'Planet-saving' beer: Inside Toast Ale's climate-focused rebrand

EXCLUSIVE: Yorkshire-based brewer Toast Ale's decision to rebrand was the "natural choice" amid rapidly growing public awareness around climate change, the firm's sustainability director has revealed.

The rebrand marks the first time Toast Ale has used bright colours – and its first foray into canned beverages

The rebrand marks the first time Toast Ale has used bright colours – and its first foray into canned beverages

Launched in 2016 by seasoned green campaigner Tristram Stuart, Toast Ale’s mission was to create an alcoholic beverage compatible with circular economy principles, without compromising on taste and quality. The result was a craft beer where one-third of the grain used for brewing is replaced with surplus bread.

The company’s initial branding and marketing featured the tagline “brewed with bread”, set on a white label against a brown glass bottle.

However, this month has seen a huge shake-up for Toast’s branding, with bright red and blue aluminium cans of its beers beginning to hit supermarket shelves across the UK. Each can bares the slogan “here’s to change” and describes the contents as, among terms such as “tropical” and “zesty”, “planet-saving”.

Speaking exclusively to edie, Toast’s sustainability director Louisa Ziane said the rebrand reflects the fact that environmental sustainability has “definitely” become differentiator for consumers over the past three years, amid a backdrop of Extinction Rebellion protests, school strikes for climate, net-zero legislation and environment-focused TV shows.

This changing socio-political environment, she explained, has caused people to demand more environmental actions from the brands they buy from and changed the connotations surrounding closed-loop food and drink from “unhygienic” to “desirable”. Indeed, many of Toast’s sales are now made to higher-end venues in London.

“When we launched, the ideas of surplus and waste were often confused by people; when they’d think of surplus bread, they’d imagine a loaf rotting in their bread bin rather than an industry where, purely due to cosmetic standards and overproduction, a lot of what we produce doesn’t ever reach people,” Ziane told edie.

In an age where “wonky” veg boxes, “ugly” fruit juices and even closed-loop gin are on sale at some of the nation’s biggest supermarkets, she explained, this is no longer the case.

From average joe to sustainability superhero

But even though times and attitudes have changed, even the most eco-conscious consumers are more likely to connect with a brand that makes them a green hero than one which tells them they’ve diverted a single slice of bread from landfill, Ziane added.

“There’s always the challenge of knowing how much information to put out there,” she said. “We don’t want to force people on this long narrative journey when they’re just trying to pick up a drink – we wanted people to pick it up and engage with it first before we give them more information; hence the term ‘planet-saving’ on the front-of-pack.”

For those not satisfied by this two-word phrase, more sustainability information, including an on-pack recycling label (OPRL) and a link to the Toast website, can be found on the back of the new bottles and cans. The website details the brand’s impact not only in terms of bread diverted from landfill but in terms of water saved, emissions mitigated and charitable donations made (all of Toast’s profits are donated to anti-hunger charity Feedback).

According to Ziane, who also serves as Toast’s global brand director, this three-tier communications format gives consumers who are more casual about sustainability “an easy way of knowing they’re making a positive impact”, while also catering to those who have changed their entire daily routines over environmental concerns.

“People are so much more aware of some of the sustainability issues facing the brands they use now and, because they’re seeing leading businesses take positive action, they’re holding other companies to higher standards,” she added.

Ziane’s claims echo the findings of several recent studies. In a survey of more than 3,600 shoppers by Futerra and The Consumer Goods Forum last year, 88% said they were more likely to buy a product if it had on-pack sustainability information, with seven in ten saying they’d choose a transparent brand with a sustainability story over their favourite label. Deloitte believes this trend is particularly pronounced among Millennials, with more than half of respondents in this age group having told the firm they exclude companies that are not operating sustainably from their shopping lists.

Beyond plastic-free

At the epicentre of these public concerns is plastic pollution. Since Blue Planet 2 first aired, over-packaging has overtaken price as the top differentiator for UK adults on supermarket trips, with eight in ten people believing that the amount of plastic used to house food and drinks should be “drastically” reduced.

Toast has largely avoided the so-called “war on plastics”, given that it has only ever used glass bottles with paper-based wrappers across its consumer-facing portfolio.

But the firm’s rebrand has seen aluminium cans added to its range for the first time after an external audit by Advance London found that their life-cycle impact in the context of Toast’s business model would be lower. Specifically, cans are lighter and easier to stack, saving weight and therefore fuel during road transport, as well as fridge space, and therefore energy from cooling.

For Ziane, however, it’s the social, economic and cultural norms which have led to the boom of single-use formats– covering glass, metal and paper as well as plastic – that are the real challenge.

To that end, Toast also offers its beverages in kegs and is the only beer brand to offer packaging-free beer through Waitrose’s “Unpacked” offering. It additionally tells consumers where plastics are hard to replace in its value chain, and why. For example, rigid cardboard boxes used to send cans to supermarkets bare a higher carbon footprint than plastic shrinkwrap

“For us, it’s been very much about honesty, and not shying away from the fact that there’s no such thing as the perfect business,” Ziane elaborated.

“Because we put ourselves forward as a sustainable business, I think we’re often held to much higher standards – so I think it’s important to accept that, while you can’t do everything perfectly at once, you can always be more aware and more transparent.”

The caveat, of course, is that Toast is an SME founded by experienced environmentalists who have positioned purpose at the core of its business model since day one. Not to mention that its new visuals were created by B&B Studio – a branding agency specialising in communicating purpose.

While acknowledging this, Ziane argued that the core learnings of the firm’s rebrand could be adopted by larger companies with less history in sustainability leadership.

“Even for companies which aren’t as mission-driven, there is always more to be done around social and environmental topics – and value in taking action, especially in an age where consumers will question everything thoroughly,” she concluded.

“Business simply can’t operate in the way it has been for decades. If the time hasn’t come already, you’ll soon be expected to disclose what your approach is, what it will be, and your plan to move from one to the other.”

Sarah George



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