Waste not, want not. The business of turning discarded food into delicious chutney
We caught up with Jenny Dawson Costa, founder and CEO, of relish range Rubies in the Rubble. But Rubies is much more than just a range of yummy relishes – the business is built on sustainable values turning surplus fruit and veg into something tasty rather than wasting it. Their range of relishes is inspired by home-cooked recipes they started making in their kitchen. Now they’re stocked in major retailers throughout the UK and the business continues to grow day-by-day.
When was Rubies in the Rubble set up and what was it that inspired the business?
The idea for Rubies in the Rubble came after a very early morning visit to a wholesale fruit and veg market on my bike one frosty day in November 2010.
I fell in love with the market - such a diverse range of people living by night and sleeping by day; a world of farmers, wholesalers, restaurant owners and market sellers trading anything from durians to brussel sprouts.
But just along from the bustle of the traders were the piles of unwanted fruit and veg - mange tout from Kenya, mangos from the Philippines, tomatoes from Turkey, cranberries for California which bypassed the bustle of traders and headed straight for the bin! And what really saddened me was that much of these, though potentially with a short shelf life, were perfectly edible!
It got me thinking about the impossibility of matching supply and demand when you have unpredictable weather, unpredictable humans and supermarkets that provide everything in plentiful piles throughout the year.
I then buried myself in researching food waste and realising its scale and implications – both environmentally and financially. However, it was a simple fact that compelled me to act: we are wasting 1/3 of all the food we produce, whilst 1bn people go to bed hungry. I’m not saying I know the solution but there are improvements that we can make to the current system.
And then it came to me: a premium food brand making delicious products from fruit and vegetables that would otherwise be discarded.
What challenges have you faced along the way?
There seems to be a never-ending array of new challenges each day which keeps life interesting!
Initially the challenges were mainly around educating people about why waste or surplus existed and the need to value our supply chain. However, our greatest challenges now are around scaling up our production and winning new customers.
What has been the business’s biggest achievement so far?
The most exciting was being on the BBC News. They sent a car just 5 mins after calling me about the interview. I was in a hoody, looking pretty much the worse for wear, with no knowledge of the news story but off I went and had an amazing live interview on food waste in the UK.
But my proudest moment was a letter from the Queen. I’m a big fan of hers so I wrote to her asking what her favourite chutney was as I wanted to make her one for the Jubilee. She probably thought I was 10 years old, but wrote back with a lovely letter saying she couldn’t tell me her favourites but would love to try my chutney - so I sent her the range and she loved them!
What one piece of advice would you give to any business owners struggling to take their business to the next level?
I would advise them to really test their business out on a small scale first. Talk to lots of people, know how you are going to make your product and get it into the hands of the consumer to see where the challenges might lie.
Then, when you know there is a market for your product and how you are going to make it, just go for it whole-heartedly – give it your best shot and hope for the best.
How has the Innovating for Growth programme helped you?
It was great to have some time out from the day-to-day business and focus on the big picture and plan for growth. Reminding us that you can’t do everything at once and you need to concentrate on getting what you’re currently doing right before moving on to the next thing.
Finally, what’s next on the horizon for Rubies in the Rubble?
We’re really excited for the future and our next steps. We have been focused on making sure we nail it before we scale it for the last 3 years at Rubies and we are now confident that we have a valued brand and robust plan to really go for it. We are now developing new products with the hope of becoming an umbrella brand of great tasting foods made with the same ethos.
Watch this space!
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