Louisa Ziane of Toast Ale

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Toast Ale is beer made from surplus bread. Up to 44% of bread is never eaten. Toast Ale work with bakeries and sandwich makers to prevent waste. In this episode, we speak with Louisa Ziane, Chief Brand Officer of Toast Ale.


  • Toast Ale’s superpower as campaigners in engaging people to reduce food waste
  • How Toast Ale supports staff, suppliers and customers to be more impactful
  • How being a BCorp have helped Toast
  • Citizens and consumers are driving businesses to be more sustainable
  • The biggest struggle of Toast Ale has been resources
  • Toast Ale’s experience of reward-based and equity crowdfunding campaigns
  • Importance of being clear with your purpose
  • How Louisa’s experience at the Carbon Trust helps in her current role
  • The issues around moving to organic hops


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[0:08] Will: Welcome back to the Green Element podcast where we feature business leaders and innovators transforming their operations to be more environmentally and socially sustainable. I’m your host, Will Richardson and I can’t wait to meet our guest today and help you on your journey of sustainability. Hi, Louissa, thank you very much for joining the Green Element podcast. So, you’re from Toast and you make ale out of bread. Is that a good way to describe what Toast do?

[0:38:Louisa: We do, yes, we have a social and environmental mission to change the world by bringing with surplus of fresh bread from bakeries in the sandwich industry, and also donating all of our profits to charities that are tackling the systemic issues in the food system.

[0:55] Will: Brilliant. And where did this come about from? Do you guys have a background in bread?

[1:02]Louisa: We don’t have a background in bread or beer, we’re environmentalists from the beginning. So, I found Tristram Stewart is a campaigner on the social and environmental issues in the food system. Myself, I was working at the Carbon Trust as a consultant working on climate change issues business for five years. And yeah, we set up Toast as a mission lead business, to use a really positive and engaging product to talk to people about some of the big challenges that we face and a potentially simple and fun solution to it. But we’ve learned a lot about bread and beer along the way.

[1:44] Will: I bet you have. What would you say your actual purpose was at Toast?

[1:51]Louisa: So, food production has the biggest impact that we have on the planet, it’s responsible for 80% of deforestation, for 70% of freshwater use, a third of the carbon emissions that contribute to climate change. And yet globally, we’re wasting a third of all the food that we produce, it’s a completely bonkers situation, we also have health issues as a result of not feeding the population properly from under nourishment to obesity. So, the food system itself is not set up well to feed people or to nourish the planet. By addressing one of those inefficiencies of the food system, namely food waste, we can make steps to fix the food system. So, using surplus bread, because bread is one of the most wasted household food items, it’s something most of us enjoy on a daily basis, our consumption of sandwiches in the UK is and all around the world is completely massive. And we also, as a population enjoy our beers as well. So, bringing those two together in a really fun way to address the problem. 

[3:08] Will: What would you say your business superpower was? 

[3:11]Louisa: Well, I think turning bread into beer is a bit of a power, isn’t it? Well, actually, I say that but the origins of bread making and beer making go hand in hand, they discovered recipes go back to Babylonian times of people brewing beer with surplus bread. It’s the fermentation of that bread that preserves the calories within it. And bread, it obviously has quite a short shelf life, whereas beer last for a long time. So, it isn’t as alchemic as we might like to say it is, it is a very natural process that we’ve been following for a long time. So, maybe your superpower is more around engaging in people in the challenge in a really fun way. 

[3:54] Will: Brilliant. Yeah, I didn’t actually realize that it was such an old fashioned method for brewing beer, I think I just assumed, I mean, it kind of makes sense, because you’ve got used, and it’s all the same ingredients, isn’t it? 

[4:06] Louisa: Well, yeah, it’s actually it’s not the yeast, it’s the carbohydrates. So, we replace a third of the barley that would otherwise be used to brew with this bread so we’re taking one form of sugars and converting those.

[4:20] Will: So, how do you engage your staff, suppliers and customers with your mission and purpose, then? 

