The Government has spent more than $300,000 on My Food Bag emergency food kits for beneficiaries and food banks – a move that has been criticised by the Green Party.
But Social Development Minister Carmel Sepuloni stands behind the spend and said the Government is still considering if the scheme should be rolled out on a wider scale.
Ministry of Social Development figures, released under the Official Information Act (OIA), show the Government has spent $301,000 on My Food Bag kits between October 2019 and May 2020.
The kits were part of the ministry's emergency food kit scheme, whereby the Government provides food packages to struggling families and individuals.
The Government first contracted My Food Bag to provide emergency food kits as a trial in October 2019 – that trial ended in February 2020 and provided 1000 food boxes
According to the OIA, it was highly successful with 95 per cent of feedback from the 101 families in the pilot programme being either "good" or "very good".
During the first Covid lockdown last year, the ministry purchased a further 500 My Food Bag boxes for low income families and food banks.
A total of $301,404 was spent on the four-month trial and the lockdown boxes.
Although the scheme hasn't been officially evaluated yet, Sepuloni said the feedback on the trial had been good.
"It wasn't just about getting access to the food, it was actually about preparing food together as a family [and] having access to nutritious foods."
The Government is in the process of officially evaluating the programme and deciding whether or not it will continue.
The My Food Bag kits – a box of food ingredients delivered to someone's home for them to cook – were used because some lower-income families don't have access to transport to get to supermarkets, according to the OIA.
"The ministry recognises [that] for some families getting access to affordable and nutritious food can be difficult."
But Green Party spokesman for social development Ricardo Menendez March was critical of the ministry's scheme, saying it is just "patching around the edges".
"Without a substantive increase to core benefit levels, these sorts of projects mean little to communities that are struggling to get by."
He said the Greens have some concerns around the packaging of My Food Bag, specifically around the advice about dieting and exercising because he said that puts the onus on beneficiaries as though they're not "leading their best lives".
"Rather than having these projects, we think that people should have enough income to make good decisions.
"It's really hard to make good decisions about what you eat when you don't have enough money in your pocket to even make them."
Sepuloni said the Government will continue to do work on income adequacy.
"But I don't think we should oversimplify the positive benefits to a trial like this."
My Food Bag chief executive Kevin Bowler said the company created a tailored food box with recipes that was offered to ministry clients who qualified for an emergency food grant.
"The box was offered as an optional alternative to an emergency food grant."
Asked if the contract was put out to other meal providers, a ministry spokesperson said: "As it was only a pilot we did not go to the market and partnered specifically with My Food Bag for the pilot period."