Exeleon Magazine

Interview with Founder of Rubies in the Rubble Jenny Costa

Rubies In the Rubble_Interview_Jenny Costa_ExeleonMagazine

Growing up on a farm in Scotland, Jenny Costa learnt early to value food. But it was only when she was introduced to an article about food wastage and its associated problems that she found a purpose.

Subsequently, as a side hustle, she started rescuing produce from New Convent Garden Market and began experimenting recipes. However, in 2012, she decided to spearhead this purpose in a larger scale and founded Rubies in the Rubble.

Today, the purpose-driven leader has shouldered the company towards success and positioned it as one of the leading voices in the food sustainability domain. Exeleon Magazine interviews Jenny Costa to discuss about her journey, vision, and leadership.

What according to you makes for an inspiring leader? How do you integrate the same thought into your leadership?

In my opinion, a great leader is someone with an infectious passion for the mission of the business, and the ability to let go of areas to enable a fired up, focused team to take ownership and run.

What has been your role as a leader since founding Rubies in the Rubble back in 2011?

As a leader of a small but growing business, with its foundations in sustainability, my role has primarily been to attract and bring people along on the journey with me. To ensure the team feels supported and aware of the business goals and their clear attributions to them. Its important to create and uphold a vision for the company, to ensure that all strategies follow the vision.

I firmly believe the more you look after your team, the more you get from them. Everyone performs better when they are operating at their best and knowing their purpose.

What was the thought that led to the inception of the company? What is the history behind the name of the company?

I was brought up on a small organic farm in Scotland so food production and the value of food was always something I held dearly. However, it wasn’t until I read an article about food waste that I became aware of its scale and impact which started my research around the issues. However it wasn’t until a very early morning visit to a wholesale fruit and veg market on my bike one frosty day in November 2010 that the idea for Rubies in the Rubble came about.

‘I fell in love with it – 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, mangos from the Philippines, tomatoes from Turkey, cranberries for California which bypassed the bustle of traders and 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 provide everything in plentiful piles throughout the year.

Having researched food waste and knowing its scale and implications – both environmentally and financially – I knew I had to act. I’m not saying I had the solution but I knew there were definitely improvements and awareness to be made to the current system. And that was it – I would launch a first class food brand making delicious condiments from fruit and vegetables that would otherwise be discarded!

The name came that first day at the market – cycling home, I was thinking about the innate beauty in everything and how much we discarded in such a consumer driven society. Diamonds in the dust came into mind… and then there it was – Rubies in the Rubble.

Looking back at your career, what would you have done different when starting out?

Everyone starts businesses differently. Some plan and then raise investment first before starting, whilst others run things on a shoe-string, testing their ideas and pivoting before raising investment. I was the latter. I wasn’t sure what I was creating but just had a passion towards the cause and knew I wanted to make a difference. I would have gone a lot faster if I had researched the market, launched with backing and a clear game plan. However, there is a lot to be said for going slow as well. I know the supply chain inside out and are crystal clear on our purpose and the type of brand we want to be.

What has been the biggest driving factor for you as a leader and entrepreneur?

Having a purpose lead business gives you a reason to get up every morning and keep pushing forward. My passion for success comes from the impact we can make as a brand.

Rubies in the Rubble’s message is to treasure our resources and see all food as something precious & to be treasured; to be eaten and celebrated.

The food supply chain is a very complex system and food waste occurs at so many different levels throughout it.

In developed countries (the UK), a big part of the problem is our attitude towards food and therefore there is a lot of change that can come through the consumer changing  their attitudes. For example, waste occurs on the farm level for 2 reasons; supply and demand imbalances and failed aesthetic standards. Farmers are caught between unpredictable growing conditions and unpredictable consumer demands. Weather and growing conditions also affect the size and shape of the fruit, and while we can’t control the weather, we can help by buying produce in season and in all shapes and sizes.

Educating the consumer, lowering retailers specifications on size, shape and colour for produce, can make a big impact in preventing crop being wasted un-necessarily. I hope our products help change those attitudes.

What would be your advice for some of the aspiring women leaders and entrepreneurs?

If you have something on your mind that you cant let go / live without doing, go for it full heartedly. Be brave and do a trial / start small, check there is an appetite and want for your business and then pull people around you that can make it happen.

What makes Rubies in the Rubble a sustainable food brand? How do you help curb down food wastage?

Rubies was founded to do something about the 1/3 of all food that is wasted each year. When we started, we were using surplus fruit and veg from London markets (New Covent Garden and Borough), and in order to grow, started to work directly with farms to eliminate the 40% of food that is wasted at that level. We exist to raise the profile of food so that food waste becomes a thing of the past. We want people to view food as a precious resource – it’s the reason we’re called Rubies In The Rubble – and our broader mission is to raise awareness of this modern issue and get people to rethink their consumption habits.

What has been the biggest roadblock during your journey? What has been your biggest learning?

When I started selling our condiments in 2011, food waste was a hippy notion. There was not the awareness around it that there is today and no one understood it as a going environmental concern. Therefore, the educational part was our biggest hurdle, on top of just bringing an unknown brand to market. Our main focus has always been to ensure that the products speak for themselves. We want to make the best in class to ensure people buy them again and again. You can never lean on your ethos or purpose as a brand, the product must serves the consumer’s needs first and foremost.

How do you plan to take Rubies in the Rubble forward? On a personal front, where do you see yourself standing in the coming years?

We aim to become the household name for sustainable condiments. We are focusing on bringing our ketchup and mayo to restaurants across the country and will later extend our range to serve all condiment needs!

Name your biggest inspiration among women.

Jo Fairley of Green and Blacks

Finally, what do you think is the most important trait for a leader and why?

The ability to delegate and recognize your own strengths and weaknesses

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