Brewing “planet-saving” beer: how Toast Ale has adapted to lockdown

Louisa Ziane, Chief Operating Officer, set up Toast Ale in 2015 to brew “planet-saving” beer. As Chief Operating Officer, she manages their commitment to people, planet and profit. 

In response to the UK lockdown, Toast Ale have relaunched their website with an improved online shop, offering free delivery, to sell beer directly to customers. They’ve also found creative ways to continue delivering on their social mission – even under such circumstances.

Tell us a little bit about your business 

Food production is the biggest contributor to climate change, but one third of all food is wasted. We’re here to change that. We brew planet-saving beer out of surplus fresh bread. All of our profits go to charities dedicated to fixing the food system. 

How have you adapted to the Covid-19 lockdown? 

Covid-19 has had a huge impact on our business because around 70% of our sales were to pubs, restaurants and events. We’re lucky to also be stocked in retailers, including Tesco, Waitrose, Co-op and Ocado, though orders are unpredictable at the moment. 

So we relaunched our website with an improved webshop, offering free delivery, to sell beer directly to customers. We’ve had to reduce costs, which has included putting five of our team on furlough, though they’re keeping busy with voluntary work and we hope to get them back on board with us as soon as we’re up and running again.

How are you continuing to deliver against your social mission? 

We’re a social enterprise and certified B Corp, with an environmental mission to reduce food waste. We wanted to be able to support our vulnerable communities during the Covid-19 crisis as best we know how, and that is through food. 

We’ve created a Meal Deal for our online shop – every beer purchased funds a meal for someone in need. Most of the meals use surplus food (often from suppliers to restaurants) so we’re feeding people and preventing food waste. We’ve already raised enough funds to feed over 15,000 people.

What are you doing to look after your wellbeing? 

We’re making sure we stay connected as a team using video conferencing. We’re well set up for working from home, using cloud-based software like Xero and Slack for day-to-day operational needs, but we miss being together. Seeing other faces and making time to check in with each other is really important. Personally I’m also balancing homeschooling my children, which adds extra pressure. I’m trying to be realistic about what I can achieve in a day, and make sure I get enough sleep!  

What have you learnt about your business in this new environment? 

We have an incredible community of support. We’ve received so many messages of support from our customers, who are really happy to be able to support our charitable giving whilst enjoying getting cases of beer delivered to their doors. We’ve also had loads of support from business allies. For example, Oddbox (a veg box scheme that uses surplus produce) shared our recipe for beer bread with their subscribers, many of whom have now become Toast Ale customers.

What have you learnt about yourself? 

It’s not a new learning, but it’s certainly magnified how much I struggle to switch off from work. Without the structure of regular hours, for my own working routine and that of the kids being in school, I have ended up doing some very late nights. I’ve had to find a new routine and force myself to switch off for downtime too.

Have you experienced any silver linings? 

I’ve experienced an incredible connection with my local community. My street set up a Mutual Aid group using Whatsapp, and we’ve gone from a few households offering to do shopping for each other through to the entire street sharing homemade preserves, veggie seedlings, DIY materials and toys for kids. 

We’ve also raised about £2,500 for our local food bank, and we’ve been sharing news about (and shopping baskets with) local businesses to support them. The Clap For Carers event has become a pretty emotional one as it’s the one moment we actually see each other! 

Do you have any advice for other businesses currently enduring this climate? 

We’re all learning how to adapt and the journey will be different for everyone. For us, it’s been vital to find a channel for sales so that there is income for the business, and then to reduce our costs as much as possible, with financial support from the government where possible.

But it has also been about using our expertise and resources to have a positive impact on society.

Visit our dedicated site for more inspirational stories, webinars and resources to help you navigate through this time.


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