💥 #6 - Impact Initiative: Rubies in the Rubble are packing a punch in the fight against food waste. 

Featuring Jenny Costa, Founder and CEO. Psst, there's a discount code at the end!

Rubies in the Rubble is packed with purpose. Their award-winning range of ketchups, mayos and relishes are made from surplus ingredients that would otherwise have gone to waste for being the ‘wrong’ shape, size, or colour. The result? Since 2012, they have saved 294,500 kilograms of CO2e from entering the atmosphere and 351,600 kilograms of fruit and veg from going to waste.

We caught up with Jenny Costa, Founder and CEO, to hear more about what Rubies in the Rubble are doing to reduce their environmental impact whilst also packing a punch in the fight against food waste. From packaging innovations to reducing hotspots in their supply chains, Jenny has led a team of pioneers which are working tirelessly to build a planet positive brand. Their motto? Make use of what you have. Care about your resources. Embrace oddity. Sounds good to us!

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You do have to make decisions which weigh up beauty and recyclability. A lot of post-consumer recycled plastic is opaque and grey, which isn’t always the most appealing, but it depends how we design and market it too. 

👉 Overall, what are you doing as a company to reduce your impact on the environment?

We’re on track to become carbon negative this year, and we’ve also achieved B Corp Certification. We’ve consistently been trying to reduce our environmental impact by, for example, reducing the amount of plastic in our packaging and making the transportation of our aquafaba less energy intensive. 

Right from the start of Rubies in the Rubble our ingredients have come from surplus food that would otherwise have been wasted. Because of this, we’ve always tracked the impact we’re having by saving fruit and veg from going to landfill - so that we can communicate it to our customers. So far, that’s 351,600+ kg of fruit and vegetables. 

👉 How are you finding the process of becoming carbon negative?

It’s forcing us to analyse every part of our activity chain. From what transportation we’re using, to how much product we’re refrigerating, to how long we’re cooking our ingredients - it’s a very thorough process. Especially important for us is identifying if anything is wasted. We want to make sure that we are real stewards of our resources and our stock levels are really well managed. Looking at our roadmap of being carbon negative, it’s more important for us to be doing this internal work to mitigate our emissions than simply offsetting and achieving our goal. 

How long will becoming carbon negative take you?

To offset our organisational footprint, it could be really easy and really cheap. We could do it tomorrow. However, we don’t want to greenwash, and when we started looking into our supply chain and product it became a lot more complex and time consuming. 

We’ll be looking into all three mayo flavours and our ketchup this year. The ketchup comes in different formats for catering and retail, so will be slightly more complex. We aim to complete a full analysis for our relishes next year. We want to make sure we do them thoroughly and spend time planning how to mitigate our emissions as we go. 

What partners are you working with to become carbon negative?

We’re working with Carbon Footprint. We spoke to a lot of different organisations - for example, the Carbon Trust were one of our favourites but they’re much more expensive and typically work with larger companies. We felt like Carbon Footprint was right for our size and are a team that we trust. 

👉 What have you done to reduce your CO2e emissions?

We’ve always been a sustainably minded business, and so we try to go that extra mile to improve the things we can change. We’ve innovated in quite a few areas over the years. 

As much of our packaging as possible is recyclable, from our label materials to our lids and our outer packaging. Our London deliveries are now done via bicycle, even to locations like Marriott Hotels, by PedalMe. We did a trial in Nandos, and the whole team loved it when the PedalMe bicycle came along to drop off ketchup!

If we can avoid something, or if there’s an alternative, then we do it. An example is our Mayo. We work with two different hummus manufacturers in Wales and Lincolnshire, and when they cook their chickpeas, we gather the viscous liquid leftover called aquafaba. Currently, because the aquafaba only has a 48-hour shelf life, it’s frozen in 10 litre pails and transported to our manufacturer in Sussex who will defrost it as we make each batch of Mayo. We normally transport around 3 tonnes of aquafaba at a time. This is an energy intensive process, so instead we’re looking to make an aquafaba powder so we can skip the freezing and defrosting process. This will also mean that we can transport more aquafaba in a less carbon intensive way, as we’ve removed water weight and the dry powder won’t need refrigeration en route. 