[4:26]Louisa: Well, our employees, they are already I guess, coming to Toast as people that have quite a deep passion for the environment, given that we are such a mission, that’s business. The recruitment process itself involves us asking and finding out more about people’s personal drives and making sure that they’re a really good fit with us as a business. And then a lot of the stuff that we do internally is just very naturally fits with our ethos, because we are all driven in that sense. So, we’re very careful about you know, how we do business, how they are commuting, for example, is low impact a lot of the team cycle to work. And we have flexible working arrangements, so to minimize travel as a whole. And we give people time off so that they can support charities, that means something to them. So, people take two days a year, where they can use that time to support a charity, they also have an additional three days a year for personal development and that might be for them to spend time with, again with a charity or with a social cause that stretches them as individuals. 

[5:38]Louisa: On the supply side, we contract brew, so we work with a brewery up in Yorkshire called World Top who are an incredibly sustainable business, they source water from a borehole in the ground that comes fresh from the ground. And then at the end of the brewing process, the water that’s been used for cooling, and for cleaning goes back through reedbeds on the farm so the brewery used to be an old farm and back into the land. They have turbines the power of the brewery, and also the spent grain at the end of the process goes to a local farm to feed animals. So, they are already coming from a very environmentally responsible position and aligns with us as a business. And then our customers, you know, I think the very fact that people are choosing to buy Toast means that they are also aligned with what we’re trying to do, are often good at challenging us to do even better. For example, we’ve worked with the Green Vic, which is a pub in shortage of profit per poo, I’ve looked to make the most sustainable pub in the world through the supply chain and the way that they run the business. And right through to you know, our customers that are drinking the beer itself, many of those people that are maybe looking to just make some small changes in their lives, to have a more positive impact on the planet, but not sure what to do or not able to make significant changes so just by enjoying a beer, and they’re able to do something positive. And so, it’s reinforcing that message for them, communicating what it is that we’re doing, and how that feeds through to the impact that they are having by having a cheeky point.

[7:26] Will: Seems like quite a holistic approach to everything you do them because you’re incorporating all of your core values, and them all together and whether it is your customers, with anyone that you have contact with?

[7:40]Louisa: Yeah, I think so. And we’ll probably talk a little B Corp, I imagine, but B Corp has certainly helped us to think in a very holistic way. Because it does assess the businesses approach across a whole variety of stakeholders and the way that you do business, it isn’t just focused on one final impact that you have. And you know, we’ve challenged ourselves to be as good as we can be in each of those areas with, certainly with lots of room for improvement that we are working on. But it certainly helps us have that holistic view.

[8:15] Will: Yeah, that and with B Corp, have you found it’s helped you in the direction and helped you with what it is that you’re doing?

[8:25]Louisa: Yeah, definitely. So, the process, as I said, as itself is really helpful. The impact assessment at the beginning gives you a framework to assess the business, and to look across the way you interact and the way you are as an employer, and the way you interact with your employees, looking at your supply chain, your customers, your governance structure, and the impacts that you have on the environment. And that whole process provided us with a benchmark for how well we were doing compared to other businesses. And the great thing about B Corps is it’s such an open and welcoming community, that people are willing to share their knowledge and their experience with you so that you can develop and do better. I think ultimately, we all are running commercial businesses, but we all have this bigger mission that aligns us together and we are all, therefore supportive of each other. 

[9:22] Louisa: So, I’ve met with lots of other people from B Corps who have provided advice on business challenges that I have been having, equally, I’ve met with lots of people that are B Corps or even going down the B Corp route, to help them out with challenges. And we work together on joint projects like promotional activity, for example, on social media campaigns. I think being a small business cannot, sometimes feel quite well lonely, but also you feel quite exposed, because you’re a small group of people that don’t have all of the knowledge and deep expertise that you need to run a business. And so, your reliance on connections and people that are willing to help you out as a business. And I just found the B Corp community to create that sense of family, I’d say, of people that are there for you to help you out and make you feel like you’re, part of something bigger.

