Meet the food waste pioneer at the head of London Fermentary

·3-min read
Elena Deminska and team (Sam Wright)
Elena Deminska and team (Sam Wright)

As a child, Elena Deminska spent her summers running wild in the Russian countryside with her cousins and brother. They picked mushrooms in the forest and their grandmother would hang up bunches of herbs and leave blueberries to dry in the sun.

‘It was a culture of preserving food,’ says Elena, now 44. ‘In the autumn school holidays we would prepare big jars of cabbage for the winter. It was an event for the whole family.’

After moving to London two decades ago, Elena worked at the likes of Borough Market before setting up Puntarelle & Co, which provides specialist fruits and vegetables from small growers in Britain, France and Italy. Wastage was inevitable but didn’t sit well with Elena, so in 2016 she started to experiment.

Elena Deminska (Sam Wright)
Elena Deminska (Sam Wright)

‘London Fermentary started because I was looking for ways to use things up,’ she says of her now renowned fermented food and drink business, which is based in Bermondsey’s Spa Terminus next door to Puntarelle. Surrounded by other independent food producers, London Fermentary’s railway arch HQ is a meeting of science and nature, with rows of glass containers filled with colourful concoctions, trailing green plants and enormous vats on steel worktops.

While Elena might once have associated fermenting with ‘living this not very wealthy life’, her customers were fascinated by the sauerkrauts, kimchis and water kefirs she started producing and before long the business grew to the point where she had to source ingredients from elsewhere. Although London Fermentary no longer just uses surplus, Elena’s goal is to demonstrate how a relatively big operation can stay flexible enough to incorporate food that would otherwise go to waste.

‘My husband has great relationships with suppliers in New Covent Garden Market,’ she says. ‘They let him know what they have and he buys up anything in volume that we can make use of and which would otherwise be going out.’

A selection of London Fermentary’s sauces (Sam Wright)
A selection of London Fermentary’s sauces (Sam Wright)

Today, London Fermentary is stocked by Selfridges and Planet Organic, among others. Last year its turnover was £250,000; this year it is projected to double. Next, Elena is looking to recruit more people and find a bigger workspace, partly to house a higher-tech laboratory ‘where we can investigate new ways of fermenting’, but also so they can collect empty jars from customers.

‘We used to do it,’ she says. ‘But it reached the stage where it would have been one person’s entire job to collect and sterilise the jars and we can’t afford that or the space to keep them in right now. We’re not perfect but all the time we’re trying to improve.’

What are the benefits of going greener?

‘Although there have been financial costs involved with changing the way we do things, I’m certain this strategy will pay off in the future. And I know it’s the right thing to do.’

How has tech helped London Fermentary to grow?

‘During the pandemic both our brand awareness and sales boomed because so many people searched online for foods to boost their immune systems.’

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