Business market-scene

Published on September 27th, 2012 | by Priti Ambani

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Turn Food Excess Into a For-Profit Social Enterprise Opportunity

Roughly one-third of food produced in the world is wasted. There is an obvious problem here. The problem is even more pronounced because there are millions who go to bed hungry, 1 in 6 americans. According to Canada’s Second Harvest, a surplus food redistributor, food supply is not the problem distribution is. And where there is a problem, there is a business opportunity.

How can this obvious problem be tackled with innovative solutions that benefits everybody. Food waste occurs at every stage from farm to fork –  during growing, harvesting, processing and packaging. Obvious solutions are better growing and harvesting methods, using appropriate technology on the producer end and personal responsibiilty at the consumer end. But food is wasted even in these situations. What we need this a whole new category of what I would like to call “safety-net” entrepreneurs who can create a tighter model by designing for situations that still drop through the cracks – Like “Rubies in the Rubble”.

Diverted Food Excess Becomes Delicious Chutney

The UK company’s motto: Never let a good thing go to waste, can aptly describe their philosophy to their business and community. Rubies in the Rubble (RITR) knows that millions of tons of fresh fruits and vegetables are discarded, as part of a culture of excessive waste every year. And their response- Delicious, handmade chutneys and jam, made as much as possible from surplus fruits and vegetables before they’re discarded. The company takes its “do not waste a good thing” in another direction as well- putting unemployed and underserved people back to work.

Founder and owner, Jenny Dawson left her hedge fund job to do something she could create her legacy on. Her business idea- to open a commercial kitchen near a wholesale fruit and vegetable market in East London. Jenny picks high quality produce from the market that would have otherwise gone to waste because nobody bought them to make chutney!. RITR has another goal: provide employment opportunities to disadvantaged Londoners. Jenny hopes once the business scales up, she can help people who have fallen off the ladder to rebuild their lives.

Replicable Business Model

One of the key features of Jenny’s business idea – it is replicable in most cities and towns of the world. Whether in Chicago or Mumbai or Tokyo, wholesale markets are present in every major city and town and unfortunately, also is wastage of perfectly good produce. And the possibilities: endless. While Jenny plans to open commercial kitchens near other wholesale markets in London as well as other cities in UK, she also wants to try other products like jams and soups. Preserving fruits and vegetables works well for Jenny as she can use up large quantities of produce right away. And well, chutneys, jams and soups work well with a wide variety of seasonal veggies and fruits, year round.

Environmental and Economic Impacts of Food Waste Cannot be Ignored

Jonathan Bloom, writer of the book, American Wasteland says, “Americans waste more than 40 percent of the food we produce for consumption. That comes at an annual cost of more than $100 billion. At the same time, food prices and the number of Americans without enough to eat continues to rise.”Not wasting food prevents at least 30 times more carbon emissions than composting, according to the  Stockholm Environment Institute’s U.S. office

”Reducing the wasting of food — both by consumers and also upstream in the supply chain — can significantly reduce life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions,” the study says. “Managing wastes after they’re produced (composting, for example) offers a much smaller potential for greenhouse gas reductions.”

The problem is daunting, but when businesses like Rubies in the Rubble can create a business model that can present solutions on many different levels, hope lives on. Added bonus: chutneys go swimmingly well with other leftovers in your fridge!



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About the Author

Hi there! I am Priti and I specialize in strategy and communications for impact organizations that aim to create social, environmental and economic wealth for all stakeholders. Working from the ground up, I help these do-gooders craft effective programs for community engagement, outreach and profitability. Follow my work covering do-gooders, cleanweb, start-ups and Web 2.0 businesses on Ecopreneurist and at Crowdsourcing Week. I enjoy traveling with my boys, cooking up a gourmet meal from scratch and entertaining! Join my community for Social Entrepreneurs on G+ Follow me on Twitter, on LinkedIn and Google+



  • Dennis

    The Great work is happening and now more people are finding out about how they can become an actionist.

  • Hugo

    I fully endorse this business and think its great. However, nothing is being done to actually reduce the amount of food being produced. And nothing is being done to improve the eco-efficiency of food production. As the report says, “managing wastes after they’re produced (composting, for example) offers a much smaller potential for greenhouse gas reductions”. In a social sense this business works well – she’s doing something useful with vegetables that would otherwise be wasted. BUT in terms of environmental degradation, this business surely has very little impact?

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