Socially Epic Chutneys: Ankit Chopra, Founder of Eat Me Chutneys

Written by Kassia Binkowski, Contributing Editor to The Good Trade

Meet Ankit of Eat Me Chutneys

It’s one thing to love your family, it’s something entirely different to run a business with them! The mother-son team behind Eat Me Chutneys has managed to do just that, not to mention reduce food waste, create employment opportunities, and have fun while at it. From accomplished chef to social entrepreneur, we recently sat down with Ankit to learn a little bit more about the business he manages to run with is mother and the joy they’ve woven into such a sweet product.

How did you go from corporate to kitchen, running a successful social enterprise with - of all people - your mother? There’s obviously a great story there and we would love to hear it. What was the inspiration behind Eat Me Chutneys?

Born in India, Hindi and English were my first two languages until later in life when food became my third language.  Rewinding to our early days in India, my brother and I grew up seeing our dad grow carrots with two legs and eggplants with ears; looks don’t matter he’d proudly tell us.  All this produce was lovingly transformed into epic meals by our mum.  It wasn’t until we migrated to New Zealand some 20 years ago, that I began to question the perfect looking carrots in these big food spaces called supermarkets.

During our years in New Zealand and later on in Australia, I completed two Oxfam Cycle Challenges through India as well as Vietnam/Cambodia.  Through these travels I got introduced to Fairtrade practices.  Concepts such as transparency, sustainability and fairness in a business context were beginning to coagulate better and they all sat nicely next to the values instilled in me by my parents.

My next move was to London where I saw friends make pasta from scratch.  I fell in love with cooking and eventually decided to train as a chef in Le Cordon Bleu and then at L’Astrance (a 3-starred Michelin restaurant); both in the food mecca that is Paris.

So take a step back and you’ll see that we’ve got the super hero Dad that appreciates wonky produce, the mum that taught us the importance of family meals, the ever encouraging brother and of course the slight rebel in me.  Boom, Eat Me Chutneys was born and in it we inculcated a simple thought that we respect the people, planet and its resources.

An accomplished chef, you are clearly passionate about food industry but you’ve approached this business with a creative twist. How is your model different from other craft food products on the market today?

I think Eat Me Chutneys is something of a rebel and if you have a closer look at our story you’ll notice how social values are somehow chaotically intertwined with crafting epic chutneys.  Just like humans, fruits and vegetables come in all shapes and sizes. We at Eat Me Chutneys have set out to promote self-esteem amongst wonky yet gorgeous produce.  We rescue the unwanted, bruised and unsold organic/chemical free produce and convert it into epic chutneys that we call rescued chutneys.

In early stages of any business folks would think of branding, sales and more sales.  We focused on supporting local and small-scale farmers; organic and chemical-free practices; Fairtrade ingredients; B-Corporation practices and supporting disadvantaged women in the society. Above all, we don’t take things too seriously.  We are here to have fun!

Congratulations on your certification! You claim to be the only B-Corp and Fairtrade Certified business in all of Australia, which is quite impressive. Tell us about this B-Corp certification that we’re seeing pop up everywhere. What does it mean and why should a consumer care?

Product certifications such as Fairtrade, Organic and Biodynamic have been around for quite sometime however nothing rewarded a business for making conscious choices such as banning plastic bags or ditching overseas suppliers in favor of the local producers.  Or so we thought, till we stumbled across this concept of a certified B-Corporation (or B-Corp).

To us, B-Corp certification is like someone high-fiving you for running a socially sensible business. At a technical level it’s this rigorous assessment that explores a company’s governance, transparency, environmental and social impact to ultimately reward them for running a business that’s doing it right. Ultimately, supporting B-Corps gives consumers a chance to participate in forwarding humanity to a world that is a little healthier.

Your impact is so impressive stemming from such a small product. Your business prides itself on reducing waste, employing disadvantaged women, and increasing transparency within the food industry, none of which is a small feat. What impact can customers expect to have when they purchase your chutney?

Knitting these things together was a wee bit of a challenge; however to us it all just made perfect sense.  And why should any company focus only a single social challenge when it can possibly impact multiple just by tweaking its sourcing policies or employment agenda?

To answer the question, we are targeting small-scale producers that support diversified farming systems, because monoculture is contributing to climate change. By being able to diversify crops, we’re seeing more small-scale farmers managing pests through agroecological means and not pesticides.  Additionally, our chutneys use Fairtrade certified spices (from a food co-operative in Kerala, India) and sugar (from another co-op in Uruguay) that attract a premium relative to other Fairtrade co-operatives.  These premiums have resulted in 5 wheelbarrows being bought for its farmers.  Why stop there – the first employee is from the Sydney Asylum Seeker Centre!

Perhaps ‘we stand for little people’ is the thread that weaves these at some deeper level.  And it’s the sharing of this information with our customers that is the real impact for us.  We love educating them on making wiser choices and often this can spill onto other facets of life, or so we hope.

Let’s talk about that ripple effect. You obviously care very deeply about the quality and integrity of the products you and your mother are producing. How are the values that you’ve ingrained in your business reflected in other aspects of your life?

This is a gorgeous question; the best question we’ve been asked to date however is perhaps the simplest to answer.  I believe Eat Me Chutneys is a mere extension of our natural ways in life.  The smallest, well-intended rituals and gestures matter and the energy they generate infuse into space, spirit, and eventually the chutney itself.  Whether it was laying out the dinner table, or going out to farms to meet the farmers or simply being inquisitive about provenance, everything matters.  Consequently, we don’t use flowery (and ultimately meaningless) descriptions or jargon and stick with to-the-point statements in all our chutney communication with the world.

I believe that we have done nothing more than pursue what we like to do as a family and nothing we’ve done is solely to please and attract customers.

The food industry is riddled with certifications that can often be difficult to navigate. At the end of the day, what do you look for when trying to stock your own cupboards ethically and responsibly?

As much as humanely possible, we shop at farmers’ markets, get onto local food co-operatives, make our own laundry liquid at home and grow our own produce – that’s our way of life.  Of course there are times when tinned beans or sauces out of a jar make life a little easier, in which case we look at the effort any given can of ingredients has put in to creating the product in the first place.  And of course we consider how ‘real’ the food is.

And we have to ask, if you had to pick just one flavor forever and ever amen, what would it be?

Without missing a beat, it will have to be mum’s Tamarind + Fig chutney!