The world is changing fast and to keep up you need local knowledge with global context.
We are confronted daily with reports of how plastic is polluting the environment. Sea turtles are filmed with straws in their noses, a recent study into plastic pollution concluded that half a million hermit crabs have died that confused trash for shells and polar bears have been snapped fighting over plastic. It is everywhere, even the deepest dive ever has found a plastic bag in the Mariana Trench. The realisation that we need to do something about our consumption of plastic and how it is destroying our planet, is slowly setting in and more and more countries are banning single-use plastic. It prompted Cape Town entrepreneur, Georgina de Kock to come up with an edible food bowl, which is set to change the hospitality industry that caters for large festivals, airlines and outlets such as coffee shops – which are contributing to billions of single-use plastic items a year. Earthday has calculated that humans buy 1 million plastic bottles per minute. De Kock’s company, Munch Bowls has been awarded an international grant by Expo 2020 Dubai for her innovation. De Kock told Biznews that demand for her munchable innovations is far higher than her ability to turn out new products. – Linda van Tilburg
Georgina when you started Munch Bowls, you say people thought you were crazy.
They did, but you know what; I was looking around me and I was just noticing the pollution that was happening and it was irritating me. Someone came to me and said; you are just talking and complaining about what is happening around you and they had a need for making curry and rice at a festival and asked if I can come up with something because they’re not going to use plastic and they don’t want to use porcelain bowls. So, I thought okay if you can put good food on a biscuit, make it a bowl and it will hold food, so I started experimenting.
The product is really very basic, the ingredients are sourced very carefully. It’s a wheat product. It has flour in, but the flour is stone-ground and unbleached and it’s got bran in which is healthy for your digestive system. The product is vegan which I am very proud of. And there are no preservatives. We use rooibos which is indigenous to South Africa especially in Cape Town. It’s a natural anti-oxidant and a preservative; that is our preservative.
What do they taste like? I am thinking of a ProVita when you describe the ingredients.
If you know ProVita, that is really what it tastes like, the plain one. And then we’ve got a sweeter one that is just a little bit sweeter. We didn’t want to make it too sweet because it’s not healthy. And basically, we are looking at the environment and because it’s edible we had to look at making it wholesome for the consumers.
Could you put soup in one of your bowls, would it hold it for a while and then start leaking, or can it hold wet products?
Well this is actually what really surprised me when I developed this product. Although it is only two millimetres thick; it actually holds soup for more than five hours. I mean this amazed me; you know this is one of the big attributes of this product, to make it a take-away or to hold products when you are at an event and you carry it in your hand. Sauces and stew foods, anything like that; it will hold for five hours at least.
Tell us about your journey because I see that you started quite small but you are now in a couple of places in Cape Town and you are also expanding internationally?
Actually, what happened was, Expo 2020 is taking place in Dubai and they noticed me and I am one of the global innovators that has been chosen out of quite a lot of people. We were fortunate enough to get selected and they are supporting us at the Expo 2020 which is a six month expo, which is amazing. They are building a whole new city and I will be present there. They are also very conscious of waste. I won’t be there for the full six months though; we will see how we can negotiate to have someone on the stand. South Africa will also be there, they will have space at the expo as well. We will have a global innovators stand at the Expo 2020 especially given to us.
What are your expansion plans inside South Africa?
We are slowly getting more noticed in South Africa. South Africa is always the last to actually realise the problem that we have. Of course, it’s about cost as well but exporting is really what we are focusing on now. I mean there are a lot of countries that are banning single-use plastic and we are concentrating on those. We are getting into the Netherlands and are present in Belgium, Singapore and Dubai. We wish to expand into Europe.
Is it a B2B product or do the consumers actually buy it?
No, it’s really business to business; so we are mainly working with the catering industry, for the take-away and fast food industry, catering for events, which is really our focus point. It’s a new product and a better way to introduce it is through businesses than put it into retail shops. We have a factory in Cape Town and we are busy mechanising it. And one of the things that Expo 2020 has done, they have contributed towards giving us a grant to actually get our mechanised machine up and running, which is fantastic. We are now able to produce more products to meet the vast demand that there is outside the country. This one-line machine will do about 500 bowls an hour. We only did about a thousand a day previously, so we are scaling up.
Do you export the actual bowls overseas or the recipe, what do you do for the overseas market?
No, the recipe is our IP. The machine is our IP; we are exporting orders out and suddenly there is a huge demand and as you know, there are a lot of countries that are now banning single-use plastics. It is unfortunately the end of the year and everybody is closing, but we are developing an edible spoon to replace plastic spoons and the next thing in line is our coffee mugs. So, that is very exciting and we are doing more and more products that will add or complement our edible bowls, so all will be edible and awesome, and just eliminate plastic waste.
With an edible cup, would you eat it or throw it away, at least it is compostable?
No way. You can eat it. We have experimented using just the bowl. We’ve got a smaller cup that we make by hand and we’ve tested it. It actually does hold coffee for three hours. So, I mean if you haven’t had your coffee in three hours then whatever but in South Africa we dip our rusks in our coffee and our biscuits and that’s exactly the same thing. You know, so it definitely holds that; it won’t leak. We’ve tested that and it’s really quite safe to use. So, we’re looking forward to developing that as well.
The coffee market is a really big market with Starbucks and others using single-use plastic. Have you spoken to anybody from Starbucks or the big firms?
Well, this is the thing, you know, when people talk to me about the bowls and they place orders with the bowls; they ask; what is the next thing. What about coffee mugs? So, we’ve already got a lot of people lined up and waiting for us for coffee mugs and also these plastic spoons. So, the market is absolutely huge.
So, are going to stick to the name Munch Bowls?
Well you know, we’ve registered a new company called Munch Innovation because there are these new products coming out because we will have Munch Spoons, Munch Cups, we’ve got Munch Chopsticks coming up as well so. And there’s more products being developed; so it has to be Munch Innovation, otherwise people will get confused.
Georgina, it sounds like an incredible product and I like your innovative way of thinking of more things because there’s so much plastic and if you see the pictures of how animals are affected and how the oceans are full of plastic; I think you’re doing a wonderful thing. Good luck and keep us posted on your expansion plans. It sounds amazing.
Thank you so much Linda. Let’s just all do our best. If we all just do our bit; I think every little drop counts and every drop makes an ocean.
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