, instead of stopping FHT from opening up their facility, worked as more of an incentive. But there still were issues and struggles that needed to be resolved beforehand. For one thing, there were social distancing requirements. Which meant they couldn’t let as many people come and pick up food as they normally could. They needed a system to keep volunteers and workers in the facility safe. On the other hand, the parking situation in the new location wasn’t ideal. So they needed a way to assign time slots for drive in clients as well.

To solve all of these problems, the idea of a concierge grocery app was born. The clients needed a way to pre-shop products they wanted and needed, wait for a notification, then come to the facility for a pick up during their designated time slot.

In the beginning of 2020, we were informed about FHT’s needs and our team got started with turning this idea into the high speed tech solution https://shop.thepantry.org came to be. This app we built enables clients to pre-shop in an ecommerce setup and get a notification containing their pick up time slot. So they can easily walk or drive in and pick up their order without risking their safety in any way. The predetermined time slot for every customer makes sure social distancing can be maintained and there is enough space for drive in customers during each slot.

Fig: Flow Chart of the Process The Pantry App Automated

The website also contains a designated registration tab where clients who are food insecure can register to place their orders and have a personal profile to set their preferences. Along with that, there is a tab to sign up as a volunteer and a tab to donate in order to help The Pantry with their vision of eliminating food insecurity in Hawaii.

Today, this app is assisting The Pantry by Feeding Hawaii Together to help thousands of Hawaii residents who struggle with hunger in a safe environment. On April 1 of 2020, they reopened in a 13,000 square feet facility in Kalihi. According to the data accumulated within just the next 9 months, they had served more than 1.5 Million pounds of food to over 77,000 Hawaii residents.

This is how our technology helped accelerate the process of making Hawaii a safer place that was started by their community 20 years ago.

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