Turning bread into beer sounds like a miracle, right? That’s exactly what Toast Ale does as part of its mission to combat food waste in the UK.
According to the latest statistics, around 44% of bread produced in the UK is never eaten. We waste almost 24 million slices every day.
Toast – led by quirky-titled Chief Toaster Rob Wilson – is one of the businesses trying to cut those figures.
Working with a sustainable brewery in Yorkshire, Toast brews beer with surplus bread from bakeries and sandwich makers that would otherwise be wasted. So far, the business has saved more than one million slices from the bin and gives all of its profits away to charity.
Rob, 35, got the sustainability bug during his gap year, where he founded Read International – a social enterprise helping people to read in Tanzania. His stint in Africa turned out to be a lot longer than a gap year, staying for about five years.
After getting married in 2010, he and wife Nikki co-wrote a book, On the up, on their ‘megamoon’ while travelling throughout Africa. The collection of short stories explores entrepreneurial solutions to social and environmental challenges across Africa.
Most stories featured Ashoka – an organisation supporting the world's leading social entrepreneurs and empowering everyone to be changemakers – and after working closely with them, Rob ended up as ‘entrepreneur in residence’ there. It was there where he met award-winning author and campaigner Tristram Stuart who had the amazing idea to turn bread into beer – and that’s where Rob’s Toast story started.
Rob said: “We want to be part of a movement that becomes mainstream. We don’t want to be niche.
“Consumers are really looking for products with a purpose, with quality, at the right price point Hopefully the business community will catch up, but it’s difficult for multinationals. Big companies will find it a challenge as authenticity is key. It’s hard to fake.”
Giving every penny of profit away to charity might be a hard sell for many investors, but Rob says his backers are fully on board.
“We are an authentic business,” he said.” All of our stakeholders – the people who work for us, our investors, our suppliers, our customers are invested in our business.
“We created something called ‘Equity for Good’, which took some of our investors a little bit of time to get their heads around. This means that if our investors want to sell up, they take that money and reinvest it in another mission-driven business, fund or cause. They can still make money, but in something that isn’t going to tear down the Amazon or something similar. If we didn’t ringfence this investment, there is a risk that our nett impact would be negative, and we might as well not have started Toast at all.
“One of our bigger challenges has been internal. We want to ensure we build the same internal culture and values as we portray externally. We haven’t always gotten this right. As a mission-driven business, we attract people and talent easily. They are motivated by the impact and purpose of the organisation.
“But it makes for an unusual challenge. We could risk burnout as people want to work all the hours. We’ve needed to work quite hard at getting the balance right, especially as we’ve grown so quickly.
"We don’t want to be treated differently than other businesses, but we do have some quirky elements. We need to look after people just like any business.”
Rob spoke at our MeetUp event around leading a start-up with purpose. You can hear more from inspirational founders like Rob at our regular events.