Fittingly reading like a modern day Tolkien title, Kiwi company Citizen Collective are going from bread to beer and back again in the fight against food waste – and they’re winning.

The Auckland-based venture are not only turning New Zealand’s most wasted product – unsold bread – into beer but they are taking that well-travelled path one giant leap further by reusing the mash from the brewing process to make bread all over again.

It’s all part of their vision, Citizen Collective co-founder, co-director and food innovator Donald Shepherd said, to rebuild a broken food system. Annually, over 20 million loaves of bread are unsold domestically in New Zealand while brew mash is rarely re-used for human consumption.

“We know there is a problem but banging the negativity drum just doesn’t resonate with people, so we want to focus on the positives and create positive outcomes from what isn’t an ideal situation,” Shepherd said.

“Sales have been really positive too as I think the consuming public really understand who we are and what we are all about. It’s a pretty simple concept after all. We’ve actually just sold about five months worth of stock in two and half weeks through Farro (NZ grocery store).”

The Citizen Collective life cycle sees it collect bread from macro baker Goodman Fielder and then pass it on to food innovation facility FoodBowl where it is turned into croutons. It is then utilised by the brewer, Sawmill Brewery, to replace 25 per cent of the malts normally used in the brewing process. From there the Citizen Pilsner and Pale Ale are made while another lager and an IPA are likely to feature closer to Summer. Completing the loop, spent grain from the brew is pressed, dried and milled and in turn replaces 15 per cent of the flour normally used in a loaf to make their Citizen Malty Spent-Grain Sourdough.

So out of two separate sources of waste comes two separate and sought after consumables.

Shepherd is joined by a stellar cast when it comes to making bread and beer sustainably and well in New Zealand. The Citizen Collective features chef Ben Bayly, who has worked in Michelin-starred restaurants and is the founder of renowned Kiwi restaurants Ahi and The Grounds, Mike Sutherland, owner of multi-award winning and sustainable brewery Sawmill, who is the chief brewer, and Andrew Fearnside, owner of Auckland bakery Wild Wheat that makes artisan, specialty breads with no additives or preservatives – including their Citizen sourdough.

Since his Matakana Sawmill Brewery was severely damaged by fire in October last year, Sutherland has been brewing the Collective’s beers via contract off site. But next week “a huge milestone will be reached” when the first batch is brewed in the rebuilt and newly reopened brewery.

“We only ever made one call when it came to who would brew the beers, and that was to Mike at Sawmill,” Shepherd said.

“We’ve loved his beers and he not only makes them great but, because of his B Corp brewing certification, he makes them in the right way too.”

They are now sold in a number of venues in Auckland and Hamilton while Foodstuffs, that reportedly controls over 53 per cent of the New Zealand grocery industry, is retailing them in selected New World and Pak ‘n Save supermarkets as well as Liquorland outlets.

“Before COVID hit our plan was to launch the beers in brewpubs and the like to earn our credibility that way,” Shepherd said.

“So when that avenue closed down we quickly pivoted down the grocery pathway and that has been incredible. COVID has had some uncanny and positive timing for us.”

Aside from expanding their portfolio of beers to satisfy different tastes and a goal of attaining carbon neutrality by 2022, Shepherd said the Citizen Collective’s near future would involve expanding their spent grain usage, where chef Bayly was “playing around with a number of exciting concepts”, while they were exploring all-new products made from waste fruit and vegetables.

“Our foundation is to reduce food inefficiency in the most lowest impact way possible,” he said

“We’re still young and we’re still growing but we want to develop over time and as we grow we hope this (food waste rescue) movement grows at the same time.”

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