People shop at a dollar discount store Dec. 14, 2004 in Brooklyn, New York.
People shop at a dollar discount store Dec. 14, 2004 in Brooklyn, New York. - 

Jeremy Hobson: Well here in the U.S., it's the busiest time of the year for food banks. But not just when it comes to providing meals and groceries to those in need. The holiday season is a critical time for charities to bring in money. And food banks need cash more than ever, because they're having to pay food producers for stuff they used to get for free.

Here's our senior business correspondent Bob Moon.

Bob Moon: Food makers are eking out more efficiency, with fewer processing or labeling mistakes and a tighter rein on inventories. And instead of donating food near its expiration date, it's being diverted to a growing secondary market -- largely discount stores.

Al Brislain heads the Harry Chapin Food Bank of Southwest Florida. He points out all that dollar store food isn't necessarily serving the kinds of customers who really need it.

Al Brislain: Some are low-income but, you know, there's bargain seekers that drive Mercedes-Benz. So you really can't make any kind of blanket statement as to who these customers are at these stores.

Brislain says he doesn't blame companies for focusing on the bottom line. And some of the major names in the secondary market -- Big Lots, for example -- end up donating themselves.

Paula Thornton-Greear speaks for the hunger-relief charity Feeding America.

Paula Thornton-Greear: What they give to us, in terms of food and funds is invaluable.

She says that hasn't stopped her organization from pressing producers to reconsider donating to food banks versus selling to the secondary market.

I'm Bob Moon for Marketplace.

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