“If we didn’t have people supporting us, we wouldn’t be able to capture produce seconds that are being left behind and we also wouldn’t be able to hire newcomer refugee youth, so thank you to everyone who has been supporting us. Please keep shopping local, because the effect is 3 times greater by supporting a local business. Especially in a time like now, we have to take care of our neighbors, our community, environment and our local economy. I would also like to encourage other fellow business owners to think how they can embed impact into their businesses.”
Like many local small business owners that VOICE has met, Alia has an interesting background. She comes from an Indian and East African background. Her mother is a refugee from Uganda. She used to work at Tim Hortons as an Associate Brand Manager in breakfast division and also had a fair trade social business in Central America working with women in poverty. Now she teaches at Simon Fraser University (SFU) as a Sustainable Innovation Lecturer and is also the Founder of a Vancouver-based social enterprise, Luv the Grub. On top of all that, she is a mother of 3 month old baby girl!
So, what is Luv the Grub? Luv the Grub rescues produce seconds from being thrown into the landfill and turns them into gourmet fusion chutneys and spreads through a paid employment training program for newcomer immigrants and refugees. They capture the bumped, bruised, misshapen fruits and vegetables that are left behind and turn them into value added products for the local market.
VOICE(V) : “ How did you come up with such an amazing social mission for Luv the Grub?”
Alia(A) : “ During my first term at SFU, my students brought up the issue of food waste. They found there was produce being discarded because it was bumped, bruised or misshaped but still equally nutritious and delicious. I did some research on my own, and learned that there is so much food waste even just in BC at the farm and produce market level. When I started approaching produce markets and grocery stores to see what I could do from the seconds and asked if they can donate or sell their produce surplus and seconds, almost every time they said, “Yes, take it!”. I asked myself how can I take this produce seconds and make something out of it? Then, the idea of Luv the Grub was born.
It was also very much inspired by another nonprofit business called Homeboy Industries out of LA. They have a number of social businesses a couple of them food centric in which they hire people who just got out of the jail and help them re-enter the world with their service.
Luv the Grub is very passionate about not only helping the food waste problem but also about hiring individuals who often get left out of the job market. Since starting Luv The Grub we have hired newcomer refugees, youth with mental illnesses, young single mothers, and low-income seniors. To date we have hired 37 people, and we all work together in the kitchen and make beautiful chutneys and spreads. ”
V: “Why chutneys?”
A: “When you make a chutney or spread and can it, it is preserved for 1~1.5 years which helps with rescuing of produce seconds by giving it a longer valued added shelf life. Also with chutneys it doesn’t matter if the produce is bumped or bruised. Also in our home culture, we use chutney all the time. I grew up eating chutneys with most of my meals, but I am surprised that a lot of people don’t know what a chutney is and how to use it. All of our chutneys have no preservatives and are made from clean and natural ingredients.”
V: “Teach us how to use chutney!”
A: “ They’re delicious alongside cheese, in sandwiches, burgers, on top of meats and fish, with curry…There is just so many ways to enjoy chutney.
One of our first products, a Pear Walnut Chutney is a cheese lovers dream! It pairs nicely with manchego and goat cheese. Spiced Mango Chutney is one of our top sellers, and includes 4-5 whole mangoes per jar! It is a perfect spread for sandwiches, and delicious alongside all types of cheeses. It is really good with Indian food and with plant-based Coastie Burgers by mixing some chutney with vegan mayonnaise. Blueberry Sage Chutney is a savory chutney, made with local blueberries from Abbotsford. Storm City Coffee uses this chutney on their food menu alongside their homemade biscuits”
Alia said that each recipe takes up to a year to finalize. After all the adjustments and experimentations, when she finds the right tastes, she knows that people will love it too. This makes it harder to come up with a new product, but the good news is there are more items on the horizon this summer! There will be TWO new additions: Blueberry Orange (to be released in August) and Jalapeño Apple for spicier taste!!
V: “ How did you navigate your social business at the onset of Covid-19?”
A: “Most of our products were carried in small gift stores, and when Covid-19 happened, those stores were categorized as non-essential service and they had to close. We thought of an alternative way to continue hiring people and also help food waste and our community by making and giving away soups for isolated seniors. This January and February were really strong as far as the business was concerned. Thanks to Covid-19, in a way, that it has made people realize how important it is to buy local.
V: “ And your personal life?”
A: “I teach at SFU and also at RADIUS SFU (an innovation hub for social businesses), manage Luv The Grub, and I’m also a new mother. Honestly, I wouldn’t be able to do it all without my amazing team. Above all things, motherhood is the most important thing for me. I love being a mother, but it is BUSY! I have so much respect for all mothers in the world.”
V: “ How do you see the future in post-Covid era?”
A: “ People have become really conscious of supporting businesses in their own community, and asking good questions about where their food comes from, who makes it, and how far it has traveled. Consumers asking these types of questions is what I believe that we are going to see a lot more in the future. It is also great to see that more people are cooking at home now and learning how to make wholesome food and spending more time with family.
When the pandemic ends, I still hope to see people continue with the trend of buying local and supporting local. Sometimes that’s what great catastrophe like a pandemic does: Shift us back into what’s the most important and into the right direction.”
Alia’s Favorite: Pear Walnut Chutney! Always have it on a side of curry as a relish.