Ruby Bell and Milly Bagot are the founders of byRuby, which makes and distributes delicious frozen meals.
During lockdown, the Jenks&Co team has been getting weekly deliveries of salmon with pak choi, macaroni cheese, beef ragu, vegetable curry and other lip-smacking dishes.
They're VERY good.
Milly, in a nutshell, what is byRuby?
The best way to describe us is, 'freshly frozen meals for a balanced lifestyle.'
How did you and Ruby team up to start the business?
We worked together at Finns in Chelsea Green where I managed the shop and Ruby was Head Chef. We noticed there was an increasing demand for frozen food and, chatting to customers about what was available, realised there was a space for really good quality frozen meals alongside fresh food.
Did it take long to go from idea to reality?
Just over 6 months. We had the idea in May 2017 and took on our commercial kitchen in Acton in November that year. The same month, we installed a freezer at Finns and started selling our first frozen meals.
We were lucky in that we had great supplier contacts and food industry knowledge – Ruby has restaurant experience and I had been in the food industry for 10 years.
Finns was brilliant for market research – the customers gave us candid feedback, so when we launched byRuby online in May 2018 we were completely confident about our recipes.
What's the division of responsibilities between you and Ruby?
Ruby runs the kitchen and website and I manage the rest of the business. She's a brilliant chef and is always developing and working on ways to improve our offer.
We complement each other and are very open which is crucial. We don't see each other every day but are always talking on the phone.
How many different meals in the byRuby range now?
There are around 40 lines on our website. Half are vegan and the rest are meat/fish/vegetarian.
We have a flexitarian ethos which we feel is healthy for the planet and ourselves, so all our meat comes from British free-range farms, our chicken comes from Herb Fed Poultry in Yorkshire and all our fish is sustainably sourced in the UK. The quality of ingredients is paramount.
Which is the most popular?
It varies. Before Covid, our healthy meal plans were the bestselling item on our website. Now our Free range chicken, leek and bacon pie is in the top spot. At the moment comfort food is king!
Keralan vegetable curry
Indian 'takeaway' feast
Can frozen ever be as good as fresh?
Absolutely!! Frozen is the most natural preservation method of all, and means we don't have to use any artificial preservatives or additives, unlike most so called 'fresh' ready meals.
Our meals are also low in salt, fat and sugar. We use only the highest quality ingredients, we cook just as you would at home then blast-chill and freeze to lock in all the nutrients and flavour. All our meals are designed to be cooked from frozen, making them super convenient.
How do people order?
They order online and we dispatch for delivery on Tuesdays and Thursdays. We also offer a subscription option which gives the customer 10% off every order. We are also selling in a growing number of retail stores and provide meals to businesses who want to be sure that their employees are eating well.
How long does food stay frozen in transit?
With our insulated packaging, it stays frozen for up to 48 hours. We use a pre-midday delivery service so that the customer gets their package within 24 hours.
How has lockdown affected your business?
It's been a silver lining. In the first 3 weeks of lockdown our online sales were up by 200% and our wholesale orders by 400%.
What has been wonderful is knowing that our meals have been a solace to people struggling through the crisis. We've had lots of touching emails telling us how they've made people's lives easier – and more tasty – from NHS workers and key workers to the elderly, busy professionals who cannot be teachers, cleaners and nannies all at the same time, and people with new babies.
"THANK GOODNESS FOR RUBY! THE MEALS ARE ABSOLUTELY DELICIOUS AND THE ONLY READY MEALS I HAVE IN MY FREEZER."
Is sending out ready-meals ecologically sound?
As much as it can be. We operate a zero-waste kitchen, and do our best to use the most eco-conscious packaging available. Our trays are cardboard and recyclable, and the only plastic is the film which seals the meals. The insulation we use is biodegradable sheep's wool.
Generally, frozen food reduces wastage as it has a very long shelf life.
Packages come in sturdy boxes, with wool-lining insulation
What’s the next step for byRuby?
We've recently moved into a bigger kitchen which has hugely increased capacity. While Covid continues, we are focusing on building our direct-to-consumer business via our website as this is where we are seeing the fastest growth.
After that, we will be target small chains of garden centres / farm shops and retail stores with high end supermarkets.
We are in the process of raising £350,000 of EIS investment to finance expansion. (Jenks&Co readers who are interested can contact Milly for more info)
Do you and Ruby still have fun, or is it too knackering for that?
We have great fun! We are both very positive people and when you're riding a rollercoaster, that's important.
If we ever do feel knackered by the long hours and weekend working, we make a list of what we've achieved and that boosts us.
But the driving force is that we both LOVE what we do and are really excited about growing our business to the next level, feeding people delicious natural food.
Thank you Milly!