Another process that we’ve made more efficient is the manufacturing of our pear-based relishes. Our pears come from Essex and Norfolk and, like most fresh fruit and veg, pears are very seasonal. To save us importing pears, or freezing them, we make all our stock of relishes within pear season. Each relish then has a shelf life of 2 years once it’s been jarred, and it can be stored at room temperature. Similarly with our ketchup, we first place it in large cans to store it so that we can make it in season and in bulk, and then we distribute it accordingly.

👉 What visibility do you have of your complete supply chain? As a company that focuses on saving food that would’ve gone to waste, do you have a close relationship with your suppliers?

Most of our ingredients for the mayos and relishes, other than spices, are sourced from the UK. We use UK produced glass and UK produced labels, and once our products are made they’re packaged into a cardboard box and taken straight to the customer or smaller distribution centres from our Sussex site. We work closely with UK farmers to source food that would’ve otherwise gone to waste. 

Our ketchup is made in Portugal because the processing required to turn fresh tomatoes into ketchup can’t be found at the scale required in the UK. Our tomatoes are grown in fields surrounding the factory in Portugal but with sugar and water being the main ingredients in the ketchup, we’ve replaced all the water and 1/2 the sugar with surplus pears from a cooperative of farmers in the next valley.

How does sourcing certain ingredients abroad affect the carbon footprint of your products? 

Growing a tomato in the UK actually has a higher carbon footprint than growing a tomato in Europe and transporting it to the UK. UK greenhouses require heating and year-round climate control, which isn’t needed in some parts of Europe - like Portugal. We struggled with this concept at the start, but once we looked into the impact of our supply chain we felt like this was the right move environmentally. 

I think this would surprise a lot of consumers. 

I think there’s a great misconception of the carbon footprint of transporting goods. It’s actually a tiny percentage in comparison to the footprint of growing the fruit and veg. WWF has lots of information on this, and so do reports like Tesco’s food waste report. It’s important to ensure that food isn’t wasted, because the footprint can be so high, but it’s also important to ensure that the food is grown in a place which makes ecological sense. 

How have you found the process of collecting data about your supply chain?

We had to collect data from our supply chain a while ago, when we first started measuring the carbon footprint of our fruit and veg. At the moment, we’re still in the early stages of tracking absolutely every part of our supply chain. 

👉 You mentioned the transportation of aquafaba as an identified hotspot of emissions. Have you discovered any others?

Absolutely. Pre-COVID, 80% of our business was supplying restaurants, pubs and hotel groups. For these businesses we offer a glass bottle with a screen printed label (which is less carbon intensive). The glass bottles can go through the dishwasher 150 times, and we then sell 10 litre bibs and boxes of ketchup that they can use to refill them. This means that we’re not transporting heavy glass bottles for every order, and it also makes financial sense as we can compete in price with companies like Heinz if our customers buy in bulk. Using bibs and boxes also saves a lot of plastic, as a lot of catering kitchens won’t accept glass for safety reasons and so use plastic pails, buckets and products instead. As well as all that, it’s a win-win for the restaurants, as a glass bottle is nicer to have on the table than a plastic one. Since lockdown we’ve been selling more of the boxes and bibs into refill shops and low-waste shops, which is great. 

However, the bib that we supply isn’t recyclable. It has a foil lining, as ketchup can’t have light or air and also needs a long shelf life. This bib ultimately allows us to reduce overall plastic supplied to these businesses, but it still has an impact. We’re doing a lot of work with TerraCycle in how we collect these bags, alongside other brands like Minor Figures. However, this is fairly bespoke, so you need volume. The larger the quantity recycled through TerraCycle the lower the carbon footprint of collecting it in the first place, so it needs to be worth it, which is a challenge.  

This is a small hotspot that the team at Rubies in the Rubble are working hard to address, and we’re very aware of it.  

Do you have any similar issues with other aspects of your packaging?

With our ketchup, definitely. 96% of the ketchup market is in ‘squeezies’, only a tiny market share is in glass. There are many reasons for this; usability, portion control, it seems nice and clean with no build up around the lid, it’s easier for kids to hold so they drop it on the floor, and many more. 

At the moment we’re working on a year and a half long project trying to create the first squeezy bottle made from post-consumer recycled plastic, which is also 100% recyclable. The only thing holding this up at the moment is the valve of the bottle, which is the one part which isn’t typically recyclable anyway. 

What’s been the scope of this project?

