The world is opening up and we’re all feeling a little relieved at not having to cook every single meal for ourselves anymore. However, if you’re feeling a little shy about rejoining normal life but you still want a bit of a break from cooking, we’re putting ByRuby on your radar.
ByRuby is the brainchild of founders Milly and Ruby, who create nourishing, home-cooked food – in the form of a frozen ready meal. All the nutritious value and healthy elements, without the strain of having to be responsible for cooking it all. Ruby, a Leith’s-trained chef met Milly, her creative co-founder, and the two hit it off straight away about wanting to create something food-lovers would appreciate but made eating at home that little bit less stressful.
Another day, another virtual sit down, Amira Arasteh chatted with both Milly and Ruby about their business, their outlook on healthy eating and the brand’s sustainable and ethical efforts.
How is the business faring right now?
Milly: We’re really busy right now, which is great. The last three months held the best sales for us so it’s really exciting. We’ve had some great accounts come on – wholesale accounts – and had some interest from bigger brands, so it’s busy but good. It’s also really encouraging to have had good feedback; we think more people have used our services while being at home and have really appreciated eating something both nourishing and tasty. We’re really lucky that our business has thrived during lockdown so we’re really thankful for that.
Now things are starting to open up and people will go out to eat, how are you feeling about the business?
Ruby: I think we will always have that presence in stores so that will help.
Was that something you thought about before designing your business model?
Ruby: Kind of. We started off at Finn’s of Chelsea, a food shop and deli. Milly used to own it with her Aunt Julia. So we started it there, in a retail space, so we had useful feedback from them. We then developed it as an online business and growing it online but still having the retail connection. We had a few inbound enquiries from independent farm shops to stock our ready meals. So we thought, “let’s do both!” We hired a sales manager to focus on wholesale and retail shops and we envisage having a 50/50 split.
I think it helps people recognise the brand and for us to become more of a household name. I think that will help moving forwards with staycations too; our meals stay frozen for 48 hours so you can take a box on holiday and have all your food cooked for you on holiday. Especially if you’re in the remote countryside and you don’t have the takeaway element or restaurants. That’s an angle we’re going for, directly to the consumer.
Milly: I think, as a consumer myself, what I think about is the ease of knowing I have a healthy lasagne to heat up in the freezer that the whole family will enjoy. I think that’s why our products tie in so well with farm shops. I think people’s shopping habits are going to change; people know they can buy online, so the in-store shopping experience has to be that bit more lovely. We’re focusing on working with these lovely, independent farm shops, where the customer service is key. Our product is just tasty, honest food – no additives or preservatives.
For many, working with the bigger name supermarkets is the goal; is there more of a personable quality working with the smaller businesses? How has it been, as a small business yourself, working with another small business?
Milly: It’s worked really well. We’ve realised there are certain shops where our product thrives and we need to be in the right stores. It’s simply about the customer base and what they care about. Our customer really cares about the provenance of their food; that it’s not full of salt and sugar; that it helps to make their lives easier. Most of the people we provide food for are really busy and just need a little help. Looking at things like supermarkets, there are some we’d like to be in – Booth’s in the north of England have amazing produce and a lovely ethic behind them. The same goes for somewhere like Ocado, who have just opened their B-corp shop; we’d love to be a B-corp one day.
How would you go about selecting the retailers with whom to work? Particularly if you didn’t feel aligned with them?
Milly: It is rare because are main aim is for our views to be aligned. Also, our product is a bit more expensive and you pay for quality. Sometimes shops say our meals are too expensive but that proves that that shop’s customer isn’t a fit for us.
Ruby: Because we have a high-quality product, the shops we work with have the customer base who are willing to spend more on good quality ingredients. I think the price eliminates any issue.
Milly: But also, in our strategy over the next few months, we are looking to slightly reduce our price points. We want to be a premium brand but also remain competitive with other brands. COOK is one of our competitors but their price point is slightly lower than ours so we want to make our prices a little more in line with others on the market.
How do you deal with competition?
Ruby: I think it’s really important to keep some sort of difference. By maintaining a higher price point, people need to know that our ingredients are organic and free-range. COOK’s ingredients aren’t. That’s one of the main differences. We don’t use any additives and preservatives in our food and COOK often does. So I think it’s just trying to make sure we can scale but keep that difference. We want to make sure we continue using 100 per cent natura ingredients but also be able to bring the cost down to reach a wider audience.
