Sustainability: Putting waste to good use

The average UK household throws away £355.68 worth of food each year, which adds up to a shocking £9.7 billion annually across the country.

This research, carried out in 2019 by the Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP) and supported by a study from savings site Vouchercodes.co.uk, also shows that 65% of UK adults admit to buying too much food and a lot ends up being thrown away.

The pandemic may change the way people think about this and certainly spending more time eating in the house should hammer home the need to plan more wisely when it comes to food shopping.

Alcohol is one shopping basket item that is pretty much exempt from this (in the sense that consumers tend to drink what they buy), but the industry has come under fire in the past for the huge volume of waste material generated during production. This issue has inspired innovation, with new drinks that tap into the growing consumer trends for sustainable products with authentic messages.

But is this NPD genuinely helping to reduce food waste or is it just a way for the sector to tick the sustainability box?
One producer that has a firm focus on the subject is William Grant & Sons, which set up the Discarded Spirits Co in 2018 specifically to tackle the issue of food waste through drinks NPD.

Its first product was Discarded Cascara vermouth, then it released Banana Peel rum. The vermouth launched into the on-trade in 2018, securing a place on the drinks lists of The Savoy, Duck & Waffle and London Grind, among others.

William Grant says bartenders are often good at engaging and sharing sustainability messages with their communities and this can be harder in retail, but more recently the drink hit the shelves of Waitrose and Ocado.

Marketing executive Shana Gujral says: “Sustainability is at the heart of William Grant’s core values for every brand within the portfolio. We are passionate about building the Discarded Spirits Co and are constantly looking at how we can creatively reuse waste and turn it into spirits.

“Since launch we have saved 25,000 cups of the cascara berry (this is the outer shell of the coffee berry, which is usually thrown away after the bean is harvested) and with Banana Peel rum we have saved 307 litres of rum, which is usually used to season whisky casks and thrown away after use.”

The company also saved hundreds of banana peels from flavour houses to make the rum.

“Consumers are increasingly aware of what goes into their food and drink and are seeking out brands with a positive environmental impact. The Discarded Spirits brand is proud to champion the discarded, and creatively reuses ingredients destined for waste to create innovative, premium spirits.”

English wine producers have also segued into this area and for many it has been a neat way of adding another revenue stream during the waiting period before wine can start to drive profits.

Albourne Estate in West Sussex is one of the notable pioneers here. Its 40 Vermouth – which contains 40 botanicals and matured Albourne base wines – recycles leftover grape material from the press..

Albury Organic Vineyard in Surrey teamed up with its spirits-expert neighbour, Silent Pool Distillery, to make a vermouth using a distillate of Sauvignon Blanc grapes blended with Pinot Noir and botanicals. The producers also made Duke’s Reserve brandy from leftover pressing juice.

Similarly, Asterley Bros linked with the Kent-based Gusbourne and Foxhole Spirits worked with Bolney Wine Estate in West Sussex to use leftover pressing juices and grapes to make a range of vermouths and grape-based gin. Foxhole’s Hyke gin is now listed in Tesco stores.

Co-founder James Oag-Cooper says: “We launched Foxhole Spirits with passion and determination to not only produce spirits which taste great but to promote sustainability across the drinks industry and reduce industry waste.”

These are not the first in the UK to venture into spirits from other agricultural sectors or reuse food waste.

The now well-known Black Cow vodka originated from a 300-year-old cheese-producing family business, which created pure milk vodka from cheese waste. The potato farming Chase family created Tyrrells crisps in 2002 before moving into vodka and gin, which are both now sold in Waitrose and Booths.

NOT JUST ABOUT SPIRITS

Outside of spirits, another producer that started out with the aim of reusing waste products to help create a drink is Toast Ale. Rob Wilson, chief executive, says the producer uses one slice of surplus bread for every bottle or can that it brews. It has now rescued close to two million slices of surplus bread.

He says: “We are brewing one tonne of surplus bread per month at the moment but when the on-trade comes back it can go up to two tonnes.

“We work with the sandwich industry because it uses bread on an industrial scale, and basically all the ends of each loaf were being discarded. We use these loaf ends and these make great beer.”

More recently Toast teamed up with Warburtons to unveil the UK’s fi rst ever beer brewed with leftover crumpets. Each bottle of Session IPA was reportedly “packed full of crumpets“, which helped Warburtons to utilise its unusable and unsellable “wonky” products.

It has also worked on the Waitrose & Partners Unpacked project, which features dedicated refillable zones and pick-and-mix areas.

The concept, which was trialled last year and expanded earlier this year to more stores, included four Toast Ale beers on tap.
Wilson says: “The Waitrose project was 100% the kind of thing we wanted to be involved in and it has been a really exciting project.

“We have loved working with Watirose; it is such a brilliant retail partner. And this has been a really successful project from both our perspectives.

“We were in the midst of thinking about the next steps but things are on hold for now [due to Covid-19 restrictions] but I think it will develop in the future.

“And we have had really fantastic customer feedback with so many consumers wanting this.” 

The emerging category of hard seltzers now also has a food waste champion.

Served is a new British hard seltzer brand created by brothers Dean and Ryan Ginsberg. It is made with an “ultrapure spirit” and blended with British spring water. Its USP is that it is infused with wonky fruit that would have otherwise gone to waste.

The brand, which already has listings with Selfridges, Planet Organic and Hand Picked Hotels, contains 57 calories per can and no added sugar.

Dean Ginsberg, says: “For us, enjoying a healthy lifestyle has always governed a large part of our lives. With this, we became increasingly aware of the provenance of not just what we ate but what we drank too.

“As former restaurateurs we were also constantly surrounded by innovation. We came to realise we are living in an age now where people really care about what they put in their bodies – for themselves and the planet.

“So we set out to create a drink to feel good about, both for ourselves and for the planet, and Served was born.”

Served has already had financial backing from a number of high-profile industry investors, including: Guy Hands, founder of Terra Firma Capital Partners; Mike Branson and Jonathan Ford, founders of Pearlfisher; Brad Berman, former director of Fiji Water; and
Darren Westlake, chief executive and co-founder of Crowdcube.

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