At the moment we’re trialling our Ketchup in different post-consumer recycled plastics. Ketchup has to get filled at 97 degrees celsius, so the plastic has to be able to withstand that. We have also talked a lot with Ecover and Method. Ecover had a few accidents in the early days with their ocean plastic bottles. They’d seem fine for the first two weeks, but then some would start to leak on supermarket shelves. That’s one thing with fairy liquid, but so much worse with Ketchup! We’re trying to do it the right way, and so it’s taking time. 

I get really excited at the challenge of creating a squeezy bottle that’s not the ugly sister to a glass bottle. We want something that’s funky and sexy on the table, but there are a lot more important factors too - like the price point for the consumer. 

Do you feel like you have to compromise between how it looks and how sustainable it is?

You do have to make decisions which weigh up beauty and recyclability. A lot of post-consumer recycled plastic is opaque and grey, which isn’t always the most appealing, but it depends how we design and market it too. 

It’s a question of how do we make a bigger impact by selling more, and get our brand out there, but also doing it in the right way that doesn’t have a huge impact.

👉 You mentioned Tesco’s focus on food waste earlier - how do you view supermarkets in the fight against food waste?

Tesco have been amazing at publishing how much food they’re wasting. Supermarkets play a huge role in how much food does or doesn’t get wasted, from cancelling stock from farmers to properly managing their in-store supply levels so produce doesn’t expire before it’s been consumed. Tesco are great at saying ‘yes, we waste, here are our numbers, now let's improve’. Waitrose as well, who were actually our founding partner as a supermarket. Waitrose looks at sustainability in a very holistic way - from farmer to shop - and they’ve also focused heavily on reducing food waste over the last few years. 

👉 You try and tackle waste at every point. How do you tackle the impact of the ‘end of life’ of your own products?

The issue of a product’s end of life is really important, and it’s really confusing for consumers. Many don’t know what parts of a jar or bottle to separate, or whether absolutely every drop of food needs to be cleaned out before its recycled. We try and make it clear what consumers should do on the back of our products. 

However, if our product is not finished, what is the point of making it? Do people forget about a relish once they’ve bought it for one occasion, and then leave it to go off at the back of the fridge? Or if it's in your fridge do you notice it more? In our last newsletter we asked readers to take pictures of their fridges or cupboards, and it was really eye opening.

Ultimately, you also need to have the infrastructure that works to support consumer behaviour. Biodegradable packaging is a good example - it can't go into your food waste bin because it needs a certain temperature to biodegrade and it can’t go in your recycling bin, so you end up putting it in your waste bin because you don’t have another option and you’re most likely unsure what else to do. Any food attached ends up rotting and producing methane in landfill, which almost defeats the point.

Ultimately, the system needs to better support human behaviour.

Do you think there needs to be a similar approach to food waste?

It’s frustrating to think that most of the food waste, especially in the UK, is avoidable. A lot of it is consumer choice - we’re not valuing the food enough to stop wasting it. We need to change our approach, and see food as a resource that we simply cannot waste. This mindset also needs to be at every part of every supply chain, which is less the responsibility of the consumer. If we did this, we’d be reducing the atmospheric impact of food waste dramatically. 

ENSIGHT’S INSIGHT: 6.7% of global greenhouse gas emissions are from food waste alone. 

👉 What other brands and companies inspire you?

We’re speaking to Nopla, who make seaweed sachets that are edible or would biodegrade in your garden in about 5 days. We’ve been looking at creating a ketchup sachet with them that was more sustainable, especially with the recent rise in home deliveries. Nopla have done some incredible things, such as creating edible balls of Lucozade for the London Marathon - to prevent so much plastic waste from plastic bottles! There are 11 billion ketchup sachets that go into landfill every year, so there’s definitely room for improvement in this area. 

Another source of inspiration is DAME, who have a reusable tampon and sanitary towel. What they’ve done is really cool. 

💥 Impact Resources 💥

  1. Read more about food waste on the WWF website.

  2. Check out Tesco’s Food Waste Report

  3. Delivering in London? Use PedalMe

  4. Read more in Rubies in the Rubble’s 2020 Impact Report!

What Next?

  • Follow Rubies in the Rubble on Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook

  • You can shop Rubies in the Rubble straight from their website. Enter FOOTPRINTS at checkout for 20% off your next order!