[10:23] Will: Yeah, I absolutely agree with that, I found exactly the same. With your background on sustainability, it’s been similar with that, hasn’t it? Because you had five years of college just beforehand and one thing that’s always surprised me over the 15 odd years, I’ve been doing sustainability for businesses, and that’s how open a competitor is to another competitor with regards to sustainability and how I can get two people to talk to each other because they’re all actually you’re trying to be more environmental. So, we, let’s talk about how we can be more environmental, and I want to learn from you and you can learn from me, kind of thing. And I wonder if because sustainability is such a big part of being a social purpose driven business, because it’s should be in its pure fabric of the business, because we’re thinking about the future and if that has poor roots, and what else are we talking about as a B Corp? 

[11:13]Louisa: Yeah, and I think you’re right, like the people themselves that are working in, like CSR functions, or working in sustainability businesses are ultimately working to this bigger picture. And so, or very collaborative, we’re sharing knowledge and experience and having to work together, I think that there is a genuine commercial challenge sometimes to collaborating. So, there were projects that I worked on at the Carbon Trust, where actually, it can be very difficult to get the data that you need from a supplier because it’s commercially sensitive information. And so, to do, for example, product footprint, sometimes we were having to use third party activity data based on the assumptions. So, I think when you spread throughout the wider business, if the business as a whole isn’t, like environmentally or socially mission driven, there are barriers that come up. But I often talking to people working in that sustainability function or in space that are breaking down these barriers. And I think the changes that we’ve seen in the last year that are driven by citizens and consumers, that forcing businesses to make sustainability less of an additional thought aside sort of more of something that should be core to the way that we do business, almost, you know, it should become a hygiene factor where we there are things that we shouldn’t be doing if it is going to have a negative impact on the business. I think that in those cases, the businesses, as a whole are starting to open up more to having to consider people and planet the same level of this profit.

[12:59] Will: Yeah, and I think we’re seeing that more and more with businesses as well, with the way that I guess extinction, rebellion has had a massive impact in our day to day living as humans. I mean, not we can only really see it in the UK but the search and interest in how to become more environmental has definitely become much more prevalent in the last 12 months. And I’ve ever seen it before, I’ve seen people talk, I remember back in 2008, 2009, people were interested in sustainability. And then it suddenly started waiting again, two or three years later, but I don’t think I don’t think it was the same as it was then as it is now. I think, I don’t know, there’s something different now.

[13:42] Louisa: Yeah, I think also there is that consumer pressure, that people are expecting more businesses and we have more means to call out our practices, namely, social media, particularly in the past year. So, with this have been a huge focus on plastics and single use packaging, that’s forced businesses to respond. And as one business responds to it, that then puts competitive pressure on other businesses to act. And so, you create this new acceptable benchmark, and then consumers expect more and expect more. So, I find, even for us, you know, we’re a very sustainable business, but we’re not perfect. And there’s always more that we can do, I find that we’re held to very high expectations about the sustainability of our impact, which is great, you know, but it just means that we need to put that pressure on to other organizations that are not doing as much as us and yeah, pushing organizations to continuously improve.

[14:49] Will: Yes, that’s supply chain, isn’t it? And ensuring your supply chain is as environmental as you? Because we’re seeing people like Unilever and those large organizations pushing that sustainability and social purpose driven model down through their supply chain, saying we will only work with people that have ISO 14,001, for example, because it’s an easy way to say right, you have to be green to be to have 14,001 

[15:17] Louisa: Yeah, I think the power of organizations to influence their supply chain is big, sometimes the supply chain is bigger than the customer, which obviously presents challenges. So, everybody has to be part of this, and I think that’s where that we as individuals can influence business as a whole. You know, if people just stop buying something that they deem in, that’s not sustainable, then that’s when the companies have to respond.

[15:47] Will: Absolutely. When it comes to running an ethical and sustainable business, what would you say has been your biggest struggle so far? And can you tell us a bit about how you’ve overcome it?

