With its signature beer made from surplus bread, Toast Ale is at the forefront of the fight against food waste, and the movement to make the food industry more sustainable.
Whilst visiting the Brussels Beer Project, and learning more about the ancient recipe used to brew beer from bread for their Babylone Beer, Tristram Stuart, Toast Ale’s Founder, recognized three opportunities.
Firstly, industrial quantities of bread were being wasted all over the world; secondly, the craft brewing movement was booming; and thirdly, he had spent the past 20 years catalyzing a global movement of food waste activists and entrepreneurs.
“Food production is responsible for 80% of deforestation, 70% of freshwater use, 30% of greenhouse gas emissions and is the largest contributor to soil erosion and biodiversity loss. Yet one-third of food goes to waste. We’re here to change that,” shares Co-Founder and COO Louisa Ziane, who worked as a sustainability consultant before teaming up with Stuart to create Toast Ale.
Replacing virgin barley with surplus bread
In the brewing process, Toast replaces one-third of the malted barley with bread. The bread provides starches that are broken down to fermentable sugars by enzymes contained in the malt. The yeast feeds on the sugars during fermentation to create alcohol.
Malt accounts for a significant part of the beer production carbon footprint. By replacing virgin barley with surplus bread, Toast reduces the need for land and water use in its production processes, thereby mitigating carbon emissions leading to climate change.
The social enterprise uses the heel ends of loaves that can’t be made into sandwiches. They source simple white, brown or whole-meal sliced bread that has easily accessible sugars, and is widely available.
This leftover bread would otherwise be collected by waste management companies, and processed by anaerobic digesters, where food waste is broken down into biogas for fuel and digestate for fertilizer, or used as animal feed. This is an inefficient use of the resources that go into producing food – though better than landfill.
Toast offers a core range of four beers – Lager, Pale Ale, IPA and American Pale Ale -, the recipes for each developed with different malt and hop combinations.
Zero export policy and local partnerships
Toast open sources its recipe to home- and small-scale brewers, has a zero-export policy, and instead seeks partnerships with local breweries and charities around to world to scale its impact.
“This is a key environmental principle we will stick to. We believe in the power of local, so rather than producing beer with UK ingredients and exporting to other markets, we will always create a local production model with a local brewer and a local source of surplus bread. We share our knowledge about how to brew with bread, and agree that a proportion of the proceeds will go to a local charity.”
This business model has been successfully applied to partnerships in the US, Brazil, Ireland, Iceland and South Africa.
The Toast recipe has also attracted over 80,000 downloads since Toast’s launch in 2016 – in 2019 alone, 3,200 home brewers used the recipe, and 27 industry brewers made beer from bread.
Brewing with surplus fruits and veggies
Toast has also been experimenting with surplus ingredients other than bread through a series of collaboration beers. It has made pumpkin beer with craft brewer Brew Dog Tower Hill and the environmental charity Hubbub, and crumpet beer from the popular pancake-like breakfast item in the UK with baking firm Warburtons.
For its Toast & Marmalade beer with Windsor & Eton Brewery, the social venture sourced surplus citrus fruits and orange pulp, a production by-product, from Rejuice, which makes cold pressed juices from so-called ugly fruits and vegetables that are discarded for not meeting retailers’ cosmetic standards.
Another of its collaboration beers combined leftover bread from the bread-making competition World Bread Awards, with surplus fruits from jam and conserve brand Tiptree.
Demonstrating the role craft beer can play in empowering vulnerable communities, Toast has also partnered with The Tap Social Movement, a brewery which employs people with criminal records to help them reintegrate into society, for a beer using surplus bread from Oxford Food Bank.
Reinvesting profits into charity
Toast quickly recognized that the systemic issues in the food system cannot be solved by one organization alone, and thus committed to reinvesting all of its profits, or a minimum of 1% of its revenue, whichever is higher, into charities working towards fixing the food industry.
This pledge is embedded in the social enterprise’s governing documents, effectively making it a legally binding commitment. Since its launch in 2016, Toast has donated over £30,000 to charity.
“Our business was funded by a unique investment model called Equity For Good. In addition to accepting no dividends, investors sign a legally binding pledge to reinvest any net capital gains in social enterprises or social impact investment funds with a positive environmental focus, or to make a gift to a not-for-profit or registered charity. This ensures all value created by Toast will continue to do good.”
Reducing carbon emissions
By the end of 2019, Toast has brewed with over 1.8 million slices of surplus bread. Stacked up, that’s 1.2 times the height of Everest.
By adopting a circular economy approach, and replacing malt with the by-product of another industry, in 2019, the social enterprise reduced water use by 108.4 m3, the same as 6.5 years worth of daily showers, and cut land use by 7.5 hectares, the equivalent of 21 people fed on a typical UK diet for a year. It has thus avoided 11 tons of carbon emissions – akin to over 1.2 million smartphone charges.
“Changing the grain bill across the entire brewing industry would free up a huge amount of land that would otherwise be converted to agriculture, reducing emissions from deforestation. It would also massively reduce emissions from cultivating, processing and transporting the grain, and from the malting process.”
Fixing the food system amidst COVID-19 (and beyond)
In response to the reduced number of volunteer sign-ups and food donations because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the social enterprise introduced a Meal Deal initiative with its main charity partner Feedback Global. For every beer purchased, a meal is donated to an individual in need, and Toast has so far raised enough funds to distribute over 25,000 meals to vulnerable communities.
The reinvested profits from Toast also support Feedback’s campaigns to address critical food system issues, including the use of edible crop for energy production, or conservative date labels that lead to unnecessary food waste.
The charity pioneered the ugly fruit and vegetable campaign, and the Gleaning Network that would engage volunteers to rescue leftover crops from farms that were rejected by supermarkets because of their shape, size or color, or were grown in excess to meet changing purchasing forecasts.
Zero emissions by 2030
As part of the wider B Corp community, Toast has also pledged to achieve net zero emissions by 2030. In 2020, the social venture will focus on two key initiatives to make their operations more sustainable:
Firstly, by improving their brewing process, and extracting a larger amount of fermentable sugar from the surplus bread, they aim to reduce the ingredients they use which currently make up about one-fourth of their carbon footprint.
Secondly, they committed to switching to more sustainable packaging, including recycled or recyclable FSC-certified cardboxes for their bottle cases, and printed cans to eliminate the need to use labels.
They supply beer on tap in reusable steel kegs, use tap handles made from reclaimed wood from bowling alleys, and provide recyclable keg badges.
Top tips for aspiring social entrepreneurs
Ziane ends our interview with the customary top tips for social entrepreneurs:
- The usual rules of business apply, particularly having a great product (or service) that customers love. But social entrepreneurs need to be even more driven by their purpose, and to their unswerving commitment to people and planet, as well as profit.
- Be clear about that purpose and assess all key business decisions against it – it should filter through everything from your strategic priorities to individuals’ personal objectives. Combined with your company values, it will be your guiding light when risks present themselves (and you need to make difficult decisions), and when opportunities arise (because you can’t say yes to everything).
- Also, look after yourself. Social entrepreneurs can be particularly susceptible to burn-out due to the combined pressure to lead a commercially successful business and deliver social impact.