With the sustained push for the recycling of all our household waste, food surplus should (hopefully) constantly be on the minds of consumers, both in their own homes and when they are out enjoying a meal. But perhaps one area that gets forgotten about is food production. Perhaps the phrase ‘out of sight, out of mind’ comes into play here, with the methods behind the foodservice industry remaining a mystery to those not directly working within it.
So when entrepreneur and food waste campaigner Tristram Stuart first tasted a bread-based beer produced by the Brussels Beer Project, there was a light-bulb moment and an opportunity to raise awareness of the production problems.
Louisa Ziane, chief brand and finance officer for Toast Ale, explains how Toast Ale is striving to revolutionise modern food production.
So you launched Toast Ale in January 2016, but what were the factors behind the creation of the beer?
“Through his investigatory work Tristram knew that huge amounts of bread were wasted. Some 44% of all bread that is produced in the UK ends up being wasted, from bakeries and sandwich makers, through to people wasting it in their own homes.
“Bread is produced in big quantities and only has a short shelf life, so there is inevitably going to be waste. Shops don’t want to have empty bread shelves, so there is also a tendency to over-produce.
“Often when people think of food waste, they think of the end result, the landfill problem and the implications of that, but food production has one of the biggest impacts on the planet. Some 80% of deforestation, 70% of fresh-water use and 30% of all carbon emissions are down to food
production, yet at a global level we are wasting a third of it unnecessarily.”
How does the charity work?
“Tristram has a global network of people working on food sustainability issues, and he actually founded a charity called Feedback, which campaigns against food waste at that systemic level.
“So it looks at government policies and the policies of the big supermarkets and then raises the awareness of consumers. Toast Ale
created a brilliant opportunity for a product that people could get behind because it’s a really nice beer that you can enjoy drinking, but at the same time you’re doing something for a really good cause by stopping the wastage of bread.
“All profits go to the Feedback charity, so you are contributing to changing the systemic reasons behind food wastage in the first place.”
So how has the product grown?
“Firstly, it’s a good way of getting people behind an issue without being too preachy about it. It’s an opportunity to celebrate the food we’ve got.
“Jamie Oliver was really into the idea and so filmed our first brew with us, and we were featured on his Friday Night Feasts Show in 2016. That has been repeated a few times since and it is amazing the impact it has, with huge spikes in people’s interest and views on our website every time it is on.
“In March 2017, we launched a crowdfunding campaign. We had started with one beer, a pale ale, and we really wanted to expand that range to help us grow a bit more, and to be taken a bit more seriously as a beer company. We know that if we don’t have a good product people aren’t going to drink it.
“We hit 140% of our target and were able to create two new styles, a craft lager and an IPA, and we launched those in the summer.
“Tesco and Waitrose are now stocking the products, as well as a number of big retailers such as Selfridges and Wholefoods, as well as independent bottle shops and cafes.”
We saw you at the Ageon Championships at Queen’s Club – are you targeting SLC venues?
“Queen’s was our first big event and it was an amazing experience for us – we were constantly pinching ourselves.
“We would love to talk to more hospitality events and anywhere we can get the beer in front of large numbers of people. But it’s not just about selling the beer, it’s about telling the story and getting that message in front of people.”
How do you make the product?
“We work with sandwich maker Adelie Foods. They supply hospitality venues and some retail. They are absolutely amazing and have tried to do lots of stuff using their surplus.
“We use the heel end of a loaf that’s not used by sandwich makers. So when you buy pre-made sandwiches at lunchtime, they are never made with the crust end of the loaf, so that’s the bit we use.”
Where is the beer brewed?
“We contract brew. So at the moment we are brewing with Wold Top in Yorkshire. That means we haven’t had to have big capital to buy equipment and we can be quite flexible in terms of how much we brew and when we need to do it.
“There are more than 2,000 breweries now in the UK, and most of them have spare capacity at various points, so there is occasionally a waste of space and skill, so we are trying to use that as well.
“Wold Top is one of the most sustainable breweries in the UK. It produces all energy on-site from two wind turbines, and the water for the brew comes from a borehole on-site, too. Much of the barley is from its own farm, while the rest comes from local farms, while spent grain goes to animal feed. It makes for a brilliant partnership.”
So what is next?
“Well, at the moment we are brewing two or three times a month, and on that day Adelie segregate the crusts and deliver it to our brewery as part of their run to take the sandwiches out to their customers. They donate the bread for free, which is amazing.
“But that’s just three days in a month, so multiply that by the rest of the days and that’s a huge amount of bread just from that one source, still being wasted. So there is much more still to be done.”