Rubies In The Rubble

Posted by editor 23/10/2013 0 Comment 4144 views


2Figen Gunes visits a chutney social business reducing food waste and employing disadvantaged people. //

Old bananas will soon be back on the menu in the form of banana ketchups made with chilli, ginger and spices thanks to Rubies in the Rubble, an award-winning social enterprise producing premium quality chutneys from discarded food.

Given the fact that banana is the most wasted perishable in the UK, the ethical social enterprise will make better use of out-of-date bananas.

Rubies in the Rubble was set up in 2011 by Jenny Dawson, 28 (above), after she saw how vast amounts of unsold fruit and vegetables were thrown away at London’s New Spitalfields market. At that time she was working for a hedge fund Odey Asset Management but decided to leave her job to do something different.

She tells me about the reactions of people around her at the time she resigned to make chutneys. “Food waste was a subject people didn’t speak much about as only bin divers and hippies were dealing with discarded food. But then food waste became topical just before we started. So we were lucky that it turned into a big agenda for the government.

“Since I started, awareness about food waste has increased. Markets have targets of reducing food waste. Government charges for tonnes of food waste for any commercial business. Supermarkets are getting more pressure from public. I’m optimistic,” she adds.

One of the great causes of waste in the UK is the  emphasis placed on fresh food, which is governed according to EU rules. So misshapen and odd-size fruit are used by Rubies… in chutneys to prevent shape related waste.

Dawson says that they have been fortunate that people loved the story and ethos behind the brand. The company has been providing delicious chutneys for nine Waitrose stores in London and several other delis. It’s available in 35 stores across the UK in total. Also it’s sold in Borough Market near the Ginger Pig on a stall on Saturdays.

She stresses that it’s highly competitive to get a shelf space in supermarkets and she was naive in terms of planning this. “I only thought about production site but not enough on the selling aspect. I just focused on making perfect chutneys. Real struggle is getting people to be aware of your product.”

Rubies In The Rubble just pays for delivery and packing to farmers they work with in Kent and Linconshire so that farmers don’t have to pay for waste charges. When they started, Dawson asked community groups to stock jars for her but now has standard jars after started selling it to delis. Each chutney is slightly different because of fresh stuff that has been put in.

They operate from a portakabin, which was converted into a commercial kitchen in New Spitalfields Market, Leyton. There is a great atmosphere  in their kitchen. Five women working there are employed through the charity Crisis and they receive a London living wage. They represent the biggest cost for this social business as other chutney makers  use tinned fruit and vegetables, which are cheaper in terms of labour costs as it doesn’t involve chopping.

“Social enterprises should compete,” says Dawson. “We are premium and willing to compete against all other premiums. We are living in a capitalist society and problems are addressed through companies. Initially we didn’t tell anyone it was from discarded food because we were confident about our quality,” she says.

With their emphasis on lowering food waste and employing people with housing issues, hopefully Rubies… will be helping people out of a pickle for years to come.






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