Meet the food waste pioneer at the helm of London Fermentary
As a child, Elena Deminska spent her summers with her cousins and brother in the Russian countryside. They picked mushrooms in the forest and their grandmother hung up bunches of herbs and let blueberries dry in the sun.
“It was a culture of preserving food,” says Elena, now 44. “During the fall school holidays, we prepared large jars of cabbage for the winter. It was an event for the whole family. “
After moving to London two decades ago, Elena worked at Borough Market before starting Puntarelle & Co, a specialist fruit and vegetable company from small producers in the UK, France and Italy. Waste was inevitable, but it wasn’t a good match for Elena, so she started experimenting in 2016.
/ Sam Wright
“London Fermentary started because I was looking for ways to use things up,” she says of her now-renowned fermented foods and beverages business, located in Bermondseys Spa Terminus next to Puntarelle. Surrounded by other independent food producers, the London Fermentary Railway Arch headquarters is a meeting point of science and nature, with rows of glass containers full of colorful mixes, green plants and huge vats on steel countertops.
While Elena once associated fermentation with “this not very affluent life,” her customers were intrigued by the sauerkraut, kimchis, and water kefiren she began making, and soon the business grew to include ingredients from other sources had to relate. While London Fermentary is no longer just using surplus, Elena’s goal is to demonstrate how a relatively large operation can remain flexible enough to ingest food that would otherwise be wasted.
“My husband has good relationships with suppliers in the New Covent Garden Market,” she says. “They let him know what they have and he buys up everything in bulk that we can use and whatever else would go out.”
A selection of sauces from London Fermentary
/ Sam Wright
Today, London Fermentary is run by Selfridges and Planet Organic, among others. Last year sales were £ 250,000; this year it is expected to double. Next Elena is looking for more employees and is looking for a bigger job, partly to house a high-tech laboratory “where we can study new fermentation methods”, but also to collect empty jars from customers.
“We used to do that,” she says. “But it has reached a stage where it would have been all one person’s work to collect and sterilize the jars, and we cannot afford this or the space to keep them in them now. We’re not perfect, but we’re always trying to improve. “
What are the benefits of going green?
‘Although the change in the way we work was associated with financial costs, I am sure that this strategy will pay off in the future. And I know it’s the right thing to do. ‘
How did technology help London Fermentary grow?
“During the pandemic, both our brand awareness and sales boomed because so many people searched for food online to boost their immune systems.”
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