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Wonderbag: African solution through loadshedding

Wonderbag: African solution through loadshedding

Nov 23, 2014

South Africa’s innovative non-electric heat-retention cooker, the Wonderbag, has been making waves both locally and internationally after entering the US market last year.

This product speaks to the problem most countries face: How do you create delicious home-cooked meals while conserving our precious energy resources? Cooking with a Wonderbag is the perfect solution as it enables you to cook your food to completion without the use of electricity or gas. Just begin the cooking process on the stove for a maximum of 30 minutes before transferring it into the Wonderbag, leaving it to simmer in its own heat and juices.

Sarah Collins, entrepreneur and founder of the Wonderbag, first had the idea to create the product during a load shedding blackout in 2008. She needed to continue preparing her evening meal and recalled how her grandmother used to wrap her food up warmly to keep cooking it.

This proudly South African product was born after a chance encounter at an airport with Moshy Mathe, a township seamstress dressed in a beautiful Shweshwe outfit, who offered Sarah her skills to create the first Wonderbag prototype.

However, taking this great idea forward and creating a viable business out of it required financial backing. So Collins set out to find financing and obtained it by raising carbon financing. In fact Wonderbag was one of the first Programme of Activities (POA) projects to receive funding. Initially Collins also funded her project by taking a bootstrapped approach whereby she sold bags and then slowly built up interest from her first investor. The company is currently in the process of sourcing their second round of investors.

Collins believes that, in order for a product with a vision for social upliftment to succeed, it is essential to get big business involved. Over the years the Wonderbag brand has partnered with the likes of Unilever under the banner of Rajah Spices, Robertsons and Knorr.

These partnerships helped to raise awareness about the product and add credibility when it came to launching the product in Shoprite. The partnerships also provided essential funds to launch the product to the commercial market in a way a small business would not have been able to do on their own.

According to Collins, partnering with corporates does not mean that there isn’t a place for individual acts of philanthropy. Her current business model in the US follows the Wonderbag Buy One Give One model.

“I felt that the world is interconnected and that we needed to look at ways to fund Wonderbags at the bottom of the pyramid where the impact to people is greatest. Hence I felt that individual philanthropy was the way to go. People in the west want to be part of the global environmental and social solutions, so the buy one donate one model has been very successful in growing our brand in new markets like the USA and the UK. Also the biggest growing food trend in the USA is slow cooking and an awareness around healthy cooking, so we have gotten behind this trend and it’s paying off,” said Collins.

Collins’ approach has clearly been well received in the US market as, in 2013, she was voted one of the most powerful women entrepreneurs of the year by Fortune Magazine. Currently Wonderbag is winning more and more fans both locally and internationally and, apart from being available online at Yuppiechef, and, the product is now also available for purchase at selected Outdoor Warehouse stores nationally.

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