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Issue 111 10 December 2010

The most erroneous stories are those we think we know best – and therefore never scrutinise or question.”

Stephen Jay Gould, American scientist

Food bites… We’re fat because we’re greedy

Image“Perhaps the most disturbing thing about the phenomenon of the immortal junk food [refrerring to the rot-proof Big Mac], whether it’s true or not, is how much we want it to be true. The fact is, we’re fat. We’re getting fatter. And we really want to blame somebody. So we blame McDonald’s. We want to believe that McDonald’s is the reason we’re fat. But the truth is much more complicated, and much more inconvenient. We are greedy. Our whole culture is greedy. We are fat because our whole culture is based on making us want more stuff all the time. The problem is not just junk food. It’s everything else as well.”

William Leith, writing in The Guardian

Editor’s Stuff – The best and worst of 2010!


Many of you are deservedly abandoning your desks in a few hours, and many of you are not! I’m one of the latter, but in the spirit of the silly season, I’ve scoured through the year’s newsletters and decided to come up with a list of the best, the worst and a heap of other accolades (or not) that have marked 2010. This list is entirely, unashamedly subjective – so forgive me for any omissions, or let me know of them. Herewith, the 2010 FOODStuff SA Awards:

Story of the Year: Kraft’s $19-billion acquisition of Cadbury. Impressive CEO Irene Rosenfeld garnered gazillions of media mentions and more words of copy than even salt reduction or obesity.

Shame of the Year: Pioneer Foods’ deceitful performance at the Competition Tribunal and subsequent R1-bn fine for price collusion, which it has seemingly shaken off as it now looks to buy KWV. As the fabulous news website, The Daily Maverick put it so gently: “…the Pioneer Foods debacle is the most outrageous example of callousness and greed. It’s worse than not giving a rat’s arse about the poor – it’s stealing what little money they have out of their pockets.”

Event of the Year: IUFoST 2010, August, at the CTICC. A world-class gathering of food scientists, and brilliantly organised by SAAFoST.

RooiboostLocal Products of the Year: NoMU’s Fond, Fair Cape’s Rooiboost, Dynamic Commodities Bits ‘O Juice. Winners all.

Whacky Product Launches of the Year: Tesco’s lasagne sandwich (UK), Le Froglet (187ml of wine sealed with foil in a plastic stemmed wine glass – UK); bottled sea water (UK).

Goodbyes of the Year: An awkward one for Simon Susman, CEO of Woolworths and who’s now non-executive deputy chairman; his respected father and one-time MD David Susman, who died at the age of 84; Raymond Ackerman to deserved retirement; and Graham Beck, a brilliant South African entrepreneur whose name has become synonymous with fine wines, died in Londen aged 80.

Birthdays of the Year: Deli Spices (30 years), SAAFoST (50 years), Orley Foods (50 years) and the humble can (200 years).

Buy of the Year: Danisco’s purchase of Research Solutions, a go-getting product development consultancy in Cape Town, that’s also been doing great business with its own ingredient compounds, mainly for the dairy sector.

Package of the Year: SABMiller’s Event Can launched for the World Cup – just voted Can of the Year in the US, too

LocCloeteal Innovation of the Year: Prof Eugene Cloete’s (dean of the Science Faculty at Stellenbosch University) hi-tech “teabag” that can purify polluted water instantly – and at minimal cost.

Coolest Innovation of the Year: “Revolutionary Removable” degradable chewing gum that launched in the US, making it the world’s first commercially available environmentally-friendly gum.

Trend of the Year: Processed is out – people’s desire to return to “real food” with no compromise on the quality of what they eat. We want it all!

Trend Two of the Year: Every once in a while, some unsung nutrient gets rediscovered and, in the course of a few short years, is rendered virtually magical in the eyes of health professionals and consumers. Then, seemingly overnight, the spell is broken. This year it happened to Omega 3, pomegranate and just last week, vitamin D.

Issue of the Year: Salt, salt, salt – too much of it, and how to reduce it!

Issue Two of the Year: BPA, another ubiquitous chemical, found in everything from food cans to baby bottles, and many would postulate is killing us. Just as many say it’s doing no such thing and is perfectly safe at current regulated limits. Ditto for salt.

Hottest Topic of the Year: Sustainability and feeding the billions in the coming decades.

“Ag shame” of the Year: HFCS – high fructose corn syrup’s already poor image plumbed new depths. Try to argue that the sweetener is not an evil, secret weapon of mass destruction but a perfectly natural product that’s no worse for you than regular old sugar, and consumers have responded with a collective “Yeah, right”. They’re now planning to market it as “corn sugar” in the US. Yeah, right.

Confusion of the Year: A myriad of new possibilities behind the obesity pandemic: “calories in vs calories out” is apparently far too simplistic.

