Condiments with a conscience: Rubies in the Rubble takes on ketchup

The company rescues fruit to make its products and is creating sustainable accompaniments to challenge a stagnant market.

1 February 2019
ambientcondimentsfood wasteNPDsustainability

Rubies in the Rubble founder Jenny Costa has been wanting to make a ketchup for years, but admits that it was an intimidating prospect. After all, the category is essentially dominated by one major player.

Over 160m Heinz bottles are sold annually and consumers guzzle down over 500t of the stuff every single day. But Costa was inspired by drinks company Fever Tree and the way it took on Schweppes. She is hoping that there is a similar opportunity to nab a tiny bit of the ketchup market.

The company ethos is to rescue food waste, but Costa didn’t just want to turn to tomatoes when making her ketchup. She tells Food Spark the team spent a year investigating and playing around with recipes. Surprisingly, they settled on using surplus pears as well as tomatoes, because the secondary markets for things like juice are slim.

“The biggest ingredient is sugar in a classic ketchup, so rather than just looking at tomatoes, we thought, why not replace sugar with a surplus ingredient?” says Costa. “We had played with pears with a syrup as an alternative to sugar… We harvest them around October time and often there is a huge amount of surplus being discarded, as it is only harvested for one time a year and farmers often don’t know what demand will be.

“We started creating a puree from pears so we can draw off it throughout the year. When we were playing with the recipe, we had to make sure flavour wasn’t compromised, so we didn’t want it to be too fruity. We tried different tests with 100% to 75% pear and then replaced half the sugar with pear, as that is the maximum surplus fruit we could get in without compromising the taste.”

As a result, the Rubies in the Rubble version has half the sugar and three times the fruit content of typical ketchups.

Quirky flavours and new formats

Since creating the ketchup, Costa has taken it out to chefs around London for blind taste tests – managing to trick many of them in the process.

It’s now being used in Mac and Wild restaurants, with founder Andy Waugh admitting he was a loyal Heinz fan until he “tasted the future” with the Rubies in the Rubble variety.

But Costa says that retail is still a challenging prospect, despite the brand’s wider range being available at Waitrose, Ocado, Sainsbury’s, Selfridges, Harrods and Fortnum & Mason.

“That will be quite a daunting option as we have that sea of red in that aisle,” she comments. “I think consumers are buying one or two brands at the moment, and they are quite a low-priced product, so we want to make sure when we do launch into retail, we do it very well. I don’t see it coming any time soon, it might be quarter four this year or pushing into 2020, but we are targeting the restaurant trade for now.”

Having launched the company in 2011, Rubies in the Rubble has mayonnaise, chutney and relish in its range. The spicy tomato relish, which is cooked for over seven hours, is one of the bestsellers, along with the pink onion and chilli relish. However, its vegan mayonnaise, which was launched last year is slowly overtaking sales of the chutneys, says Costa.

She is also investigating creating oils and vinegars from byproducts.

“We looked at dried fruit snacks for a long time and we were working on pasta sauces, but through all that journey we realised we are about condiments,” she explains. “We do it really well, and once we have perfected a product and got a recipe, it’s about trying to scale up and introduce it to more people.”

Variations in terms of formats and flavours is something Costa has her sights set on for development. The ketchup is currently available in 250g glass bottles and a 10L bag in a box for the back of house, but she wants to create miniatures, pump stations and refillable options for restaurants.

“A condiment can really change a dish and make a dish, so I would hope there is a lot of room for experimenting and slowly introducing some quite quirky and fun flavours in that area,” she adds.

Snail’s pace

When it comes to the condiments market, Costa feels that it is quite slow moving and there hasn’t been a lot of disruption.

“I think there has been a huge change in consumers’ demands and wants in condiments. I think people want a lot more exciting flavours and less sugar. There are a lot of new flavours coming into the British market that are influential from other cultures – that’s a really exciting area,” she says.

Costa also believes the brand is well placed as consumers are increasingly wanting to buy into an ethos they believe in, she says, and businesses like hers allow them to do good in an easy way.

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