Milly: Ethically, that’s something Ruby and I both believe in. We both eat in a flexitarian way; a lot of vegetarian food but a balanced amount of meat and fish. We’re all about eating less but good quality. It’s also a marketing thing: we need to show the customer what we, as a brand, are about. Lots of these pre-prepared brands are run by men but it’s interesting to see us being run by two women. I think Potage is run by women but it is rarer. Also, with us, everything is made by Chef Ruby.
How would you outreach to certain consumers who see this kind of brand as a privilege? How would you encourage the middle man to make the swap from a supermarket’s own brand to yours?
Milly: I think that’s definitely a point but there’s also people who order a takeaway as a ‘once-a-week’ treat – and our food is cheaper than a takeaway. Our angle is for our food to be your treat meal – except it’s all natural produce and nutritious. Also, because it’s frozen, it helps economincally, because you can keep it if you change your mind and decide to eat out. As someone who cooks regularly, having a ready meal is a treat for me. We’re trying to encourage people to treat themselves in a more healthy way. We can’t compare ourselves to a £2 Tesco ready meal but it’s a great idea to have in the freezer for when you don’t want to cook.
You mentioned you eat a balanced diet, including meat and fish. What are your thoughts on the documentary Seaspiracy?
Ruby: Personally, I haven’t feed it but I did watch Cowspiracy. I think it comes back to making you know where your meat and fish is coming from. We always sure our produce RSPCA-credited. It’s about spending a bit more money on a better-sourced, better quality prodcut and eating it less.
Milly: I haven’t seen it yet but it’s on my list. But, a lot of this comes down to overconsumerism and wastage. I think they’re more main issues in the UK; how disposable people are with their food. That’s something we really believe in and feel strongly about; we literally have no wastage in our kitchen. If we do change a receipe and there’s excess, we send it to a charity called Harvest Bundle. Instead of mashing our potatoes, we bake them and take the insides out, using the potato skins for staff lunch. It’s little things like that, we really hate wastage.
I think that’s how consumers need to change and a lot of that comes down to education about food. We’re working with a charity called Magic Breakfast and they help children who wouldn’t get breakfast in schools. As we grow, we really want to focus on teaching children how to cook. If your parents don’t know how to cook, you never learn.
How much of your range is vegan?
Ruby: 50 per cent of our range is vegan or vegetarian. We wanted to keep the menu flexitarian and ensure that everyone has high quality dishes to choose from.
Have you thought about doing cooking masterclasses or workshops?
Ruby: That’s definitely something we’d love to do in the future. At the moment, we have a small team of ten people, so it’s not feasible right now. But definitely something we want to do, as we grow. We also want to make sure we have an outreach on social media, with regular recipes.
Milly: We’re starting a blog too. I think that kind of thing is really useful, offering top tips and insight.
Ruby: We also have a cookbook coming out in June. It’s all about championing your freezer; using it to make your life easier. I think a lot of people see their freezer as a home for frozen peas. But it’s great for encouraging batch cooking and thinking ahead.
Milly: It will be really practical. Every recipe will have how to make it, how to freeze it, how to reheat etc.
Do you feel like batch-cooking has fallen apart a bit because of working from home?
Milly: I think people have really relished in cooking during lockdown. I think people have been focusing on shopping locally and taking care of the origin of what they’re buying.
Would you like to work with snack brands who are similarly aligned with your views?
Milly: It’s always nice to collaborate with brands who hold a similar ethos as ourselves. We try to make sure we work with British, local producers who care what goes into their food and have the same quality control and standard as us. I think collaborations benefit all partners. We’re working with a brand called Nix and Kix, a flavoured sparkling water brand.
What are your favourite meals from the brand?
Milly: My favourite meal is the chicken pie. It’s absolutely mega. It’s like a hug if you know if you have it in the freezer. Such a British classic but the perfect night-in meal.
Ruby: I think mine is the miso ramen but I think that’s because of the work that went into making it. It’s vegan but you wouldn’t know it was because it’s packed full of favour. It’s a great lunch dish.