BIG Shock of the Year: That South Africa comes third in global obesity stakes, as confirmed by the results of an indendent survey done in July in our four biggest cities, commissioned by GlaxoSmithKline. Half an hour in your local mall will confirm the findings.

The Rug Pull of the Year: Health claims in Europe, and most elsewhere, too. Where to now for functional foods?

Disappointment of the Year: Five-a-day does not keep cancer away.

The “Why am I not Surprised” of the Year: Health, schmealth… consumers are not ignorant about what constitutes a healthy diet, they just don’t chose to go there. There’s a big disconnect between what consumers know and say versus what they do. Taste, taste, taste – followed by affordability and convenience are still tops, no matter what!  Here’s great insight as to why people continue to make really poor food choices when they are perfectly well informed about healthier options. It’s called behavioural economics and it poses some sticky challenges for the food industry and health regulators.

Vindication of the Year: For those of us who love science, a ruling by a British parliamentary committee that homeopathy is 19th-century snake oil and has no place within the NHS.

Your Loss is Our Gain of the Year: Cadbury SA’s marketing dynamo Geoff Whyte who vacated his position in April after the Kraft takeover, and is now heading up National Brand’s Snackworks.

carrotsFood Marketing Campaign of the Year: In the US, where baby carrot producers joined forces to take on junk food with a fabulously zany marketing campaign. See

Enjoy this week’s read! I shall be back with the last newsletter of the year on Tuesday 21st December – having decided that no-one will be at work on Friday December 17.

Email Brenda Neall:

Publisher & Editor

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Local Food Industry Stuff

KFC sees Africa as its next international jewel

ImageKFC is looking to expand across Africa’s pristine fast-food frontier, reports the Wall Street Journal. KFC’s parent company Yum Brands hopes to open 600 more restaurants across the continent and double its revenue to $2 billion by 2014. “Africa wasn’t even on our radar screen 10 years ago, but now we see it exploding with opportunity,” said Yum CEO David Novak.

Greater political stability and a burgeoning middle class have prompted Yum to consider expanding its fried chicken empire from its initial stores in South Africa into Nigeria, Namibia, Ghana, and other countries. For many Africans, a trip to KFC is a special treat. “The KFC brand is highly aspirational in Africa. People will save up to buy the $3 meal, even if only once every three months,” said the general manager of Yum in Africa, Keith Warren. He added that although KFC’s Africa menus are essentially the same as those in the United States, the chain has cut down on boneless items like nuggets. “Africans are wary of processed food,” he said. “They want chicken on the bone.” [Subscriber only article – no link]

ImagePioneer makes offer for KWV

In a bid to entrench itself as a leading player in SA’s beverage market, cereal and juices manufacturer Pioneer Foods last week made an offer of more than R800m to purchase wine and brandy producer KWV. Read more

ImageProfiling Grant Pattison: CEO of Massmart

Walmart’s $2.3-billion (R16.5-billion) offer for 51% of Massmart was the culmination of 10 years of thinking and planning by the South African retailer. Read more

GMOs feature in Consumer Protection Act regulations

ImageTrade and Industry minister Rob Davies has recently published much-anticipated regulations which flesh out the Consumer Protection Act, which is now due to come into effect on April 1, 2011.

The bulky document, which is open for public feedback until the end of January next year, provides much needed detail on some 50 aspects of the Act. One of the most “juicy” bits determines the labelling of foods containing GMOs, with the regulations providing the specifics. All foods containing more than 5% of GMOs – whether the product was made in SA or elsewhere – will have to carry the declaration: “Contains at least 5 percent genetically modified organisms” in a “conspicuous and easily legible manner and size”. IOL. Read more

ImageIntroducing Fruit Pack, a new 100% natural fruit snack for kids

Fruit Pack, a 100% natural fruit purée, has been launched in SA and should prove a boon to boost fruit consumption among kids. Parents who prefer to give their kids natural foods will love Fruit Pack as it contains no added sugar, no colourants, no flavourants and no preservatives – just pure fruit. FOODStuff SA. Read more

Food Industry News

PepsiCo becomes Russia’s largest food and drink company 

ImagePepsiCo has bought a majority stake in dairy and juice producer Wimm-Bill-Dann Foods in an $5.4 billion deal that has granted it more than 50% of the Russian juice market and a leading chunk of both traditional and value-added dairy products, giving it the top business spot in the food and drink industry.

