Meaningful Business (MB:) Please tell us a bit about your background.
Rob Wilson (RW): Prior to Toast Ale I led Ashoka in the UK, a global support network for social entrepreneurs, and founded a number of social mission ventures over the years. Including setting up READ International in 2004; a Tanzanian student-volunteer-led development organisation which has benefited millions of Tanzanian school students, and co-founding Generation Change in 2012, helping 600,000 young people a year in the UK take positive action in their local communities. In 2011 I co-authored a book with my wife Nikki about social entrepreneurs in Africa called On the Up.
MB: What Led you to start Toast Ale?
RW: A good friend and Ashoka Fellow I worked with, Tristram Stuart, first had the idea to start Toast Ale. He had an extraordinary vision of a circular economy solution and food waste fighting beer brand and it seemed like such a no brainer from the outset; brew a delicious beer that would tackle the issue of food waste in its production, raise awareness via its marketing reach and then pour profits into charities fighting the issue of waste at a systemic level. It’s win-win-win.
MB: What is the problem you are trying to solve?
RW: Toast Ale is a delicious planet-saving beer brewed using yesterday’s bread from bakeries to fight food waste. All profits are poured into environmental charities. Toast Ale launched in 2016 and now has nationwide retail, pub and hospitality distribution. We have brewed over 2 million slices of surplus bread and our open-source recipe has been accessed over 70,000 times.
Rob Wilson, Chief Toaster, Toast Ale
MB: What is your biggest challenge right now?
RW: Clearly because of the pandemic we have had to diversify our business strategy considerably as 70% of our trade was with the hospitality sector. So, like many of us, we have had to pivot to an e-commerce business overnight. Thankfully with a lot of success.
MB: What is your vision for the future of your business?
RW: We were extremely proud to become the first UK brewery to become a Certified B Corp back in 2018, joining a global movement of people using business as a force for good. The B Corp certification is for business what Fair Trade is for coffee – a signal of a more sustainable way of doing business.
We’ve had environmental responsibility at our heart since launching in 2016 – it’s part of Toast’s DNA. After all, our mission is to end food waste, one of the biggest environmental challenges we face, by brewing great beer with surplus fresh bread and donating all profits to charity. However, B Corp certification is about way more than just our impact on the environment. We had to prove we met rigorous standards that measure a company’s impact on its employees, suppliers, community and the environment.
Like most, the past year has tested us as a business like we would have never imagined. I truly believe it’s the B Corp values we have at our core that have guided us through and helped us emerge even stronger on the other side. I see a world where all businesses take the B Corp values to their core.
MB: What is your advice to other leaders who want to combine profit and purpose?
RW: What are you waiting for!? It’s a no brainer.
MB – What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
RW – Don’t be afraid to fail, but if you do, accept it, fail fast and never do it again.
MB – Who inspires you?
RW – Cemal Ezel, founder of life changing coffee company Change Please.
MB – How do you define success?
RW – In business, I would define success as balancing sustainable commercial success with significant social and environmental impact for all stakeholders, in a way that supports your team to thrive. In life I define success as doing what you love.
MB – What is something you wish you were better at?
RW – Deep listening.
MB – What is the one book everyone should read?
RW – “Small is Beautiful“, by Ernst F. Schumacher
MB – What do you do to relax?
RW – Spend as much time as possible outdoors in nature with my family.
Discover the other MB100 leaders recognised for their work combining profit and purpose to help achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals in 2020, here.