04 July 2014
Chine Mbubaegbu meets Jenny Dawson, founder of chutneymaking social enterprise Rubies in the Rubble.
Each year in the UK alone, a whopping 18 million tonnes of food winds up as landfill costing an estimated £23 billion. It's this staggering statistic and the realisation that all this is happening while a billion people go to bed hungry every night that drives the vision behind Rubies in the Rubble, an innovative social enterprise that combines delicious chutneys with an important message.
A third of the UK food waste comes from producers and the supply chain and a further third from retail. On reading about these statistics in the media in 2010, Jenny Dawson – who attends King's Cross Church (KXC) and at the time was working as a hedge fund trader – decided to do something to raise awareness while reducing waste.
And so Rubies in the Rubble was born, combatting "a culture of excessive waste" by producing delicious handmade chutneys and jam from discarded fresh fruits and vegetables. The company's messages are simple, but game-changing: make use of what you have;care about your resources, embrace oddity.
"Reading articles about food waste showed me that a lot of food that was perfectly fine was being thrown away," says Jenny – now aged 28. "Having grown up on a farm in rural Scotland, I started to see how far removed our supermarket products were from coming out of the ground. Supermarkets wanted fruit and vegetables to be perfectlyshaped and not dependent on seasons. It made me want to react.
"But it wasn't really these stats, but the fact that there is so much food poverty around the world;all while there seems to be so much slack in our supply chain. There are so many ways that we could waste less and therefore demand less on the world food market and keep food in the market for those that don't have it."
Launched in 2011, Rubies in the Rubble chutneys are now sold in the likes of Waitrose, Fortnum & Masons and Selfridges. Jenny has also received widespread recognition for her work, including Rubies in the Rubble winning a Ben & Jerry's sustainable business competition and picking up the Veuve Cliquot New Generation women in business award.
Despite the awards, Jenny's feet remain firmly on the ground and her heart committed to the vision and mission of her enterprise. When she started exploring where there were large-scale gluts, she found it was in farms or wholesale fruit and veg markets. Because they were perishable items, it was important to be close to the site so they set up a kitchen on-site at Old Spitalfields market in London –a market with 700,000 tonnes of fruit and veg passing through it every year and 200 tonnes being thrown away every week simply because there's no buyer, despite nothing being wrong with the produce.
Rubies in the Rubble would pay a tiny amount for the surplus rather than the vendors having to pay to have it thrown away. "What was extraordinary," Jenny says, "was that most of the stuff we were getting was perfect.
"I knew that simply starting a brand made from surplus is not the answer to solving this problem, but it was a way to make people think and something I'm really passionate about.
"I wanted a brand that reflected hidden gems in society –things that we overlook because of their outward appearance. I had just joined KXC and they were doing talks on how Jesus views people and how God the creator views everybody from the inside out and it made me think of how I'd become hardened. Working for a hedge fund, you are surrounded by quite a lot of glamour and wealth. I didn't have time for people on the street corner. They seemed very removed from my world –but we're all people created by God."
So what next for Rubies in the Rubble? Since launching, the enterprise has now outgrown their kitchen, so Jenny and her business partner have decided to outsource the production and focus entirely on food waste and poverty, linking up with charities working in areas that are not so fortunate as the UK. Although it is a time of change, Jenny remains confident that God has a plan. "Rubies has been unbelievably blessed," she says. "I've never felt fear in running it. I have always felt peaceful about it and felt that I could hold it so lightly. I don't worry whether it might all end tomorrow."