You may have heard of the 'water into wine', but have you heard the one about turning bread into beer?

Citizen is a collective of chefs, brewers, bakers, and innovators working together to reduce food waste. The company launched their first products, Citizen Beer and Citizen Sourdough in 2020 and they've got big plans for 2021.

"We started with bread and beer because bread is the most wasted food item in the country and New Zealanders love beer," says Don Shepherd, the co-founder of Citizen.

Over 29 million loaves of bread are wasted by New Zealand households every year, according to Love Food Hate Waste. Shepherd worked with Toast, a UK company that was one of the first in the world to launch a beer brewed using leftover bread as a substitute for some of the barley typically used in the process.

And so Citizen was born. Thanks to some Kiwi innovation, not only did they figure out how to turn bread into beer, they took it one step further and used waste mash from the brewing process to make bread.

Origin story

Shepherd worked for Fonterra and Marks & Spencers food division in the UK before senior marketing roles with Beko and Fisher & Paykel Appliances gave him an insight into another side of the food industry. Food production is one of the biggest contributors to climate change and with up to one-third of the world’s food supply wasted every year, it's a massive issue.

"I was marketing cooking, refrigeration and freezing appliances in the UK, so food was at the heart of what I did," says Shepherd. "Respecting the food we produce and reducing waste became a personal mission of mine."

The Citizen Collective includes Ben Bayly, an award-winning chef and restaurateur, Andrew Fearnside from Wild Wheat bakery, and Mike Sutherland from Sawmill Brewery.

Bread and brews

Citizen works with Foodstuffs and Goodman Fielder bakeries to collect bread a couple of days shy of its best before date which means it can't be sold. Normally it would go to landfill or low value stock feed for animals.

"Citizen is a proof of concept at this early stage of the business," says Shepherd. "We're disrupting the traditional linear food system by proving that it's possible for food to have a second life. We're also challenging consumer perceptions who want to know where we get our bread from, is it okay to eat and does it taste different?"

The waste bread is dehydrated and processed into thumbnail sized croutons so it has a longer shelf life and can be used in the brew process. Bread replaces a quarter of the barley used in every Citizen brew, or approximately one slice per can.

"We're using less water, land and energy to grow, harvest and dry the barley — which is very intensive from an energy perspective — leading to fewer emissions," explains Shepherd.

One of the byproducts of brewing is brewer's waste, also known as spent grain. It's the leftovers after the bread and barley are soaked in hot water to extract the sugars necessary to kickstart the fermentation process. It's protein and fibre rich and often used for animal feed but Citizen had a better idea.

"At the end of the brew, we were left with this beautiful product and we figured there must be a way to use it," says Shepherd. "We worked with some really great people at Callaghan Innovation and Foodbowl to figure out how to take the hot, wet mash byproduct and turn it into a stable, safe dry product we could use."

The result was a high-quality, nutritious, spent-grain flour Wild Wheat used to make a malty spent grain sourdough bread that has been going gangbusters with consumers.

"We've also got some great reviews for our beer which is very reassuring," says Shepherd. "We reckon we're doing something really worthwhile but the products have to be good in order to make it work."

Citizen is working with other well-known brands to develop more tasty, innovative products using upcycled food that would otherwise go to waste. "In the next three to six months, we'll have some additional products coming onto the shelf that we're very excited about," says Shepherd.

Sustainability as a core value

Citizen is focused on hitting net zero emissions by 2022 and measures the impact of everything they do including energy usage, mileage and their carbon footprint.

"We're working closely with Toitū Envirocare to measure and minimise our carbon footprint," says Shepherd. "The core purpose of the organisation is to reduce food going to waste. So that drives all our decision making but we're doing what we can in other areas too. Our beer is unpasteurised because we've chosen not to put chemicals into it. We only use New Zealand hops because of the lower impact. We recycle plastic bags and clips from the bread to turn into plastic posts and we use eco-friendly labeling, packaging, ink and paper resources."

"We're trying to embed sustainability in everything we do and we're really mindful of doing things the right way. That involves extra costs but we're happy to do it because it's the right thing to do."