[15:57] Louisa: Oh, I would say, probably resources, both in terms of people and capacity, and financial resources. So, when we first set up Toast, reset Toast up as a fairly small project, I guess. And we were doing everything ourselves kind of wearing multiple hats in different roles, in order to be able to fulfill the various functions that you need to run as a business. And that puts pressure on individuals, I think, anyway, the fact that most of us are very mission driven, we’re also we hold ourselves to high expectations for the quality of the work that we’re doing. It, you do, therefore, have a tendency to work longer hours and work more intensively. And I think this is probably true of most startup environments, actually, but particularly mission driven ones. And you’re always wanting to do more and more and more. And at some point, you have to say we can’t do everything, we need to focus and prioritize. And to the point of the B Corp assessment where you know, your workers, your employees are a core part of your sustainability of you as a business, you also have to look after your people. And realistically, people can’t work it over 100% for very long, so something has to give in those situations. 

[17:32] Louisa: And I think we’ve, as a small business, been really guilty of pushing ourselves too much and pushing each other too much. And certainly, felt some pressure in the business over the past six to 12 months, as things have really ramped up for us. And we’ve not necessarily been able to match that with having enough funding to be able to recruit bigger and bigger teams. So, I’d say the lesson from that, for me was about focus and assessing whether everything that you were doing is mission critical, is what you’re putting your time into going to have an impact on your ultimate objective as a business and where it isn’t, then that’s where you have to be stricter with yourself and to be able to say no more often. It’s really difficult when great opportunities present themselves. And you know that, you know, it could be great for the business, and you know, but at the same time, you can’t do three projects that are all great for the business at the same time and do all of them well, something has to give. So, yeah, getting an unreal understanding of what your business objective is, what your strategy is to achieve that objective, how you prioritize your time in order to deliver against those objectives, and then having the ability to say no. And then I guess from a financial perspective, we have been really fortunate that we’ve been through two crowdfunding campaigns now but reward based ones, which means that you’re not giving away ownership of the business but you’re inviting people to be part of the story, in both cases, to be able to essentially pre order new product. 

[19:24] Louisa: So, the first crowdfunding we did was back in 2017, when we extended our range from one beer to three, and we’ve just completed a crowdfunding to extend the range from bottles into cans as well. But that’s a big financial outlay to do that first investment in, for example, the canning line, and to brew enough beer to have those beers to sell to people, including some of our biggest customers, like Tesco, and Waitrose. So, having crowdfund is putting money and be prepared to wait a couple of months while you use that money to brew and then get the products is really helpful. And we also did a equity based crowdfunding last year, to inject some real capital into the business that we called equity for good because we’d asked investors to make a pledge, that they’ll reinvest any net capital gains that they make into other social businesses, those with an environmental mission, so that the value that we grow in Toast as a business can continue to do good at a broader industry level. 

[20:33]Louisa: And having that capital of, you know, obviously, that helps us to expand the team, we moved from four people to where we are now at 12 people, and invested a little bit into work on our branding and our marketing campaigns, we’ve just launched a new look to the brand that was enabled, partly by some of that investment that we had last year. And we hope that these investments will have a step change in as a business and the success of the business. But they this all comes with the challenge of resource because it takes a lot more to raise capital, and to run a crowd funder then we might have naively expected when we entered into them. So, yeah, it’s been really helpful for the business, and there is finance out there, and there are ways to access it. But again, it comes with a lot of hard work to get it. So, being, having that focus and clear strategy for where you’re going and what you’re going to need the money for and how you’re going to spend it for maximum impact is really important.

[21:36] Will: So useful, I want every member of the team I work with, to listen to what you’ve just said, just totally resonates with me, totally resonates with me, and it is really hard. If you could offer one piece of advice to our listeners, which could help them with their purpose, what would that be?

[21:53] Louisa: I guess it depends on what your purpose is. And maybe that is the piece of advice, it’s about being really clear about your purpose and not necessarily feeling that you have to be perfect in every single way. There are businesses that, so if you look at the B Corps, for example, there are some that are very focused on a social mission, whereas others are very focused on an environmental mission. And even within those two broad categories, there’ll be some that are focused on say, the supply chain and fair trade in the supply chain, others that are focused on the product offering for consumers and helping consumers to be more sustainable in their lives. But you can’t do all of this, there are some businesses that can do more than one of those things but it’s, I think it’s being really clear about what your purpose is to, it will help you and you know what we’re talking about, about having that focus, you need to be really clear on what the purpose is, in order to be able to say yes and no to things, have a really consistent, external message as well. 

