Jenny Costa founded Rubies in the Rubble in 2011 after being shocked by the amount of fruit and veg that is rejected because it doesn’t look perfect. She rescued produce from New Covent Garden market and started experimenting in the kitchen, determined to find a way to put these aesthetically imperfect (but perfectly delicious) ingredients to good use.
Fast-forward to the present. Rubies in the Rubble is a publicly acclaimed, award-winning brand, their high-quality products stocked by leading UK retailers, delis, restaurants, and even trains!
Ogunte: What is your favourite Rubies in the Rubble product?
Jenny: The spicy tomato relish - I literally take it everywhere with me. I love it with poached eggs in the morning, hummus and salad or a bit of hard cheese.
Ogunte: Describe yourself in five words.
Jenny: Energetic, enthusiastic, impatient, light-hearted, imaginative.
Ogunte: What is your 3-point plan to tackle food waste?
Ogunte: What is your greatest challenge right now at Rubies?
Jenny: Just like any other small brand, we face the challenge of getting awareness of our brand out there. Getting people to know you and recognise your products on shelf, and take the risk of trying you. Especially when you’re a new product that might be more expensive than some of the bigger brands – it’s hard to get people to switch away from the brands they’ve been buying for a while.
Ogunte: What key lessons have you learned throughout your journey?
Jenny: My biggest lesson has been to make sure that everything you do and everything you put out that represents the brand is your best. Never send anything out that you’re not completely happy with. We learned this through trying to hit deadlines and feeling like the product wasn’t quite right, but rushing because of not wanting to miss the deadline. It’s better to miss a deadline, and know that anything with your name on it is something that you are proud of.
Secondly, I’ve learned to try and do one thing as best you can.
At the beginning, I tried to do too much: I used to work with homeless women and food waste, and I was sort of failing at both. The message to consumers was confusing. I ended up simplifying it to just have one focus, food waste, as that was my main passion. Hopefully, one day I’ll get to a scale when I can bring other things back in, and it’ll work.
I’m learning to focus on the actual product as well. I have a habit of constantly wanting to make up new products. I’ll be thinking: ‘Let’s go into snacks, or hot sauces!’ It takes discipline to rein in my ideas sometimes, and keep focused on what we’re doing.
Ogunte: Which areas of business do you find it hardest to be confident in?
Jenny: I’m not very good at selling. I find it really hard to sell my own products, probably because it’s so close to home. I watch other people do it and they’re so much better than me! I’m passionate about telling people about the brand, but I find it very difficult to ask people to buy a product.
I’m getting better, though. I find I have to almost remove myself from the brand, so as not to take it personally if someone doesn’t like the taste or something. Thankfully, I also have a great team around me, so I concentrate on hiring people that are better than me in a lot of areas.
Ogunte: What does self-care mean to you?
Jenny: I’m really passionate about this one. When we started Rubies in the Rubble, we were adamant that we would never be working 60-hour weeks or anything.
I firmly believe people work at their best when they’re fully relaxed and rested, and when they’re doing things outside work that make them tick, too. As a small team, we’re incredibly close, so we make sure we’re always aware of what’s going on in each other’s lives, so we can look after each other. It’s key to remember that not every day is going to be everyone’s best day.
For myself, I notice I can be rushed with people if something’s stressing me, especially if it’s something I’m not able to share with others. I can see myself being quick with people when I’m tired. For me, it’s important to take the time to rest and recover so that I’m not bringing the worst version of myself to the table.
Ogunte: What do you do to relax?
Jenny: I cycle everywhere, which I find very relaxing; it’s a great way to start and end my working day. I read quite a lot and do yoga, too. My husband and I love hiking and the outdoors. We have a tandem bike, so will often go cycling at the weekend.
People are different: some recharge and get energy from being alone, others are energised by being surrounded with people. I love people, so I tend to unwind by spending an evening with close friends.
Ogunte: If all goes to plan, what will your world look like in 2030? What skills do you need to focus on now to get you there?
Jenny: I would love Rubies in the Rubble to be a global household condiment brand that sets a new standard for the way our food should be produced. More brands would prioritise great flavour over looks, and source their ingredients in a resourceful, natural way.
The main thing for me is probably team leadership - I think it’s so important.
When everyone knows the direction of the business and they’re involved, you’re going to flourish and push together in the right direction.
As the business grows, I want to be a leader who encourages and motivates; one who instills passion and excitement for the mission in our team.
Ogunte: Finally, who are three women in social enterprise who inspire you?
1) Karen Lynch of Belu Water.
2) Sophie Tranchell of Divine Chocolate. She’s done an amazing job in creating a really cool brand, but also keeping it a cooperative with the farmers.
3) Stella McCartney. I think she’s tried to do things differently in fashion, and actually believes in it and stands by her principles. The fashion industry is a pretty hard one to hit, but she’s used her weight to try and make change.
4) Ertharin Cousin is a big hero of mine. She’s worked as the US Ambassador to the UN for Food and Agriculture and as the Executive Director of the World Food Programme. I met her a couple of years ago. She’s an incredibly hard-working and passionate woman, with masses of time for everybody, who puts together strategies for all sorts of areas, dealing with supply chains across Africa so they can become more sustainable. She’s very passionate about food waste, which is a massive problem in Africa, which obviously got me excited as well!
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