The craft beer brewing up food waste solutions

1 million slices of bread saved – and counting

Craft beer company Toast Ale recently passed a significant milestone: using its millionth slice of surplus bread in its beer brewing process. The next goal is to exceed one billion slices. To achieve that, a radical new approach is needed.

Founded in 2015, Toast Ale set about brewing beer using surplus bread that would otherwise be thrown away and donating the profits to a charity dedicated to tackling food waste. This is part of its overall goal of changing the world by, in the words of founder Tristram Stuart, “throwing a better party than those destroying it.”

Fresh from winning the Highly Commended award at Rabobank’s FoodBytes! pitch competition in San Francisco, Toast Ale’s Rob Wilson reveals plans to shake up the beer industry.

Aside from FoodBytes!, what have been the recent highlights for Toast Ale?

We just launched a new beer brewed using surplus bread with Stroud Brewery. It’s called Flour Power and all the profits go to charity Friends of the Earth. We also just launched in Ireland, working with a Dublin-based brewery Rascals and selling our beer exclusively in Dunnes stores. But probably the biggest highlight – and a huge milestone for us – was brewing with the millionth slice of surplus bread. Putting food to good use that would otherwise go to waste is what drives us and it’s encouraging that, because we’re growing so fast, we’ll be brewing with another million slices soon.

What’s next on the agenda?

Alongside getting more of our beer into stores, restaurants and bars, a really exciting thing we’re planning is an idea we’re calling ToastX. That’s an initiative to amplify and accelerate what we want to achieve, ramping up from one million slices of surplus bread to a billion. ToastX is about reaching out to thousands of breweries all around the world to encourage them to follow our founding principles: brewing delicious beers using surplus bread, spreading the word about the issue of food waste and donating profits to local environmental charities.

“We want to go from a million slices of surplus bread to a billion” –

- Rob Wilson, Toast Ale

What are your aims for ToastX?

It’s really about having as much positive impact as possible. Our vision is that we’ll be able to walk into any brewery taproom around the world and see a beer available that’s been brewed with surplus bread. Local brewers and bakers existed as part of the circular economy before that even became a thing, so we’re trying to return to the origins in a really delicious way.

How will you achieve those ambitious goals?

A lot of it comes down to the economics. It’s about ensuring brewers understand reducing waste is not just good in terms of doing the right thing, it’s also financially sound. If you use surplus bread to replace up to 30 percent of the grain bill, you’ll save money and still brew delicious beer. One of the more encouraging things I’ve seen recently is Carlsberg changing its recipe. They’ve been honest and admitted the influence craft beer has on them. That makes me hopeful we may one day be able to encourage them and other multinational brewers to use surplus bread in their brews. And that’s key to us achieving the scale of impact we want to have.

Chief brewer, Rob Wilson: “Brewers and bakers existed as part of the circular economy before that even became a thing.”

Where are your beers brewed currently?

We now brew in Dublin, New York, Reykjavik, Cape Town and Rio de Janeiro. Here in the UK, we brew at Wold Top in Yorkshire. It’s a fantastic, family-owned brewery and one of the most sustainable in the country. All the water comes from an on-site borehole, the water used for cleaning is filtered naturally through reed beds, the malted barley comes from the surrounding farmland, the spent grain feeds animals on local farms and the power comes from an on-site wind farm. It’s really important for us to find sustainable partners that are true to our principles or at least aspire to them.

What are the main challenges you’ve faced?

One of the big challenges has been finding the right way to increase our impact globally that fits in with our environmental principles. Typically a brewery would grow by exporting, but we’ve avoided that to keep our environmental footprint down. Instead, we’ve built local partnerships with international breweries and, each time, we’ve had to adopt a slightly different model. Another obvious challenge for any start-up is how to grow sustainably, something we need to do if we’re to achieve our desired impact. One of the really useful results of our FoodBytes! success has been the advice we’ve received from Rabobank and the people they have introduced us to who may be able to help.

Global startups wanted!

FoodBytes! is a Rabobank initiative connecting agrifood start-ups with industry leaders and investors. Applications for the second London edition of FoodBytes! are open now. Learn more and apply today here.