When it comes to food waste, there’s one culprit almost all of us throw away at least a portion of: bread. Maybe it starts sprouting mold or gets rock-hard. Or maybe you just don’t like eating the heels.
In the U.K., at least 24 million slices of bread are thrown away per day, making it Britain’s most wasted food. This can happen anywhere along the food system, from post-harvest cereal losses to bakery waste to you tossing out that stale baguette half.
Toast Ale is trying to divert some of that bread waste from the trash by giving it another life — as beer. The British company was founded in 2016 after social entrepreneur and Toast founder Tristram Stewart happened upon a brewery in Brussels that served a beer made with bread, just like original brewers used to make it 7,000 years ago.
“It was a lightbulb moment,” said Karen Kuhn, Head of Business Development for Toast Ale USA. “He realized we could divert a lot of bread from landfills, and at the same time start a conversation about food waste.” So Stewart developed a recipe and partnered with Hackney Brewery in London to make Toast’s first beer, in which one-third of the grain was replaced with surplus bread from local bakeries. According to Kuhn, bakeries (at least in the U.S.) have to pay to have their excess bread composted, so having a channel to get rid of their old bread for free — and have it go towards a cool finished product — is a no-brainer.
Since 2016, Toast has grown throughout the U.K. and now sells their brews in British grocery chains Tesco, Waitrose, and others. They donate 100 percent of their profits (after they pay the staff and keep the lights on) to Stewart’s nonprofit, FeedBack Global.
Toast’s ales, lagers, and IPAs retail for the same price as craft beer. While I haven’t had a chance to sample Toast yet (though I will when I head to London after SKS Europe!), they apparently aren’t missing anything when it comes to taste. Toast Ale took home a silver medal at the 2018 New York International Beer Competition and currently has a “Very Good” rating on Beer Advocate.
In July 2017, Toast came Stateside and started producing their beer at a brewery in the Bronx, using surplus loaves from Bread Alone Bakery in Kingston, N.Y. Kuhn made it very clear that Toast only takes the bread that remains after bakeries donate to soup kitchens. “We never take bread from the human food supply,” she said.
A few months after their move to the U.S., Toast Ale released their brews exclusively with Whole Foods in New York City. Since then, they’ve been steadily expanding. In February of this year, they made it onto the menu of Shake Shack’s NYC locations, and recently also rolled out in shops in New York’s Hudson Valley. Kuhn promised the company would be entering more areas in the Northeast before the end of the year, with plans for a presence throughout the U.S. by 2019.
Though the U.S. branch is the only proper subsidiary company, Toast Ales also has a global licensing model which allows breweries around the world to license their brand and recipe so that they can also turn excess bread into beer. Right now, their ales and lagers are being brewed in Rejkavik, Rio de Janiero, and South Africa. They also do collaborations with breweries, bakeries, and other companies, including Eataly, Google, and Five Boroughs Brewing Company. If you’re a homebrewer (maybe you have a PicoBrew?) and have a few slices of bread lying around, you can even try your hand at the Toast recipe yourself.
Toast Ales has roughly 20 people on staff, most of whom work in the U.K.. Kuhn said that Toast just closed a round of funding using a model called “equity for good,” in which investors get back their initial investment and commit on reinvesting it in other social enterprises. While Kuhn didn’t disclose how much they raised, she said that Toast would use it to fund their expansion both in the U.K. and U.S..
“We’re hoping to take beer and use it as a way to start a conversation [about food waste] by printing our story on our can, sharing facts, and introducing an interesting concept that people aren’t familiar with,” said Kuhn. I’ll cheers to that.