Toast Ale's Chief Toaster, Rob Wilson, explains the firm's unusual circular supply chain and its sustainable practices.
If beauty is in the eye of the beer-holder, as they say, then the real beauty when you drink a Toast Ale is that one of its key ingredients is surplus bread. Toast uses slices that large commercial sandwich makers and supermarkets would otherwise throw away to make its ales and forthcoming lagers and IPAs.
44 per cent of all bread baked in the UK is never consumed. That's 900,000 tonnes of bread every year – around 24 million slices every day. In terms of calories, that's enough to lift over 26 million people out of hunger. Connecting bread waste with beer is a way of raising awareness of the situation. "I think it is the most pressing issue of today," says Toast Ales' Chief Toaster Rob Wilson. "And if you want to change the world, you have to throw a better party than the people trying to destroy it." For Toast, clearly there is no better way to get a party started "than with a really good beer". But it's about more than just offering a great beer. The spent grain from Toast brewing, for example, is passed on to local farms for animal feed. "We try to ensure we have a truly circular solution, where we eliminate waste every step of the way," explains Wilson. With plans for other by-products including cereal bars and even a bread whisky, leftovers are clearly not an option.
The brewing process at the heart of it all sees surplus bread soaked in water to release the sugars, which are then fermented and turned into alcohol. This replaces up to 40 per cent of the malt that would otherwise be needed in brewing. "It is a really straightforward supplement, using a resource which would otherwise go to waste," comments Wilson. Toast's business concept of great beer, sustainable production and food waste awareness is rounded off by the donation of all of its profits to food waste charity, Feedback.
In sourcing its bread, Toast started small with artisanal bakeries. Now, though, it has begun working with corporates including commercial sandwich manufacturer Adelie Foods. Wilson is happy to do so, explaining that these businesses provide the scale of 'raw materials' (free and delivered to the brewery door) Toast needs to grow as a business, ultimately enabling the company to start making a conspicuous difference.
The current heightened commercial and consumer awareness of sustainability issues makes now a great time for ethical startups and small businesses looking to be more sustainable, says Wilson. With resources like crowdfunding, which Toast is using to fund product development, startups and small businesses can market-test ideas before they risk too much. "People will vote with their wallets and those that do come on board will be your most loyal supporters," Wilson notes. It is, he adds, an exciting time to enter the market. "The beer market is booming. But what's more motivating is finding interesting solutions around food waste; that's where we really need a boom to happen."