Everyday huge volumes of unsold supermarket food go to waste. That’s why a baker, a brewer, a chef and an innovator are collaborating to rescue as much as possible and turn it into something new and tasty.
Beer is a simple product – there isn’t a whole lot you can do to improve its core appeal. Of course there are many flavours and brands, but when it comes down to it, as long as it’s cold and as long as it’s fizzy, it is an immensely satisfying beverage.
So what if you knew that by drinking a beer you were not only quenching your thirst but also helping reduce the startling stream of food waste in New Zealand? Would it not make the whole experience so much more transcendent?
That’s the idea behind Citizen Collective: an Auckland-based venture that rescues waste food and reworks it into new edible (and drinkable) products, thereby titillating your taste buds and your sense of social responsibility.
Launched in October last year, Citizen Collective has for the past few months been taking unsold supermarket bread destined for the pigpen and turning it into beer, and using the mash from the beer-brewing process and turning it into bread.
With 280 loaves of bread saved for every batch of beer brewed, it’s an effective method of reincarnating the most wasted product in New Zealand. But as co-founder and co-director Donald Shepherd says, it was the by-product of beer that planted the seed for the project late last year.
“The inspiration came from seeing beer brewing,” says Shepherd, who manages the collective’s marketing and sustainability.
“The bread-to-beer bit isn’t unique and new, even here in New Zealand. But we know that there is also, through research in the US, a really beautiful, nutritionally high set of resources at the end of the beer-brewing process and no one was really doing anything with that.”
It all started at Sawmill Brewery in Matakana, north of Auckland. There, Shepherd and Sawmill’s managing director Mike Sutherland began to ponder ways to reuse the spent grain left at the end of every brew. They took their musings to Callaghan Innovation, which then paired them up with food innovation facility FoodBowl. After learning how to press, dry and mill the spent grain into flour, they approached chef and restaurateur Ben Bayly (formerly The Grove and Baduzzi, soon to open Ahi in Commercial Bay) and Wild Wheat bakery’s Andrew Fearnside for ideas. The two got to work experimenting, and Citizen Collective – along with a new spent grain sourdough – was created.
“We found people who were passionate about reducing waste and actually pretty good at their job so hence the Mike, to Ben, to Andrew sort of loop started,” Shepherd says.
“Andrew loves bread and bread making. I was handing him beer and he was giving me back bread and that’s how we started it. We’ve replaced 15% of the flour with multi spent grain so it gives it a really lovely caramel taste, it’s nutritionally high, and it’s pretty darn good.”
Around the same time the collective was working with the spent grain, they figured they could begin to partially close the product cycle loop by sourcing a supply of waste bread to replace virgin ingredients in the beer-brewing process. They approached Goodman Fielder and Foodstuffs with their idea and were given access to a supply of fresh yet unsold bread.
“We were originally collecting from individual supermarkets, but the way the bread system works, Goodman Fielder will collect the bread that’s close to [best before] date and doesn’t get sold, so we tap into the stream that’s all ending up as animal feed,” Shepherd says.
Once the bread is collected at FoodBowl, it is dried and turned into croutons, then taken to Sawmill Brewery, where it replaces 25% of the virgin malt barley that would normally be used in the standard brewing process. Shepherd says the method, along with Sawmill’s B Corp brewing certification, means less water, land and energy are being used and fewer emissions are being created.
“We’re doing work with [sustainable business network] ThinkStep to figure out an end-to-end carbon process. We’re asking: what is that carbon footprint of our saved barley and that production process in the beer and what is the carbon footprint with the saved wheat in the bread? We’re tracking and tracing everything we do to become carbon neutral by 2022.”
Citizen Collective’s pale ale and pilsner are now on tap at several bars across Auckland while the beers and the spent grain bread are available to buy at Auckland’s Farro Fresh stores. Shepherd says the novelty of both products made them immediately popular during in-store tastings.
“The reception has been great. People are surprised because they get the simplicity of it; bread into beer into bread. They understand it and see it as a positive, and get the concept of reducing food waste in this manner.
“And once you try it, it’s just a tasty beer, and it’s got a good story behind it. We’ve sold through about five months of stock in about two weeks through Farro, so it’s gone really well.”
Serendipitously, the rescued bread from supermarkets is about to reappear on the same shelves in beer form after Foodstuffs confirmed in July it will be stocking the range in New World, Fore Square, Pak’nSave and Liquor Land stores.
“If we can get that firing, we’ll be doing three to four 5,000-litre brews every month,” Shepherd says.
In the meantime, Citizen Collective has begun to turn its sights to other waste foods, with chief food innovator Ben Bayly conducting the experiments. The idea is that there is a rich stream of unsold vegetables that can also be dried and milled to flour and then baked into different bread flavours and products.
“Ben’s doing beautiful, different flavoured bread; we’re just trialling rescued mushrooms. The two big New Zealand mushroom growers have basically got broken mushrooms that they can’t sell, so we collect them and dry them and he’s trial-baking to turn that into a lovely sourdough.”
With such high volumes of New Zealand’s food production unable to reach supermarket shelves – and a seemingly insatiable national appetite for both bread and beer – the potential for new products is virtually limitless. However, Shepherd says the project will always be built on an ethos of sustainability and a desire to reduce food waste.
“We might not be able to achieve a fully circular approach with everything, but it’s about giving surplus food a second life. I think rescuing and reworking it into edible, yummy, tasty food is everything we’re about.”