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About Rebread

  • Founders: Bartłomiej Rak and Katarzyna Młynarczyk
  • Founded in: 2021 in Kraków, Poland
  • Employees: 5
  • Money raised: 400,000 euros
  • Ultimate goal: Turning waste into a raw material

When it comes to food waste, the numbers are horrifying. According to the World Food Programme, more than a billion tonnes of food is wasted each year. Bartłomiej Rak and Katarzyna Młynarczyk, owners of the Polish bakery “Handelek” based in Kraków, are definitely aware of this issue and came up with an unusual idea of how to change things.

The two quickly realized how big of a problem was the amount of unsold loaves that were left over in their bakery, especially when the pandemic started. And as the saying goes, necessity is the mother of invention. In their efforts to find a solution, Rak and Młynarczyk came across an Austrian bakery –  Bäckerei Therese Mölk – which uses stale bread to produce alcohol, such as gin or brandy. That inspired the Polish bakers to follow a similar path. That’s how Rebread was created. They spoke to us about it in this instalment of Start-up-of-the-day.

Even today, they’ve managed to save two tonnes of unsold bread and create their signature product: distillate Krast, which is the very first craft alcohol made of stale bread in Poland. It is not just innovative for the Polish market, but also highly appreciated by the experts from alcohol industry. The distillate was awarded with prize during the IV Warsaw Spirits Competition in 2021, and was even awarded the title of the Alcohol Debut of 2021

How did you come up with this idea?

“Katarzyna and I are co-owners of an artisanal bakery and, like most gastronomical businesses, we went through a rough time during the pandemic. The farmer we were working with couldn’t come anymore, and the amount of wasted bread simply overwhelmed us. So, we started looking for solutions that we could use regardless of the corona restrictions.

Then, we came across an Austrian bakery whose idea to convert bread into alcohol inspired us to try a similar strategy. Long story short: we made a few calls, and it turned out that someone would be able to produce a distillate from half a tonne of stale bread. But there was one problem. Half a tonne is a lot! Especially since the bread had to be in good condition, i.e., it couldn’t be mouldy.

Although it was a huge challenge, we managed after six months to store half a tonne of bread and transport it to the distillation facilities. As a result, 550 bottles of alcohol were made. We quickly started thinking about other solutions, including finding investors. Unfortunately, they were a bit more sceptical about our initiative. Alcohol seemed too controversial for them. However, at the same time, Ewa, who had previously worked in food corporations and had a lot of contacts with farmers, joined our team. Her help directed us to another idea, which entailed fermenting bread with mould and edible mushrooms. Of course, I do mean edible mould, like blue cheese or Asian koji.”

How does this work exactly? So, you have leftover bread and then what happens?

“We can use the bread only within its expiry date. That’s the law. We cannot use waste, for instance, for producing cosmetics.

Once we have the leftovers, we must either save them or process them. The processing should be as short as possible before the bread is sent to regional producers. Otherwise, we have to dry, grind and store the leftovers in bags. This comes at a cost, and we always try to avoid using too much energy or leaving much of a carbon footprint. After that, we also have to remember to store it all under the right conditions.”

What turned out to be the most difficult part?

“Well, I must admit that at some point we were quite lucky. Nowadays, more and more people are paying attention to bread. The prices for it are still rising, so it’s often a topic of discussion in the media. We replace up to thirty percent of the flour with stale bread. If we could develop this technology and make it available to other bakeries, we would save a lot on energy. Still, energy prices keep on rising due to the Ukrainian-Russian war. We would like to be a producer, but higher prices made this unprofitable, so we had to change our strategy. Now we are focusing on looking for manufacturers who would be willing to launch the product on the market under our licence. We also think about taking a more global approach.

So, I can say that the main obstacles turned out to be all those dynamic changes, an unstable period, and having to make a lot of decisions, so we were forced to to take a step backwards to eventually move forward. But despite everything, a lot of people are extremely optimistic about our idea, and this is something that always motivates us.”

So the reactions to your idea were positive?

The media reacted very positively to our idea, but consumers were more sceptical. ‘Mouldy bread that has been turned into something edible?’ – they were asking. There was a certain mistrust about safety, but I do get that. After all, it is a case of exploring something new. Until recently, old bread was simply thrown away or given to animals. Nevertheless, the interest in Rebread’s initiative is definitely high. It’s something innovative in Polish cuisine. The Asian one already uses edible mushrooms, while Poland is just opening up to that idea.”

What do you like the most about your job and the whole idea behind Rebread?

“What excites me the most is the idea of coming up with something global under local conditions. I wish influential companies would act in a way that their ideas serve the community. After all, that’s how ideas evolve. Unfortunately, companies tend to defend their status quo. The world needs to support local entrepreneurship more, that helps the GDP grow. That’s why I want to change this mindset.”

What are Rebread’s plans for the future?

“I would like to work together with several large retail chains in Europe. They are more aware of consumer needs and are more in a position to encourage their manufacturers or suppliers to check out our offer. Then they would know that they’re not buying a pig in a poke.

Apart from this, I dream of an international team that works in a laboratory. This is crucial. Sharing office space is a popular concept these days, but so far, there is no such thing as sharing a lab. I hope this will change.

I often joke that we have a strategy that looks like it’s all over the place, because sometimes we discover something only to find out that it is already known in other countries. For that reason, I would like to build a community that is interested in these types of bakeries. A community that would be made up of both amateurs who want to help from out their own homes, and enthusiasts who already have a professional background that they’d like to share with the rest of the world. I believe that knowledge, which can help others, should be accessible so that no one has to reinvent the wheel. That’s why my goal is in working together. Let’s join forces!”