Eat Me Chutneys founder Ankit works on a simple mission statement — kick food wastage ass. His company – which he founded with his mother — consumes excess bruised produce and turns it into mouthwatering relishes
We have rescued 1.2 tons of produce that’s been converted into approximately 9000 jars of chutneys and that was all working part time. We set ourselves a tiny goal of rescuing 10 tonnes of produce in 2016 and so we decided to embark on the wild crowdfunding journey last year
Meet the Michelin-trained chef with a fondness for wonky fruit. Ankit is partner in the mother-son team behind Eat Me Chutneys – a Sydney-based start-up that aims to do-good for the environment and foodies alike, by turning the produce that typically gets chucked out, into delectable chutneys and jams. How delectable? Think organic tomato and kaffir lime, or rhubarb and ginger pickle, just two of many mouth-watering combinations the pair make.
While Ankit used to work in the corporate world for the likes of Deloitte and SAP, he isn’t only bottling for profit now. He started Eat Me Chutneys with his mother Jaya in 2012 as a social enterprise – it has both Fairtrade and BCorporation certification, for businesses that aim to solve social and environmental dilemmas. The socially minded side of the business extends beyond produce. Last year Eat Me Chutneys hired its first employee, a woman they found through Sydney’s Asylum Seeker Centre. The long-term goal is to hire more disadvantaged female job seekers. Ankit and his mum’s efforts were rewarded when they successfully crowd-funded $28,365 through ING Direct Dreamstarter last November.
The Indian Sun touched base with Ankit to find out what he’s learned about starting up a social enterprise and his plans for growth.
How did farmers initially respond when asked for their wonky produce?
How do you explain to farmers that you’d like to buy their wonky and excess produce and not infuriate them? How do you stand inconspicuously at their stall waiting for the market to end to discuss purchase of their produce left behind? It was a bit funky and definitely challenging at the same time; to them all produce is awesome. Be it wonky or excess, they don’t put any less effort in growing the cracking produce.
Think it’s the mainstream media and the cosmetic expectations of the society as a whole (that may have been crafted by big marketing budgets over the years) that made the process a little hard. Initially our approaches possibly even came across as demeaning however a wee conversation or two and some chutneys later — that may be viewed as a bribe of sorts from a distance — our relationship got going.
What’s been the biggest challenge in your journey?
I think (and mum would agree) that we’ve been our own biggest challenge. The thought of trying to tackle a few too many issues that surround us was quite overwhelming. As we stand, our wee chutney enterprise not only consumes excess, wonky and bruised produce; it sources Fairtrade spices and sugar (a process that took us nearly a year) and also attempts to meet all farmers behind our ingredients. It employs disadvantaged women to help train them in hospitality practices and finally, overarching all of this is the BCorporation aspect; a certified BCorp it promises to be a business doing it right.
It’s ace to decide to be amazing at all levels in a business however the effort (and stupidity) required to execute it all is a different story.
What are the key lessons you’ve learned?
Too many and so here’s a few… It’s good to eff-up, once in a while — as we’ve matured in running a business we realised our eff-ups were indeed the most exciting moments because not only did these events teach us a lot, they kept the game of running a business real for us. It’s not always rainbows and sunshine.
Good things take time – it took us nearly a year of calling folks around the world, trying to translate from say Singhalese to English using Google translator to finally arrive at a point when we got the tamarind chutneys Fairtrade certified. Nothing amazing is quick and overnight, ever.
Focus – not only is it hard enough to try and run a business and deal with all the joy that comes with it; trying to stay focused on the social mission (or missions in our case) makes it even more exciting. The word focus does get thrown around like confetti in the business world but in the space of socially inclined businesses this word is just so freakishly true.
What will you spend the crowdfunding cash on, and would you recommend this fundraising method to other entrepreneurs?
To date we’ve rescued 1.2 tons of produce that’s been converted into approximately 9000 jars of chutneys and that was all working part time. We set ourselves a tiny goal of rescuing 10 tonnes of produce in 2016 and so we decided to embark on the wild crowdfunding journey last year.
Now rescuing 10 tonnes of produce is only half the story; the other half is to chutney all that produce and sell all the jars that are to come out of it all. Chopping 30 or 40kgs of tomatoes by hand is no drama however scaling that ten-fold requires well a van to transport it and then some serious equipment to take care of it.
Crowdfunding is a cray-zee journey and requires such mad amounts of work however equally rewarding since it’s such an amazing opportunity to tell the world your story and raise some funds along the way too. And did I say we had a lot of fun? Yes, it was cracking fun!
Tell us about your growth plans?
10 tonnes. 2016. These two numbers have kept us busy the last few months and will continue to do so rest of the year. As for beyond 2016, the plans have always been quite simple, to kick food wastage ass. Numerically what this means and how Eat Me Chutneys will grow is something we are strategizing currently.
Finally, what’s your best seller, and how do you like to eat your chutney?
Without missing a beat, it will have to be mum’s Tamarind + Fig chutney. We’ve been eating this number since forever and the best way to demolish it is a big bowl of yoghurt and some gorgeously healthy tablespoons of this chutney on top and that’s it. Stick a spoon in it and it is bliss. But hey sticky gooey chicken wings marinated in this chutney along with some beers go down well too. Mum’s a bit of a vegetarian so she spikes up chickpea patties with this chutney.