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5 Minutes With: Anushka Purohit, no-waste brewer

By Celia Lee 11 October 2023

Header image courtesy of Breer

Hong Kong is a foodie paradise, where you can indulge in almost every global cuisine you can think of. But with great variety comes with great waste, and that is certainly the case when it comes to food waste in Hong Kong. Fortunately, there’s hope for a sustainable future within our thriving F&B industry as a small entrepreneurial group works towards this goal, one slice of bread at a time. We speak with Anushka Purohit, a local brewer and the co-founder of a no-waste craft beer brand in Hong Kong, about her journey, fighting food waste, and her love of pineapple buns.

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Photo courtesy of Breer

Tell us about your background.

“I have always been passionate about food—knowing what I’m eating and where it comes from. On my tenth birthday, my parents took me to a coffee shop for the very first time to try a Frappuccino. As I waited for my drink, I watched the barista take the cakes and sandwiches from the glass display and dump them straight into a black rubbish bag. 

“It was the first time I came face to face with Hong Kong’s massive food wastage problem. It was an experience that remained etched in my memory. Over a decade later, while earning an engineering degree, I signed up to take part in a social innovation competition. I knew I wanted to work on solving the [city’s] food wastage problem—that’s why I founded a home-grown beer company that brews beer using discarded bread.”

Did you see yourself as a brewer when you were younger?

“As a young Indian girl, I would have never, ever imagined being a part of the brewing industry! Alcohol is seen as a taboo topic in India, especially for women—and to be very honest, I never had enough information about the industry to ever consider it as a potential career path. Growing up, I shuffled between wanting to be an engineer, a lawyer, a scientist… never an entrepreneur. For some reason, this word didn’t exist in my dictionary. When I first started learning [about] how to brew beer, I drew lots of parallels to my interest in engineering. The craft element of brewing allowed me to use my creative side.”

Photo courtesy of Breer

How did you start your journey in fighting food waste?

“As someone who has always had a keen interest in understanding how food is produced [and] consumed, and eventually knowing that a lot of it is wasted in Hong Kong, it felt like a natural step for me to explore volunteering with organisations such as Feeding Hong Kong. While participating in their Bread Runs, I collected surplus bread from bakeries, but also noticed that there was still more bread being disposed of. I learned about the legal binds in Hong Kong which result in only 30 percent of the city’s bread wastage being eligible for food donation. That’s when I knew solutions were still needed to save the remainder [70 percent] of surplus bread—and that’s where Breer steps in!”

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Why focus on beer?

“Beer is one of the few beverages that uses barley as a crucial raw material: 78 percent of any beer brew is barley. Given the large amount of barley in bread, it is the perfect replacement for all barley needed in brewing beer. Here in Hong Kong, the culture of craft beer is growing—there is so much space to play around with flavours.”

Photo courtesy of Breer

How did the concept for Breer come to life?

“When I learned about the Enactus Hong Kong Regional Competition, an international non-profit organisation that promotes social entrepreneurship, I was immediately [motivated] to participate. I got three of my closest friends at the time to form a team with me. As we brainstormed which social problem to address, the issue of food waste in Hong Kong stood out prominently in my mind—especially after my experience at Feeding Hong Kong.

“One evening, while in Lan Kwai Fong [celebrating] the end of exams, I noticed someone enjoying a pint of beer, and it occurred to me that both bread and beer are made from cereal grains like barley. With Enactus, all we needed was an idea, so we decided to enter the competition with this wild idea of collecting all surplus bread and using it to brew beer. To our surprise, we ended up winning!”

What’s your beer of choice (aside from Breer)?

“Fun fact: I actually do not like drinking beer myself. That’s why I knew I wanted to create flavours that I personally would want to try when we started the brand. We have a pineapple bun IPA, and a pink-coloured hibiscus sour. Aside from [our] beers though, I really enjoy the piña colada IPA—it always makes me feel like I’m sitting by the beach.”

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Photo courtesy of Breer

What is a memorable professional moment for you?

“I will never forget what it was like to walk into a bar and purchase a can of [our beer] for the very first time—I still have the receipt from that purchase! It was really special to bring my family along with me. When we first began [working on Breer], I really relied on my family for help—whether it was driving me to different bakeries to collect bread or delivering samples of our beers to bars and restaurants around the city—they were always there to support me. To see [my family’s] excited reactions as we purchased our product and watching them call their friends excitedly to come see it available in stores really made my heart smile.”

What does a day in the life of Anushka look like?

“No two days are the same! Some things do remain constant—I wake up in the morning and make my bed (a new habit my dad has tried to instil in me), pack my gym bag, and head out for the day. I start work at 9 am, and, depending on whether my evening is free or busy, I will squeeze in a workout. If it’s bread collection day, I put on the coordinator hat—being on call, understanding how much bread is being collected, where it needs to be dropped off, etc. If it’s a brew day, I pop into the brewery to see how everything is going.

“There are always sustainability-related events going on in Hong Kong, so the day is [also spent] running around from one event to another. I’m quite the night owl, and my creative juices start flowing after 9 pm, so that’s usually when our team has a brainstorming call.”

Photo courtesy of Breer

We must know—what is your favourite type of bread?

“I love pineapple buns. At least one is always kept at home for when my cravings sneak up. That’s why we created the pineapple bun IPA made with surplus pineapple buns!”

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What other upcycling efforts are you interested in?

“In the process of working on Breer, I realised that bread isn’t the only contributor to food wastage. Other big components are fruit peels and flowers. I came up with the idea for a sustainable skincare and cosmetics start-up [using] fruit peels from bakeries and flowers from temples and churches to create skincare and cosmetics products that everybody can use! Some of the products we’ve made include a lavender foot soak, an orange peel face scrub, a rose and honey face toner. I’m so excited to see how this initiative will grow!”

Photo courtesy of Breer

What’s the next big project?

“We love working on brewing different local craft beers with unique, seasonal flavours. So, when we were approached by Taikoo Place and asked if we would like to collaborate with them for the upcoming Tong Chong Street Market Beer Festival 2023, we were thrilled. [We] share the same values of creating a more sustainable tomorrow while fostering a thriving community. Together, we created a new beer specifically for TCSBF 2023: a one-of-a-kind, roof-to-can pandan milkshake IPA. This brew embodies the essence of sustainability as the pandan used in its production was directly harvested from Taikoo Place’s very own rooftop farm, The Loop at One Island East, which is currently the city’s tallest urban farm. That’s not all—the beer is still made with surplus white bread, so that’s double the sustainability!”

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Celia Lee

Staff writer

Born and raised in Hong Kong and educated in the UK, Celia is passionate about culture, food, and different happenings in the city. When she’s not busy writing, you can find her scouting for new and trendy restaurants, getting lost in a bookstore, or baking up a storm at home.

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