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Beyond the stale: Using bread waste as a multifunctional ingredient

Article-Beyond the stale: Using bread waste as a multifunctional ingredient

© iStock/BryanAlberstat RS, bread waste, bakery products, carbs, BryanAlberstat, iStock-146901735.jpg
On a mission to turn bread waste into raw materials, Polish startup Rebread is enabling businesses to upcycle stale leftovers into ingredients that can be used to make beer, home baking mixes, probiotic-packed fermented drinks, and more.

Rebread was one of the finalists of the ‘enhancing wellbeing via nutrition’ category of the FoodTech Challengers competition held at the FoodTech Congress 2024 in Warsaw, Poland on 30 May 2024. The company, which sees itself as a marketplace creator and an external R&D entity, was founded in 2021 by CEO Bartłomiej Rak and Katarzyna Młynarczyk, who works for the company as a service designer. The founders’ experience running an artisan bakery exposed them to the large extent of waste in the industry.

According to the startup, 15% of all bread produced in Europe ends up as waste, with bread waste accounting for between one-twentieth of all food waste in Spain and more than one-quarter in Norway. Five million tonnes of bread, at a value of 12.5 billion euros, remain unrecovered each year. As the most bread-hungry region – consuming more than half (53.6%) of all bread produced globally – Europe is also becoming the home of innovative upcycling solutions and circular systems.  

Rebread has a target of 50,000 tonnes of upcycled bread, through activities carried out by both small- and medium-sized enterprises and industrial facilities. To showcase the ongoing initiatives and opportunities for bread upcycling into innovative products, Rebread published the report Crumbling the Barriers in February 2024.

High demand for bread – and bread upcycling – among consumers

Bread is wasted at three points in the product’s value chain – starting at the production stage, where bread that fails to meet quality standards is thrown away. At the retail level, bakeries and supermarkets have significant amounts of unsold bread, and in the sandwich and fast-food industries, cut-offs create a final source of commercially unviable bread.

Consumers demand “ultrafresh” bread that looks pristine, and there is the expectation of a wide range of different bread products. This all contributes to an abundance of bread waste, because of its short shelf life, short supply chains, and a high degree of overproduction. But consumers are also open to fighting food waste, as a quantitative survey undertaken by Polish convenience store chain Żabka for the Crumbling the Barriers report demonstrates: nearly three-quarters (74%) of respondents expressed a strong inclination to adopting surplus bread products, driven primarily by the desire to not waste food; the need to do something good for the environment; and the attractiveness of natural, eco-friendly, and cheap products produced from recycled bread.

A similar survey conducted in the US by Upcycled Foods showed that more than half (57%) of consumers want to buy more upcycled food – with one-third of shoppers looking for upcycled bakery products.

Giving bread a second life in circular bakeries

Using excess bread to produce fresh bread might be the lowest-hanging fruit when it comes to reducing waste, and Rebread is not the only company operating in this space. Many bread producers are already incorporating waste recycling into their processes.

The company Bakkersgrondstof in the Netherlands is one of the businesses that already uses surplus bread by turning it into bread flour to give bread a second life. Another Dutch organisation, the Top Bakkers Groep, unites 65 bakeries in the Netherlands and turns bread waste into fermented breadcrumbs, creating a sourdough that can reduce grain use by 20% and make bread more tender, aromatic, and longer-lasting.

GAIL’s bakery in the UK also uses breadcrumbs to create sourdough that can be used to bake new bread, reducing the required ingredients by up to a third and enhancing the new breads’ flavour profiles. And Panduru in Spain uses bread waste to produce flour. Similar products are also available for consumers in a few markets – such as the baking mixes, produced by the New Zealand company Rescued Kitchen that are made from primarily rescued bread.

Outside Europe, bread upcycling is also gaining traction with major US retailer Kroger launching a private-label upcycled bread in 2023. A co-developed product from Kroger’s Simple Truth store brand and the company Upcycled Foods, the bread is prominently positioned as a more sustainable alternative to regular bread.

Beer and breaded beverages

Stale bread also functions very well as a replacement ingredient for (some of the) malt, barley, or raw grain used in beer production, making this one of the earliest and most widespread uses of bread waste. A growing number of specialty brewing companies have started producing batches of upcycled beer, capitalising on their sustainable model to cater to conscious consumers.

The Brussels Beer Project brewery in Belgium brews its Babylone beer with two slices of bread per bottle, replacing 20% of the malt that would be used in a traditional recipe. Other breweries in Europe with a circular approach that incorporate spent bread include Crumbs Brewing in the UK which uses ‘wonky naan bread’ for its range of speciality beers; BRØL in Denmark, which also produces circular non-alcoholic beverages; and Biova, an Italian brewer that offers a private label service.

The French brewer La Baguette – which replaces 20% of its barley with recycled baguettes –won the ‘Best Beer in France’ competition and scored high marks in a blind taste test at the Frankfurt beer competition in 2022.  

Fermented beverages form another popular category of upcycled bread products. Homo Panis LAB in Spain and Bakkersgrondstof in the Netherlands both produce kvass – a probiotic fermented drink.

While most upcycled beer brewing remains relatively small-scale, there are opportunities for more industrial applications. The Belgian company No Waste Republic produces pellets from surplus bread collected from local bakeries that can be used to replaced malt or raw grain in beer production.