Chutneys - a true family affair.
Just like humans, fruits and vegetables come in all shapes and sizes. Eat Me Chutneys have set out to promote self-esteem amongst wonky yet gorgeous produce. Together with his mother Jaya, Ankit Chopra is on a mission to minimise food wastage in Australia, one jar at a time. We love the truly unique partnership between this mother and son, and pulled Ankit aside at the Champions Retreat to learn more about the business they run together.
What was the tipping point for your business idea?
There was no real tipping point, I think I might’ve semi-hijacked my mum’s retirement plan and made it my own. She used to make just the one type of chutney and bring them to the markets, and people started asking if she made more upon request. What’s great is that the person behind the product is also the maker and seller of it! We are conversing about culture and food, and recipes and so many things. It isn’t just about the product any longer. People would come up to hand us kaffir lime leaves for example, because we make a kaffir lime chutney. It has become far more of a community. We also have a little pocket where all our herbs are urban farmed.
Why did you become a B Corp?
Just because it made sense. It was a unique point of time at the start of our business where we used to take brown paper bags to the markets to put the chutneys in for our customers. We ran out at one point, and we were reconsidering the need for them in the first place. After a point we started handing them out in hand to our customers. Very few people actually questioned it, so we started to think about shredding the other things that we didn’t really need. When you go to the big supermarkets, they put the smallest of things like a can of tuna in a plastic bag. No one was really thinking about it.. We were looking for something beyond just product certification like Fairtrade or Organic certification, and stumbled upon B Corp certification. Then it occured to us that there was someone who was thinking about it! We realised it is not just about organic chutneys but more about who we are employing, how are you paying them, how are you engaging with them.
Has the business changed since certification?
Yes, we have become much more conscious. On the B Corp website there are guides on workers, community, governance for example, and they talk about best practices. I never did an MBA but I used these guides as my go-to, to inform my business. We didn’t have an employee but it was good to know how the world was thinking about these issues. They provided us with models and case studies on how best to run our business.
How has your experience been so far of the Retreat?
I wish I could stay. The conversations I’ve had with people have really made it for me. I caught up with certain people for 5 minutes and said to them “You’re going to mentor me now. I’m struggling with this at the moment, how would you do it in your space as a leader?”, I’ve been asking them in real time questions on the spot and having conversations that I wouldn’t normally have in any other circumstance. Everyone has probably stumbled across these issues at some point.
Your relationship with your mother and going into business with her - how has that been?
It is phenomenal, because we never saw each other ever in that light. We work so closely and I am learning so much about the way she operates. She is a primary school teacher who has done and thought about things for so long at a micro-level but now has to get out of that mindset. For my mum who has never been a part of the corporate world, taking her to one of the roundtable lunches hosted by Alicia once was a great opportunity to observe how she was starting to view the business in a broader context. It allows me to put her into a situation that she has never been in where she is inspired and challenged. She grounds me. Our familial values are quite aligned so we agree as much as we disagree. However this also acts against us sometimes when fresh ideas are not coming in. It is then we need an outside perspective to balance us out in our opinions.
How have your interactions with food changed?
It is so much more powerful through food. We have this one lady from China who we’ve employed who teaches us about her culture, and her food. She brings in her culture and warmth and depth to the business. Food is one thing everyone can talk about and it allows us to keep up conversations. It acts as a bridge to connect us no matter where we come from. Most of our chutneys are manifestations of our culture, we started off with Indian chutneys and then we added figs. All these influences from our travels started creeping into our chutneys. It allows us to experiment, it is such a playful thing.