My Week: Jenny Dawson, Rubies in the Rubble

The chutney connoisseur on launching into Waitrose, her passion for condiments, and why the horsemeat scandal nearly wrecked her plans.

by Emma Haslett
Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013
I’ve just got back from a tasting for our chutney company, Rubies in the Rubble, at John Lewis on Oxford Street. This week our products hit the shelves in Waitrose – and it’s amazing how it’s gone down. I dread to think how many oatcakes we got through today.

I founded Rubies in the Rubble in 2010. The produce we use to make it is surplus, usually from farmers who supply supermarkets, and are either funny shapes or dented, or just soft. When supermarkets get it, they want to make sure the products have at least 21 days of shelf life – so we’re putting it to good use.

I was working in a hedge fund when I started the business. I realised how much food was being thrown out that was perfectly fit for purpose, and it made me want to do something about it. As nation we just shouldn’t be wasting this much.

I was bought up on a farm in Scotland and my mum would always make chutneys and jams with surplus fruit and veg. Whenever there was a glut of products, she’d do it. I’ve always been obsessed with condiments – throughout university, I lived on toast and cheese, so jam and chutney were a big part of my diet. It’s the one thing I know how to cook.

Our kitchen is at New Spitalfields Market, near the Olympic site in east London. I usually arrive at about 8am, just as the fruit and veg market, which runs through the night, is finishing. We spend the day cooking and labeling – we usually make about 80 jars in one batch, and each day we do around two or three batches. I love being in the kitchen, but these days finding new suppliers and buyers and filling in health and safety forms takes up a bit more time. I try to get into the kitchen one or two days a week.

It’s exciting to be in Waitrose – it’s been a while coming. Around the time that we started talking to them, the horsemeat scandal hit and they put a stop on launching new products. They had to check everything on their shelves, and they wanted to make sure they’d gone through everything they already had before they took anyone else on.

We were incredibly fortunate to get our first meeting with the buyer there. I went to Uganda last August with Ben & Jerry’s, and a writer from the Guardian was out with us. He did a piece on our business, which the head of sustainability at Waitrose read. He said, ‘I like the brand – I’d love to have you in for a meeting’.

We’ve been talking about celebrating the launch into Waitrose. We’ve been going for two years now and haven’t had a launch party at all. Come September time, I think we’ll do something. Relax over the summer and once we’ve got into the groove of things, we’ll have a celebration.

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