SA slow cooker whets US appetite

2014-01-29 08:00

There’s a new cooking craze sweeping America – and it’s a proudly South African innovation.

Orders for the Wonderbag are rolling in on and the product reviews are overwhelmingly positive, with the slow cooker receiving an average rating of four stars out of five from happy customers.

The Huffington Post has called the Wonderbag “affordable, amazing, brand-new and totally practical for the home cook” and the New York Times rates it among its innovative food product list for December.

The humble slow cooker – it resembles a cross between a dog bed and an oversized, deflated scatter cushion – was inspired by extensive power cuts in South Africa in 2008.

Frustrated by half-cooked dinners, Sarah Collins remembered how her grandmother had surrounded her pans with cushions to keep them cooking after she turned the stove off. So she tried it herself, and the Wonderbag was born.

Now Collins wakes up every day to the smell of her breakfast oats, which she puts in the Wonderbag the previous night.

Once food’s been brought to the boil on a stove, the pot or pan can be placed in the Wonderbag overnight to keep warm and continue cooking very slowly.

She makes yogurt in it, as well as an Indian lamb curry.

But her idea is hardly revolutionary. “I did not invent heat retention technology. It is an age-old technology. I simply reinvented and redesigned the idea and then packaged it properly.”

Collins also realised the Wonderbag could help families in developing countries who usually cook with kerosene, paraffin or wood.

“These stoves and fires aren’t just polluting, they make entire homes too smoky to breathe in, cause house fires, burn children, swallow wage packets and cause serious illnesses,” says Collins.

“And the danger women face collecting firewood every day to cook their meal is also lessened [by the Wonderbag].”

Collins asked her friend Moshy Mathe to sew up the prototype Wonderbag, which was stuffed with polystyrene. Today the product is stuffed with mattress and foam off-cuts, which she says make it more environmentally friendly.

She presented the first Wonderbag as a gift to an elderly woman near her Durban home who cared for Aids orphans. The woman was later able to sell some of the food she prepared in the Wonderbag to earn some money.

Soon Collins’s Wonderbags were popping up in Syrian refugee camps, Kenyan housewives were cooking up a storm and Rwandan villagers were joining the slow-cooking revolution.

There are currently more than 600?000 African households using the Wonderbag and the World Health Organisation has just put in an order for 10?000 to distribute to refugee camps worldwide.

In Rwanda, Collins has 2?000 seamstresses sewing her Wonderbags.

Knorr foods has also signed on as a marketing partner in the US and UK.

Collins spent seven months researching the US market before deciding on Amazon as her retailer. “Americans want food in 10 minutes. We marketed the Wonderbag so that Americans could prepare food in 10 minutes, pop it into the bag and at the end of the day come home to a wholesome, healthy meal.”

The Wonderbag is due to be launched in South Africa in the next few months, says Collins.

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