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Rubies In The Rubble - How To Combat Food Waste

Have you ever gone to a fruit and vegetable market at the end of the day and wondered what happens to the discarded produce?

Jenny Dawson, a former hedge fund manager who now runs a company called Rubies in the Rubble, has found an ideal solution to combat the global problem of wasted surplus food. Her company produces high-quality chutneys made from discarded fruit and vegetables. I interviewed Jenny recently on The Goldstein on Gelt Show.

To find out how and why Jenny founded her company, you can listen to the interview at or read the transcript below:

Douglas Goldstein:What are these rubies?

Jenny Dawson:The rubies I supposed came from wanting to make a product. I did things that were otherwise discarded in our society but had perfectly good value. So at the moment, we make a range of chutneys from what would be discarded fruits and vegetables and normally due to [inaudible 0:06:33] and seasoned or aesthetic looks. They've become our rubies and it might be a one key carrot or an odd-shaped pear and then we put them into processing and make new products from them.

Douglas Goldstein:The interesting thing about this is that it seems that you are looking for things that are downtrodden, that aren't worth so much and that you hope to either to make them to something more in the future which sounds a lot like what you were doing as a hedge fund manager.

Jenny Dawson:The whole idea for the brand came from realizing how much we discard because of its appearance and that there's beauty in things that we're not fully using and a lot of the fruit and vegetables was because we almost have so much in our society that we could afford to be that wasteful, but also that if it's something was odd shaped or looked a bit strange from the eyesight but still tasted amazing inside and have all the same great values that we want to bring life to that.

Douglas Goldstein:Presumably, you can actually purchase these fruits and vegetables at much below the market price for I guess pretty vegetables and fruits?

Jenny Dawson:We worked with predominantly Thomas that would supply to supermarket chains or supply a quite high spec for things. We will purchase from them. They maybe being discarded because they didn't have say about 14-day life so they can sit on the shelf so they might be a little soft or that their size might be too small or too large or that they've had an amazing crop in an amazing season and there's not the demand for apples just because they have a great season doesn't mean that everybody starts eating more apples.

That's the main reason that we will get them. Now in the UK, people are charging producers and manufacturers to throw away food as well so in a way can save money as well but there are big costs come on the fact that they are often odd shapes and odd size so a lot of processing has to be done by hand.

Douglas Goldstein:You brought up the apples because we were recently having discussion about how the average life of an apple in the US that you buy in the store is 14 months old and presumably they're somehow magically preserved. That doesn't happen with a lot of the fruits and vegetables you're looking at?

Jenny Dawson:They do have large storage units which sort of basically big chillers to try and keep the season of apples so that we can have British apples the whole year round but even then, they will still sell a lot of sapless up and down the supply chain. It might not be at the [formal] level, it might be in the packed houses or when you get close to the supermarkets themselves.

Douglas Goldstein:Tell us about your transition from money management to making food. How did you get the company started?

Jenny Dawson:I was 25 when we started Rubies in the Rubble. I did masters in mathematics and had been working in the hedge fund for just over two years. I almost went into working in the hedge fund with little thought. It was more to use my degree and also to pay back some of the student debt but I'd never really had a passion for finance. I loved the job that I was in. The people were really inspiring. The money was good but at the end of the day I wasn't reading about finance and it wasn't something that I was particularly excited about and I wanted a job that actually excite me day to day and I was passionate about the end course. I randomly just started researching food waste and mainly to begin with looking at the scale of it economically and environmentally and realizing how big an issue it was in the UK. In 2010, it was around 22 billion pounds spent on dealing with food waste and it was coming for what they estimated 10% of our green house gasses for mainly rotting food and also the transportation of it. So from that, I sort of realized the scale of it but also it was almost the childhood thought of this 1 billion people going to bed hungry every night and we're wasting a third of what we produce globally and still constantly trying to make more and grow more and have more crops and really there's so much slack in the supply chain where we could be preventing waste and actually a lot of what is wasted is the same that you see on the shelves.

I think because I was so young as well and I was eager to do something that I was passionate about, I had this feeling that there wasn't really much room to it and I should start and try it for two years and it fails, I have a lot of experience and I can easily jump back into another paid position with probably more knowledge and more wealthy knowledge of how markets work and how hard it is to start a business. If it succeeded, keep on going with it.

Douglas Goldstein:When you started a new company, did you find as an entrepreneur that a lot of the skills that you had in the money management world applied or was it a completely new concept?

Jenny Dawson:I think it was a new concept. Being part of a big organization, you can almost belittle or sort of look down on smaller companies in a way or not realized how much knowledge and hardship and doing things at the small scale is when you haven't got a team to back you up and you're pretty much doing everything. There were so many things, the practical things that I had to learn of how to make a basic website, how to manage people, and how to make a product the right price and getting it to market. I think getting something to market and actually selling it and getting it into the consumers' home was the big challenge. You can make the best product in the world but it's still hard to get on that shelf. It's so competitive I supposed to change people's habits. There was a lot of new learning.

Douglas Goldstein:Do the people who buy your product feel like they're buying second quality or lower quality goods?

Jenny Dawson:I don't think so. We're very purposely mainly because of what we were trying to achieve as a brand and what we felt that Rubies in the Rubbles stood for that everything that we did, we wanted to be about making sure it was first class tasting and look first class as well so that it competes on a shelf alongside anything else without anybody knowing the back story. Also because we are quite small as well and because of the nature of having to use [inaudible 0:14:30] fruits and vegetables means that there's a lot of processing by hand and it's from a fresh fruit rather than a [inaudible 0:14:36] to make our chutneys and we got on well and I want to give them an opportunity and the belief that when people got work, it gives them a sense of pride and meaning to their life and if they got something to be involved in, there was real friendship brought through that.

So we had up until about a month ago a great team of women that worked in our kitchen but as we've scaled up, we sort of had this question of whether we invest heavily into new manufacturing and increase our production scale or the alternative is working with another British manufacturer and using their facilities. So recently, we just outsourced them to another manufacturer down in Somerset which has also given us a lot of breathing space as well and looking at how we want to grow as we're coming to hopefully at the end of this year starting to make profit and wondering how we want to distribute that profit and how we want to work as a company. I think I was quite naïve thinking from the very outset I could tackle both the social side of working with disadvantage and providing employment at the same time as trying to work with what would be discarded fruits and vegetables. We now still want to be a brand just for the focus and known for looking at food and poverty, food injustice, working with food waste and trying to link up with charities that can better do that in other countries as well.

Douglas Goldstein:How can people follow your work?

Jenny Dawson:Best especially from Israel, we've got a website and Twitter @rubiesinrubble as well as Facebook page. We're now working with quite a few distributors which is getting our chutneys around to countries that we never thought that we'd be supplying to.