Food Recovery Network (FRN), a college student-powered nonprofit, managed to salvage 4,000 pounds from this year's Super Bowl, turning this lavish food fest into an opportunity to stand behind the mantra “waste not, want not.”

Arlene Karidis, Freelance writer

February 15, 2024

5 Min Read
Ken Howard / Alamy Stock Photo

With the 49ers’ and Chiefs’ Super Bowl match still stirring a buzz, other traces of Game Day linger too: tremendous volumes of food that got left behind. From ketchup-drenched fries and half-chomped hotdogs to untouched delicacies left in display cases, truckloads of grub made their way from Las Vegas’ Allegiant Stadium to a nearby landfill.  

Food Recovery Network (FRN), a college student-powered nonprofit, managed to salvage 4,000 pounds, at least of good edibles that never made it onto fans’ and players’ plates, turning this lavish food fest into an opportunity to stand behind the mantra “waste not, want not.”  

With funding from Hellmann’s, a band of youth showed up in baseball caps and gloves at the Players Tailgate party—a huge VIP all-you-can-eat bash facilitated by Bullseye Event Group. When the jamboree was over, they packed and hauled surplus food that celebrity chefs whipped up from dozens of tents to a local food bank.

A bountiful spread of lobster sliders, chicken, lamb balls, ribs, baby scallops, cakes, and pies, along with crates of butter, herbs and other ingredients went to The Just One Project. The charity distributes food to people from pop-up locations throughout Nevada and delivers to seniors who can’t leave their homes. Just One also operates a grocery store with shelf-stable and fresh produce; people come in and take what they want and need for their families.

“The Just One Project can handle thousands of pounds of produce, cooked, prepared, and raw food. We took it to their central location where they break it down into smaller portions for individuals and families who need it most,” says Regina (Anderson) Harmon, executive director, Food Recovery Network.

Every year, over 140,000 pounds of surplus Super Bowl food get trashed, so this recovery project is as much about awareness as anything.

“We do this because so many eyes are on the Super Bowl. We want as many people to see us as and know what we are doing as possible. We all wear Food Recovery Network tee-shirts, and this year, we had limited edition specialty tee-shirts made to highlight our partnership with Hellmann's and their ‘Sick of Food Waste Day’ campaign [a social media event encouraging people who partied at home to use their Super Bowl leftovers],” Harmon says.

The team works fast because they’re dealing with a lot of temperature-sensitive foods. First, they pack the huge boxes of produce and shelf-stable items, then the prepared foods and crates of butter, eggs, and other perishables that must be unloaded first and transferred to refrigerators right away.  In two hours, their huge U-Haul van was packed to the brim; 20 minutes later the crew showed up at Just One’s back door where workers stood ready for the handover, then waited for a second load.

The Super Bowl brings a level of extravagance to the host city, and The Players Tailgate is no exception, notes Lisa Kinnett, president of Bullseye Event Group. 

“Working with the FRN is a wonderful opportunity for us to give back to the people of the community we are in.  No one should go hungry, and no event of this magnitude should have food waste when there are so many that need it,” Kinnett says.

The Monday after the Big Game an estimated 16 million-plus people call out sick from work. So, this past Monday, Hellmann’s made a holiday of it, tagged as ‘Sick of Food Waste Day.’ The brand called on folks who stayed home to open their fridges, make something good from their leftovers, and post pictures of their dishes to TikTok or Instagram. 

Hellmann’s, who donated $100,000 for FRN’s rescue work this year, has been hammering out food waste-saving messaging at Super Bowl for several years, dedicating ads to its initiative, ‘Make Taste, Not Waste.’

“This encourages consumers to use our product to create meals out of their leftovers instead of throwing them out. This broadens usage of Hellmann’s mayonnaise while having a social impact, helping the brand uniquely establish our own voice within the Game Day moments,” says Chris Symmes, senior marketing director, Dressings, Unilever North America.

Super Bowl fans probably remember this year’s TV spot with Saturday Night Live’s Kate McKinnon and ‘Mayo Cat,’ which followed previous Super Bowl ads, all laced with humor and puns using ‘mayo.’ Who recalls Amy Schumer as ‘Fairy God Mayo;’ ‘Mayo Tackles Food Waste’ with Jerod Mayo; and ‘Who’s in the Fridge’ with Brie Larson and Jon Hamm?

“We know that our comedic approach to landing our purpose message during this key cultural moment has been effective as we have seen an increase in the conversation on social media around food waste following the Big Game,” Symmes says.

Adweek ranked the McKinnon and Mayo Cat ad #3 overall; FanSided ranked it #4 overall; and the spot placed #12 for USA Today’s Ad Meter.

As Hellmann’s continues working to engage people – asking them to waste less—FRN, who has worked the Super Bowl four years now, pushes for improvements in the food recovery space. It’s a tough job—not everything is salvageable, usually because the package is opened or because of how it was processed.

“What was heartbreaking this year is that a whole large cooler of fried chicken wings had to be tossed because they’d been parboiled and then chilled. We could not recover them because the temperature had fluctuated too much during processing,” Harmon says.

Had this been foreseen and the right players been in place, those wings could have gone to one of Nevada’s many pig farms as animal feed. That would be the next ideal step, to be sure no excess goes to landfill.  

This year, despite a much larger turnout, FRN recovered less food than in the past, which actually was a good thing. It means vendors are getting better at determining how much to order.

“There’s always more that can be done.  But up until four years ago the Players Tailgate party was not doing anything, so bravo to them for having a recovery plan in place,” Harmon says.

She challenges other event planners to take on this kind of work.

“Even if you do a little, it goes a long way. The next year you do more, and it goes even further.”

About the Author(s)

Arlene Karidis

Freelance writer, Waste360

Arlene Karidis has 30 years’ cumulative experience reporting on health and environmental topics for B2B and consumer publications of a global, national and/or regional reach, including Waste360, Washington Post, The Atlantic, Huffington Post, Baltimore Sun and lifestyle and parenting magazines. In between her assignments, Arlene does yoga, Pilates, takes long walks, and works her body in other ways that won’t bang up her somewhat challenged knees; drinks wine;  hangs with her family and other good friends and on really slow weekends, entertains herself watching her cat get happy on catnip and play with new toys.

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