In 2010, Jenny Dawson was a couple of years out of university working at a hedge fund company in London. One day, she found herself at a wholesale market where she saw pallets of edible fruit and vegetables going to the waste bin. The food had been grown in neighboring countries in Europe and as far away as Kenya.
To Dawson it was sheer madness and an environmental and social travesty that so much good food requiring great resources to grow and transport to London would ultimately end up in the garbage. “Seeing pallets of perfectly good fruit coming in from Kenya destined for the garbage evoked a reaction in me. There must be something we could do. We can’t be this wasteful,” says Dawson.
This was during the global financial crisis, and the rising unemployment rate was also weighing heavily on her mind. She decided to quit her job at the hedge fund company and tackle both issues at the same time. “I handed in my notice at work after the Christmas break. I was only 25 years old with no ties and felt as long as I gave it my best shot, I couldn't really lose. If it all failed, at least I’d have some great stories to tell about why it all went so wrong,” says Dawson.
She founded a social venture called Rubies in the Rubble, which employs people struggling to find jobs to make hand-crafted chutneys and jams using previously wasted fruits and vegetables.
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According to Dawson, “By employing Londoners who are struggling to get back into the workplace to make our chutneys, we aim to tackle one problem, our job shortage, with another — our surplus of food.” The UK generates 16 million metric tons of food waste every year, costing an estimated $34 billion annually.
Rubies in the Rubble was founded upon a core belief — that perfectly good food has no place in the garbage bin, and that everyone deserves a job that provides livelihood and the self confidence that comes along with it. With her social enterprise, Dawson is taking great things that are often discarded by society and putting them to use in the creation of preserved products. This was the inspiration behind the company's name.
In its early days, the startup began by renting kitchen space from organizations in London and selling a couple hundred jars of chutney each week at Borough Market. Since then, the company has formed a partnership with the city of London and received a foundation grant for a small commercial kitchen located at the New Spitalfield’s wholesale market, where approximately 10,000-11,000 tons of fruits and vegetables go to waste each year. This way, the company is perfectly positioned to intercept the produce that would have gone to waste and immediately put it to use in its products.
Now the company is pursuing a two-pronged approach: It will continue to develop new products and provide mentorship and support for employees at its existing kitchen location. In addition, it will partner with select suppliers and co-packers to create larger runs of its most popular products in order to achieve better economies of scale. “That way, we can make use of larger volumes of food waste and still remain a profitable social enterprise,” says Lawson.
Rubies in the Rubble has already received several accolades including a sustainable business award from Ben & Jerry’s (in partnership with Ashoka) and a Good Housekeeping Food Award being named one of this year's Sustania100.