The United Kingdom-based Toast Ale is brewing beer from leftover bread and is using its profits to fund the nonprofit Feedback. The company, launched in 2015, expanded to the United States by launching in New York City in July 2017. In NYC, Toast Ale is also available for delivery in as little as an hour via FoodKick.
“To change the world, you have to throw a better party than those destroying it,” Toast Ale’s mission statement reads. Every year, 1.3 billion tonnes of food, valued at more than US$1 trillion, is lost or wasted. Up to 40 percent of food in the United States ends up in landfills and bread is one of the top avoidable food wastes. Toast Ale is converting that waste to beers and partnering with local breweries to expand their movement at the grassroots level.
Food Tank had the opportunity to discuss food waste with Madi Holtzman, the United States Director of Toast Ale.
Food Tank (FT): Your company takes bread, more than 40 percent of which ends up as waste, and converts it to beer. What was the original inspiration, and how successful have you been at tackling this waste?
Madi Holtzman (MH): Toast’s founder and food waste activist Tristram Stuart was originally inspired to turn surplus bread into beer while having a pint of Brussel Beer Project’s Babylone beer—so named because beer was originally invented in Ancient Mesopotamia as a way of preserving the valuable nutrients in bread. Tristram had a lightbulb moment—having worked in the food waste space for over 15 years, he knew that surplus bread is the one item that leaves food recovery groups and feeding programs scratching their heads—there is so much surplus bread in the world that these groups have to turn it away as they do not have the capacity to redistribute all the bread that is available to them. At that moment, Tristram decided that a beer company could be a highly scalable solution to surplus bread, and that the profits from the beer could be used the fuel the work of nonprofits tackling the root causes of food waste. In less than 2 years, Toast Ale in London has saved over 13,000 pounds of bread from landfill, and Toast Ale in the United States, which has just launched in New York City, has already saved almost 1,500 pounds with their first batches.
FT: What do you do with your fermentation waste?
MH: Toast Ale works with breweries who send spent grain from the brewing process to livestock farms to serve as animal feed.
FT: 100 percent of Toast Ale’s profits go to Feedback, an environmental organization campaigning to end food waste in our food system. What are some of the accomplishments of Feedback?
MH: Feedback is tackling food waste at multiple levels, namely:
a) Galvanizing public action and movement building. Feedback has now organized its flagship campaigning event, Feeding the 5000, across the globe. With support from the Rockefeller Foundation in 2016, Feeding the 5000 took place in six cities around the United States. At each event, Feedback serves up a delicious communal feast for 5,000 people made entirely out of food that would otherwise have been wasted. In doing so, they bring together a coalition of organizations that offer the solutions to food waste, help raise the issue up the political agenda, and inspire new local initiatives and movements.
b) Influencing policy. Feedback was instrumental in persuading Tesco to become the world’s first retailer to commit to publicly reporting their audited food waste data. In 2016, Sainsbury’s released its United Kingdom-wide in-store food waste data for the first time, coinciding with an Evening Standard investigation that Feedback was a part of.
Following media coverage of our Feeding the 5000 events in the United States and a large-scale petition, two major retail associations, the Food Marketing Institute and Grocery Manufacturers Association, produced date label guidance to prevent excess consumer waste due to confusion caused by unclear date labels.
c) Supply chain research. Feedback has been working to investigate supply chain waste in Africa and Latin America caused by Western supermarkets. With support from the Rockefeller Foundation, Feedback has produced a large report on food waste in international supply chains.
FT: Food waste is gaining more attention with time. Do you think it is a problem we can solve on a global scale? Are there other food wastes that Toast Ale and/or Feedback is thinking to help eliminate?
MH: Because of its massive social and environmental repercussions, food waste is a problem we must solve on a global scale. Doing so will require a combination of grassroots efforts, shifts in policy and consumer expectations, more transparent supply chains, and collaboration among these coalitions. Food waste occurs at every level of the supply chain so fixing it at the global level will require shifts in behavior from the household to the farm level. Feedback is committed to ending every type of food waste, and Toast plans to incorporate other sources of surplus food, particularly surplus fruit, into future beer recipes.
FT: Your company’s Chief Toaster, Rob Wilson, has said, “we hope, before too long, we can put ourselves out of business.” You are trying your best to accomplish this through community outreach and collaborations. Can you talk about this outreach and the rev-ale-ution?
MH: Toast is committed to tackling bread surplus from the household to the industrial bakery level. We have thus open-sourced our homebrew recipe to encourage folks to join the rev-ale-ution by using their bread slices that normally go to waste or even finding a local bakery to source from. We are also working on collaboration brews with favorite local breweries to reach new audiences with our story and hopefully galvanize a movement towards using surplus bread as a partial substitute for the virgin malted grain that takes so much land, fuel, and labor to grow. We encourage breweries who are keen to join the rev-ale-ution to contact us so we can collaborate and maximize impact.
FT: Toast Ale is now available at Whole Foods in New York City. Why did you choose to work with Whole Foods? Do you have plans for further expansion outside the United Kingdom?
MH: Toast launched in Whole Foods in New York City in July, 2017, because Whole Foods is the largest single purchaser of beer in the city. Whole Foods has been a strong supporter of our mission and even donated surplus bread from their store bakeries for our first official brew. We wanted to make a splash with our United States launch as we are eager to save as much bread, brew as much delicious beer, and ultimately raise as much money as possible for our sister charity Feedback. We absolutely have plans to expand further outside the United Kingdom—Toast is just launching in South Africa, and there are also plans in the works in Iceland and few other countries—we have big dreams for Toast to become the global bread surplus solution with local, grassroots implementation. In the United States, we plan to work with other local food waste groups and nonprofits to expand quickly with regional production and distribution to remain true to our core environmental values.