[23:05] Louisa: So, from my heart at the moment of brands and marketing, your purpose also, is about communicating externally, essentially, what you’re selling to people, what is it that people are buying into, when they engage with you as a brand, buy your beer. And yeah, just being really clear what that is, there’ll be some people that, for them, it doesn’t align with their own social beliefs. And so, you won’t be the right business, product, service, etc, for them, and others who will get you 100%, and will be amazing, loyal advocates of your business and your brands. But you, the first step is about communicating really clearly what that is, equally with your employees, being really clear, this is where, what we’re all aiming to do together, this is the direction we’re going and this is what we’re hoping to achieve. Some people will love that, and they will come in on that journey with you with passion and enthusiasm and put everything into it. And for others, it just won’t be right and then, you know, they may decide that it’s not the right fit for them as an employer but having that purpose defined is a really important first step.

[24:18] Will: Do you think that your experiences Carbon Trust has helped you with the reducing of your environmental impact and cover printing for your business?

[24:28] Louisa: Yes, definitely. So, I was doing a lot of work on carbon foot-printing of businesses and products, I was also working on the policies, both from an external perspective, and also in turn sort of change management from for employees and a lot of the experience from working with various different clients and my time as a consultant also was really helpful. The specific technical aspects of the role for carbon footprint, for example, have been recently very useful. We just completed a study with Advanced London, who are part of the London waste and recycling board, they completed a hotspot analysis by business which looks across your entire business and identifies areas where your impact could be significantly improved. And we focused then into one of those areas, which was packaging, both for the product and the outer packaging for the cases. So, we looked at glass bottles and compare those two aluminum cans. And they ran the study for us, they collected the data, they ran the analysis, but being able to interpret that and then make decisions for us as a business was really important, and to weigh up sometimes quite conflicting arguments for one option over the other. 

[26:01] Louisa: So, for example, out of cases for bottles are a cardboard tray that is shrink wrapped with plastic that keeps the glass bottles tight together, prevents them from breaking. And we’re planning to move to whole cardboard boxes, with also dividers between the bottles to prevent breakage. When we looked at the carbon footprint of those two options, the cardboard box had a carbon footprint there was three times higher than the plastic alternative. And so, we’ve delayed making that change while we look for a better option. We’ve also obviously moved to cans in the meantime that don’t have the problem of breakage. And so, we can use cardboard boxes that are much thinner and lighter for those cans. But intuitively, you may feel that we need to move away from plastic and actually in that case, it wasn’t the right decision from an environmental perspective for us as a business. 

[27:02] Will: For sure. I think every situation has its own merits and you’ve got to stop, you’ve got to look at every situation differently. Plastics are also different as well, there’s so many different types of plastic, with so many different types of recyclable factors involved within those plastics as well. It isn’t a blanket.

[27:22] Louisa: No, right, no, not at all. And, you know, even we move to using fetch ware cups for some of our tasting cups when we were acting sampling, and then subsequently understood more about the challenges food waste treatment of those that type of plastic, biodegradable, but it needs to be in exactly, it needs to be separated. And industrially composted, because it requires heat to break down. It doesn’t work in household composting, and if it goes into plastic recycling, then it can grow, it’s the plastic recycling, so there’s all of these other factors to weigh up in making any decision. 

[28:07] Will: Yeah, no, I think that whole thing is quite controversial, anyway.

[28:13] Louisa: Yeah. I mean, I think it’s great move, that we should be going in that direction, but we just have to make sure that the system as a whole is setup to better dominate you need your proper collection of the waist and proper training. We just don’t have that at the moment in the UK. 

[28:30] Will: What would you say your biggest challenge or frustration was, goals reducing environmental impact? 

