Welcome back to The Good List, our guide to brilliant businesses making a difference to people and the planet. Today I’ve been chatting to the lovely Jenny Dawson about her company, Rubies in the Rubble. Two years ago, she made a dramatic career change, leaving behind her lucrative job in a hedgefund to make posh chutney from unwanted fruit and veg. With a combination of hard work, creativity and great branding, her colourful condiments can now be spotted on the shelves of Fortnum & Mason and Harvey Nics.
Let’s meet Jenny and find out how it all began…
Introduce us to your business in a Tweet
Surplus is our requirement. Our ingredients must pass a strict taste test not a beauty contest. Wonky? Tiddly? Pear-shaped? You’re in!
Why do you do what you do?
I set up Rubies in the Rubble two years ago after researching food waste and finding the scale of the problem quite overwhelming. In the UK it accounts for around 10% of greenhouse gases and has a cost of around £22 billion each year. But it was the simple fact that a third of food is wasted globally, whilst over one billion people go to bed hungry, that made me want to act. That was the start of Rubies.
What makes you different?
I’m passionate about making premium, first-class products from surplus and through them, I hope to raise awareness about food sustainability. It’s not just about great tasting products.
Was Rubies in the Rubble your ‘plan A’ or did you do something else before?
Before Rubies, I was working in a hedgefund, having done a Masters in mathematics. I loved the people I worked with, but knew it wasn’t the job for me. When I started Rubies I was so passionate about the cause and my work, I knew it was right.
Who benefits from the social element of your business?
All our products are made from fruit and veg that would otherwise have been discarded due to their shape, or simply supply and demand imbalances. We currently have a range of chutneys, which not only taste amazing but also carry our message and hopefully make people think about how much in our society is wasted unnecessarily. Our products are a literal solution to food waste, but also to stand as symbolic vehicles of our message to consume less, think more, and be proud of it.
What’s the story behind your chutney?
We started in charity kitchens in London with a great team of women struggling to get back into employment. We collected old jam jars from cafés and restaurants around London, and off-cut materials for labels, selling our medley of various shaped jars on market stalls.We then built our own porta-cabin kitchen and continued to grow our brand. Through chutney production, our aim was to empower the women, build friendships and confidence and help them move on to grasp other opportunities in society.
However, in February this year we reached the capacity of our kitchen. With exciting plans to launch a new range of products, we decided to manufacture outside of our own kitchen and concentrate solely on addressing our core mission: the eradication of unnecessary food waste.
It must have been hard employing people who had been out of work for a long time?
There were tough times but, on the whole, it was a really rewarding two years. There were a lot of highs and we had a great team work and a wonderful community.
Why should people invest in ethically-produced goods?
I am passionate about businesses addressing problems in our society within their operations, rather than as an add-on or afterthought. Sustainable solutions that directly address issues in our society can really change things if enough people back them.
Can you remember the moment you realised Rubies in the Rubble was (or would be) a success?
Not really, I feel the more you grow, the more challenges and adventures you see and dreams you have. Meeting Prince Charles was a definite highlight though – we met him at an event showcasing social businesses. I gave him a jar of chutney and received a lovely thank you letter from him the next week. Hearing he liked our chutneys was so exciting!
Share something you wish you knew before you started out?
I was very naïve in thinking if I make the best product, everyone will just want it and come to me. But it’s very competitive and getting on to a shelf and into a home takes a lot of time and work. Gaining trust as a new brand is hard.
What idea or product do you wish you’d come up with?
Oh, I’m always daydreaming. There are so many things that would have been amazing… Airbnb being one of them!
Where do you call home?
The West coast of Scotland, in my parents’ house, where I was brought up. I love going back.
What do you think your home says about you?
I’m not sure but I feel free, creative and laugh a lot when I’m there. Everyone has so much time for each other and always thinking up funny games to amuse ourselves with.
What are you looking forward to?
Family, the next adventure and the growth of Rubies… there is always something around the corner!
Do go and try Rubies in the Rubble’s yummy chutneys for yourself and please help me share this brilliant story – whether you tell one good friend or a thousand followers – together we can spread the word that design can make a difference!
[Photographs courtesy of Rubies in the Rubble]