What to get the beer multinational that already has everything for Christmas? For Heineken – whose portfolio stretches across every continent and beer style – the answer appears to be a slice of Toast Ale, a brewery that specialises in converting surplus bread into beer.

The alcohol giant has contributed to a £2m funding round to help the craft brand pursue its sustainable mission. And it’s got high ambitions for the future. Since opening in 2016, Toast claims to have saved 2.9 million slices of bread, and the brand hopes to eventually rescue one billion. The beers are sold through Toast’s website, Waitrose and other online outlets, with profits donated to charity to “fund systemic change”.

Sales are certainly on the right trajectory. Toast sold £180k of its Session IPA in the year to 10 September, according to NielsenIQ – up a third on the year before.

Still, these sales are unlikely to be the main attraction for Heineken. After all, they are small fry compared to the other beers in its portfolio: Beavertown and Brixton Brewery. Beavertown’s Neck Oil Session IPA added £4.7m (37.6%) in supermarkets in the past year, while Brixton’s Reliance Pale Ale more than doubled sales to reach £420k [NielsenIQ].

What’s more, this growth comes at a time of consolidation for craft beer. Together with Brewdog, which has several key beers in growth including some new launches, Beavertown is one half of an emerging duopoly that is inching out smaller brands in British supermarkets.

Only this week Wild Beer Co entered administration, the latest casualty in a category that suffered through the pandemic and amid mounting supply chain costs. It follows the likes of London Fields, which was closed by Carlsberg Marston in December 2021 and offered to prospective buyers as sales fell in supermarkets.

Two other brands, Fourpure and Magic Rock, were sold by Lion to new venture Odyssey Inns in August after a fallow period. However, Stephen Cox, one of the new owners, believes there is reason for optimism yet in craft beer.

“I think there’s an incremental opportunity within the craft beer market,” he adds. “You compare it to other markets and it still feels like there’s headroom for growth.”

Clearly Heineken agrees. But in terms of meaningful sales growth, its bets are likely on Beavertown and, to a lesser extent, Brixton. Toast, meanwhile, has something neither of these two larger brands can offer. Its distinctly sustainable proposition will help the multinational achieve its goal of net zero carbon emissions in production by 2030 and its wider value chain by 2040.

“Like Toast, our ambition is to maximise the circulatory of all our products, in other words move from take-make-waste to reduce-reuse-recycle,” said Heineken’s chief supply chain officer Magne Setnes.

It’s certainly an on-trend proposition. Earlier this month, similarly sustainable brewer Crumbs Brewing, which turns unsold bread from local bakeries in Surrey into a range of four core beers, hit a £150k crowdfunding target to back its growth plans and fight food waste with new product launches.

Bread-based beer is unlikely to challenge the leading brands any time soon. Nor will Toast earn Heineken any money, given its non-profit status. But it can offer  Heineken something more than cash this Christmas: a step forward in its sustainable goals.