[28:35] Louisa: I would say it’s the fact that we contract brews, so we essentially outsource the production process. We are very selective in who we choose to work with and that selection process is more important because we don’t necessarily have the control, we certainly have the influence and we can request more of these discuss changes that we would love to see in the process but we don’t have the ultimate control to make those changes. So, for example, looking at water efficiency with our brew partner, we rely on them to measure that and to find ways to be much more efficient with the use of water and water being one of the biggest impacts of brewing because we use so much water. It’s at least four pints of water, four pints of beer that can go up to 10 times the amount of water for a pint of beer. Yeah, so the water is a really important factor to consider but there’s, because the brewery isn’t, it isn’t our brew, we have limited control over what can happen in the brewery is does the best obviously. Because anyway, the partner that we work with, is very driven to to be as efficient as possible. But yeah, it’s I guess it’s, you know, it’s that element of relying on a third party for such a big impact for our business, that can be a little bit frustrating. 

[30:07] Will: Yeah, I can imagine, if you got any advice or learning that you’d like to share with anyone listening to this podcast? 

[30:13] Louisa: We touched on it earlier but this idea of never being able to be perfect, I think it’s really important that we’re honest about what we can do and what we can’t do. And, you know, invite people to challenge and that requires us to be transparent about the reality of what we’re doing and some of the challenges that we’re facing. And also, to respond to some of those challenges, in a just a very honest way. Sometimes, there are restrictions to what we can do because of the financial issues. So, for example, we looked at moving to organic hops, but the hop varieties that we use are not grown in the UK, and one of the hop varieties that we could use too, could move to, was going to be 10 times more expensive. So, a change of product plus financial impact, that wouldn’t make sense to us as a business. And the answer might be that, although it doesn’t seem logically the most sustainable response, we’ve assessed the options, and for us, it’s what we feel is the best solution. So, we talked about the plastic versus cardboard issue. We also use malt, so malted barley is, the malt the barley is grown at the brewery, the brewery used to be an old barley farm, it then travels about 20 miles up the road, where it’s melted and then travels 20 miles back to be used to make this or has a tiny, tiny footprints. It’s not organic barley, and we looked into whether we should move to organic barley. 

[31:54] Louisa: But actually, the process for moving to organic is really complicated, it would require the land be left hollow for three years. And anyway, the brewery is using very environmentally respectful farming practices with the barley, it just wouldn’t make sense for us to change to a barley that is traveling along distance, instead of using this, like micro locally grown ingredients. And the financial impact of that wasn’t as great. And so we had way to up. But I guess the bigger issue for us is, we’re tackling food waste by using surplus bread and we wouldn’t specify that the brand had to be organic so we would never be an organic brewery in that sense. There are organic beers that we brewed to, for example, to collaboration brews, with Strauss brewery, who are a B Corp and an organic brewery. But for us, it just doesn’t make sense for our purpose, which is about food waste. So, dressing bread, and then also working with the local community doing stuff as locally and sustainably as possible. But yeah, I just say, you know, be transparent about what you’re doing and then be honest in your response.

[33:10] Will: And I think you’ve answered it in a way of just think about what is the are doing and, just think about it and that’s really as good as, isn’t it? I mean, everything that you’ve just said is, think about what you’re doing. Think about the plastic and the cardboard, don’t just rush into something, just go and work it out. And don’t be worried about going actually, we’re not going to go down that route. Because that may not get fundamental, because you’ve thought about it. Yeah, that I’ve taken away the most from that is the fact that you are properly assessing and evaluating every single situation that arises. 

[33:46] Louisa: Right, exactly.

[33:48] Will: What’s the best way that we can learn and connect with you? Because all the things will be on the website as well? 

[33:54] Louisa: Yeah. So, I’m on Instagram and Twitter at Lou_zed, or contact the team at Toast on Hello at toastelle.com and our website, toastelle.com.

[34:09] Will: Brilliant. Thank you so much. 

[34:14] Louisa: Thank you very much for having me.

[34:18] Will: Thank you so much for listening to the end of this episode of the Green Element podcast. Do take a moment and share this with your friends and colleagues, rate and review the podcast wherever you get your podcasts. I’d love to know what has been your biggest takeaway from this conversation, what are you going to do differently? Please share your thoughts across social media and tag us so we can see them to at GE_podcast. For links and show notes for this episode, visit our website greenelement.co.uk/podcast. Thank you again. I hope you will join me on the next episode and together we can help create a better world.

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