Foodcard: dignified state food aid for people in need

The Foodcard is an innovative solution which gives people the freedom and dignity to choose what food and necessities to buy, and from where.


In 2022, 3.5% of the Estonian population lived in absolute poverty and 22.5% in relative poverty, numbers which are increasing year on year. Since 2015, the Estonian state (with EU funds) has distributed state-assembled food packages each quarter, of mostly dry and canned goods. Everyone received the same food, regardless of allergies or intolerances. People waited for food by standing in line, regardless of weather conditions, then used public transport to transfer their heavy bag.


In 2023, Estonia was the first country in Europe to start using a nationwide food card, giving people the freedom to buy the food that they want. The Foodcard can't be used to buy cigarettes, alcohol, lottery tickets, or gift cards. Money is loaded onto the Card each quarter and must be used by the end of the quarter. One Foodcard is issued per household. If there is not enough money on the Card, the remainder can be paid by bank card or cash. The balance can be checked on a receipt, at a self-checkout, or at customer services.


Reports show that people are making healthy choices, buying fruits, vegetables, fresh meat, and fish. People also watch for promotions and shop at discounted times, for example on Mondays when seniors are eligible for 10% off. Recipients can tailor their food choices according to personal preferences, nutritional needs, and lifestyle, and enables users to purchase fresh foods. Using food cards is less stigmatising than receiving food bags, as it resembles regular shopping, helping individuals maintain their dignity and independence.

Project owner
Signe Riisalo
Minister of Social Protection of Estonia
Project owner
Tea Varrak
Head of Social Sector Continuity, The Ministry of Social Affairs.
Project owner
Aire Johanson
Food Aid adviser (Ministry of Social Affairs)
Project team
Heidi Tõnisson
Food Card´s project manager, Rimi
Project owner
Katrin Bats
Manager of responsible business, Rimi