Are more and more people relying on food banks?

Fact Check 3 min. Lieke Steijvers

Questions about societal issues? Our experts are happy to answer them. ‘More and more people using food banks’, ‘Hunger in the Netherlands’: newspaper headlines and election campaigns claim that inflation is taking its toll and that more and more people are having to turn to food banks. But is this correct? Frans Cruijssen of Zero Hunger Lab checked this claim and provides answers.

Frans Cruijssen is clear about the increase: there was indeed an increase in the number of people going to a food bank last year. The number of food bank clients in the fourth quarter of 2022 rose by about 30 percent to 120,000 per week. This increase coincided with the sharp rise in inflation and energy prices. “It’s an estimate, we don’t know the exact figures”, says Cruijssen. “There are 174 food banks in the Netherlands, but they are private initiatives, which means that they are not obliged to share data.”


And herein lies the crux of the matter because, according to Cruijssen, there are many more people who meet the admission requirements for food banks. This group falls ‘under the radar’. Cruijssen explains: “People who turn to the food bank are often an unconventional group. They do have assets such as a house, for instance, but circumstances have resulted in a situation in which their daily living expenses have become a problem. They are often people of whom you wouldn’t expect it. The problems of this group are often also temporary. This is why new clients are always first informed of local government and private assistance, such as debt counselling. A plan will be made, together with the client, so that within six months they will no longer need to make use of the food bank.”

Frans Cruijssen

They are often people of whom you wouldn’t expect it

Frans Cruijssen


Tilburg University’s Zero Hunger Lab is conducting a study together with the Dutch Food Banks on techniques that shed light on the people who could also be eligible for food bank support. Cruijssen explains: “This could well result in twice as many people as now using food banks. Many people in this group feel ashamed and are very hesitant to seek assistance in this way.”


This could well result in twice as many people as now using food banks


Cruijssen is developing techniques at the Zero Hunger Lab to identify these people. He does this using data that is publicly available at municipalities, such as poverty maps, unemployment figures, and house prices. “It is not possible to provide a list of people who are likely to qualify for the food bank because of the GDPR, so instead we make predictions about streets and neighborhoods where it is likely that many people who live there will qualify. If there is a significant difference between the data and the number of people that seek assistance from a food bank, this will stand out and action can be taken by the local food bank.”

To ensure integrity and the privacy of people, the Lab works with Law School and TiSEM researchers. Data must be linked in a secure manner so that individuals or neighborhoods cannot be pinpointed in advance. “If, for example, we distribute fliers at the Aldi in neighborhood X, but not at the Albert Heijn in neighborhood Y, this can have a stigmatizing effect, i.e. increasing rather than reducing any hesitation.” 


Can food banks cope with the growing demand for help? “There are large regional differences”, according to Cruijssen. “Especially in big cities, donations are under pressure. Supermarkets are also getting better at preventing waste and the products provided are not always healthy. By talking to supermarkets, we are trying to improve the donations. We also do this on the production side. A pail of ketchup is not of use to anyone.”

About Zero Hunger Lab

Tilburg University’s Zero Hunger Lab is a research group that aims to achieve global food security through the power of data science. 
An overview of projects

Date of publication: 22 November 2023