Jenny Costa: discovering Rubies in the Rubble

Most people will be familiar with the adage, ‘when life gives you lemons, you make lemonade.’ But what if life gives you a few too many tomatoes, or a bounty of onions? Jenny Costa of Rubies in the Rubble has a few suggestions. This entrepreneurial chutney enthusiast is determined to prevent food going to waste, and here’s how: 

Tell us a little about how the idea behind Rubies in the Rubble came about …

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. There was 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 spouts.

But just along from the bustle of the traders were the piles of unwanted fruit and veg: mange tout from Kenya, mangoes from the Philippines, tomatoes from Turkey and cranberries for California, which were 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 aim to provide everything in plentiful piles throughout the year. I then buried myself in researching food waste, realising its scale and implications – both environmentally and financially.

rubies in the rubble chutney

However, it was a simple fact that compelled me to act: we are wasting one third of all the food we produce, while one billion people go to bed hungry. This is not sustainable and I felt there must be improvements to be made to improve the current system. I wanted to make a brand that raised awareness and made use of perfectly good but otherwise discarded produce. And there it was: my part to play in the solution. A premium food brand making delicious products from fruit and vegetables that would otherwise be discarded – and it started with chutney!

Where do you source the ingredients for your products?

We started in a porta-cabin kitchen on site at New Spitalfields Market in 2012 and had two fun years working with unsold produce from the market. However, in 2014, we realized we needed to start working directly with large-scale farmers to source large-scale volumes of surplus. We now work directly with farmers and pack houses to take fruit and veg that fails aesthetic standards, or is simply in glut.

We work with the seasons and oddities I suppose. Just because a farmer has a great apple harvest, it doesn’t mean the demand for apples goes up to meet it. There might be an over-sized pear, a banana off the bunch, or tomatoes that are too ripe to sit on a shop shelf for 14 days, waiting for a buyer. We are not talking about bad food. It’s about taking the best yet sometimes the ripest or oddest-shaped food from the field, which does not currently have a place in our supply chain.

What’s the philosophy behind Rubies in the Rubble? 

Currently one third of all food produced globally is being wasted. Not only does this 1.3 billion tonnes of food waste have a financial and large carbon footprint, but we are also chopping down forests and using up valuable resources to produce it. At Rubies in the Rubble we are passionate about food sustainability and the resources of our planet, and therefore believe we need to stop wasting a third of our food supply – for our planet to continue feeding a growing population.

Right from the beginning I was passionate about creating a premium brand that truly celebrated everything that we have. Rubies in the Rubble is a food brand celebrating nature and its uniqueness. We aim to raise awareness about the need to value our food supply – seeing it as a precious, natural resource rather than a cheap commodity.

Aside from serving up delicious chutneys, what do you hope to achieve through your business?

Our hope is that each one of our jars is not only a practical solution to food waste but it also stands as a symbolic vehicle of our message; to treat your food as a precious, natural resource that needs to be enjoyed and treasured.

rubies in the rubble

Do your products change based on the ingredients available?

We currently have a permanent range of three relishes: Spicy Tomato, Red Onion and Chilli, and London Piccalilli. These were developed as we knew we could get year-round availability of surplus in all of their key ingredients. Out of these three, our Spicy Tomato is most popular as it goes well with so many things. It comes out at every meal time for me – for brunch with eggs, alongside salads, in sandwiches, on a burger, at picnics… It’s my number one go-to!

What’s coming up for Rubies in the Rubble?

We are really excited for the year ahead. We are expanding our range, working with more independent retailers, supplying relish to EAT. for their sandwiches, working with Virgin Trains and hopefully tracking their CO2 reductions from reducing their food surplus. We’re also exploring new products, including seasonal fruit compotes and a variety of ketchup products.

If you could offer the Khoollect community some simple tips for reducing food waste, where would you start?

  • Buy in season and value what’s in your fridge: by buying in season, you enjoy produce when it is naturally in abundance. Often, a farmer or producer will have a lot of surplus in high season as consumers don’t think seasonally.
  • I’d challenge you to never waste food in your home: have an idea of whats in your fridge and its life span when you shop, and then just adapt your recipes to make the most of everything you have.
  • Utilise your freezer: if you know you are going to be out most of the week, get freezing your bread and milk. Make fruit compotes or soups and stews, and freeze them for another time. Freeze herbs, make ice cubes from wine for stock … get imaginative!
  • Do anything to help you preserve what you have, and I promise it’s very satisfying as well as sustaining our food supply!

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Sonya Gellert

Sonya Gellert is a contributing writer and associate editor for Khoollect. She lives in Sydney....

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To discover more about Rubies in the Rubble, visit their website, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.