Meet Breer – the Hong Kong startup that is turning food waste into beer
After a night of celebrating the end of their exams, four university students studying in Hong Kong came across a bakery that was disposing all of its surplus bread in the garbage. In Hong Kong alone, the amount of food thrown in landfills daily comes to approximately 3,600 tons. Out of this, bread from Hong Kong’s largest bakery chains such as Maxim’s and A1 Bakery as well as supermarkets such as Wellcome and ParknShop throw out a collective 1,692 tons of surplus bread every day.
This problem of food waste was stuck in the minds of these four Hong Kong students, and ever since they have been on a mission to help come up with a solution. Who knew the solution would come to them only a week later? While they were continuing their celebrations at Lan Kwai Fong with a few cold beers, they came to the realization that the ingredients used in brewing beer are similar to those that are used in bread. This was where the idea for Breer began.
From bread to Breer
Anushka Purohit, Deevansh Gupta, Naman Tekriwal and Suyash Mohan, four university students from The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) co-founded Breer in an effort to alleviate the food waste issue in Hong Kong. Beer is brewed using three main ingredients: 78% barley, 19% malt and 3% hops. Breer uses upcycled loaves of bread from supermarkets and bakeries in Hong Kong for brewing their beers, replacing the barley with the surplus bread during the crafting process. “Brewing Breer is the same as brewing normal beer, but the 78% of barley is replaced with bread,” explains Anushka.
The young company relies on their “Breer-runners” to help them deliver the surplus bread to their storage facility. Breer-runners are volunteers (mostly high school students who need service hours as a school requirement) who sign up to help the startup collect the bread. They have also commissioned local breweries to help them dry the bread, crush the bread into tiny croutons, mash the croutons in water, then drain and boil them before adding in hops and finally going through fermentation to brew their upcycled beer.
The entire production process from start to end is available on their Breer App, which helps their Breer-runners determine their collection and dispatch points, and provide full transparency with users about their brewing process. The way Breer have gone about crafting beer has not only helped them work toward mitigating the food waste issue in Hong Kong, but also has allowed them to keep their costs low. According to Breer’s market research, 87% of breweries have lost money in 2020 in production due to rising material costs. However, since Breer are substituting part of the raw materials with leftover bread, they have not only avoided the issue of extra food being dumped in Hong Kong’s landfill, but have also made the production process more cost-efficient.
Breer have estimated that within one year, they would have saved up to 9.2 tons of bread, 3 km2 of landfill space and around HK$75,000 (US$9,673) in brewing costs.
Success and sustainability
The journey for the young and promising company has not been without its obstacles. As university students starting out a business in Hong Kong, it is often difficult to find investors to help fund the business. However, “through participating in different competitions and pooling these grants together for the business,” Breer was able to raise sufficient capital and funding to make their project into a full-fledged startup. Anushka says they also “received a lot of support from HKUST’s Entrepreneurship Centre and are residents at Explorium Hong Kong and a part of the STEP Program in HKSTP.”
Anushka notes that the most prominent difficulty the co-founders have faced so far was transitioning from a project to a business. “As four young college students, taking on these real world responsibilities and making business decisions was tough, but this was made much easier due to the fact that we’re all such close friends,” Anushka explains. “We are always there to support one another, and divide every job amongst ourselves.”
Another difficulty for many young students who aspire to start their own company is balancing university work with their ambitions. “Balancing university work has always been difficult, but all of us have so much fun with Breer that we look at it more like our free time from University,” Anushka says. “Like other people take coffee breaks or read books to relax, we switch to working on Breer and having fun on Zoom calls.”
Breer’s Hong Kong-crafted beer selling point benefits their brand, as they have been able to successfully identify their target demographic and focus on creating a product which would appeal to them. “Our target demographic is specifically millennials aged between 18-34 who have a drive for sustainability and a passion to try innovative products,” says Anushka. The startup also noted during their market research that 83% of Hong Kong millennials would be willing to try beer made from bread, with 74% of them stating their reasons for trying it would be in an effort to switch to sustainable drinking.
The startup recently had a small launch, where they offered two different beers, lager and pale ale, both of which sold out quickly in a pop-up store in Causeway Bay. Regarding Breer’s future plans, Anushka says they are “hoping for a proper launch with Pizza Hut and KFC in early 2021, and are constantly working on creating new varieties and expanding our product line.”
Breer has a straightforward objective. “With Breer, we hope to make sustainable drinking the new norm,” Anushka explains. “Doing good for the planet does not require crazy change – one can also make wise decisions in daily activities, even something like drinking beer. Our Breer does good, tastes better and we hope everyone in Hong Kong can taste the goodness.”
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