The deal has been generated by a major push by the soft drinks and snacks group to develop its presence in emerging markets. PepsiCo also plans to triple sales of nutritional and functional foods by 2020 to $30 billion. PepsiCo. Read more

COMMENT: PepsiCo pays a high price for a gamble in Russian dairy

When PepsiCo put up $5.4bn last week to acquire Wimm-Bill-Dann, it was seduced by the promise of high revenue growth but like any high-yield investment the Russian deal does not come without risks. Almost twenty years since the end of the Cold War, there can hardly be any greater symbol of the demise of communism and the dominance of American capitalism than the sight of PepsiCo buying a key Russian asset.

The acquisition of Wimm-Bill-Dann is not only big news for PepsiCo and the food industry. It is also big news for American-Russian relations. This will be the biggest acquisition a US company has made in Russia. FoodNavigator-USA. Read more

Hershey takes a big jump into the UK market

ImageThe Hershey Company has signed an international distribution deal with Walmart in an attempt to expand beyond America. The tie-up means that Hershey products such as Reese’s Pieces and Hugs, as well as the famous silver foil-wrapped Kisses, will be on the shelves of Asda (owned by Wal-Mart). The Wal-Mart partnership appears to be an attempt to challenge the might of Mars and Kraft, which bought Britain’s Cadbury last year, both in Europe and Asia. The Guardian. Read more

COMMENT: And not everyone is thrilled at the prospect…

“As anyone who has plunged their hand excitedly into a crackling bagful brought back from America (or a posh UK food shop with a penchant for kitsch) will know, there is nothing like the disappointment of discovering that a food which boasts an impressive amount of cultural glamour has all the flavour notes of regurgitated milk.” The Guardian. Read more

New deal fails to quell EU food labelling row

ImageStandardised food labels are deemed necessary under the EU’s single market rules and now EU ministers have agreed that food producers must clearly label nutrients including fats and sugars and show the country of origin for meat.

But the European Parliament’s chief negotiator on food labelling, Renate Sommer MEP, has called it a “sloppy” deal. She predicted more tough talks, saying European consumers “will have to wait a while yet” for clearer labels. The ministers rejected MEPs’ demands for key nutritional information to go on the front of the pack but agreed that labelling of the energy value and the quantities of some nutrients, such as fats, carbohydrates, protein, sugars and salt, should become compulsory. BBC. Read more

Science of super foods: Health benefits under microscope

ImageAustralia’s food industry watchdog is considering a new code that would allow food growers and manufacturers to make health claims about products provided they can support them with scientific evidence. Food Standards Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ) will complete its first report into the proposal in April. The move has been cautiously welcomed by consumer groups and food manufacturers, particularly those producing super foods.

Under current legislation, it is illegal to make a claim on a food linking it to the reduction of risk of a serious disease, apart from folic acid reducing the risk of neural tube defects. Sydney Morning Herald. Read more

US: 2010 Processor of the Year: TreeHouse Foods

ImageUS food industry trade journal, Food Processing, has announced its “2010 Processor of the Year”, awarded to TreeHouse Foods, a business that’s dubbed ‘the biggest company you never heard of’. Founded by four former Keebler executives, the $2-billion private label manufacturer manages 9 000 SKUs that have been developed to meet the needs of 800 customers, and which are produced at 19 manufacturing plants. The articles outline its massive success and ways of operating by a company that’s active in powdered non-dairy creamer, soups, dressings, pickles, powdered soft drink mixes, hot cereal, jams & spreads, salsa, dry mix pasta dinners, baby food. Read more

The Foods That Make Billions: a new BBC Open University co-production

ImageA new BBC TWO series just flighted explores how big businesses feed us. With unprecedented access to the world’s largest food companies including Kelloggs, Nestlé, CocaCola PepsiCo and Danone, this is the inside story of how the explosive growth of the industry and how over the last sixty years we have emerged from a time of scarcity and entered an age of convenience, choice and plenty.

The Foods that Make Billions is a three part series explains how the food business has taken three cheap commodities in cereals, water and yoghurt and transformed them into everyday necessities and highly profitable brands. Sixty years ago bottled water, breakfast cereals and yoghurt pots were practically unheard of in Britain, now it seems we can’t live without them. Along the way, this transformation in what we eat has created multi-billion pound industries from nothing. BBC. Read more

Food Trends, NPD and Marketing Stuff

Yoghurt and the functional food revolution

ImageIn half a century, the humble yoghurt has gone from hippy health food to mass market phenomenon, triggered a functional food revolution and become a multi-billion pound industry. Yoghurt is the ultimate added-value success story, processing milk and selling it at a higher price. With seven out of 10 people in the UK regularly eating yoghurt, it has vast appeal. Add clever branding and marketing and you have a recipe for success.

“With some of these specialised, heavily packaged yoghurts, you are talking about profit margins over 15%, which manufacturers dream of,” says Felicity Lawrence, journalist and author of Eat your heart out. BBC. Read more

Yoghurt brings new thinking to dairy aisle

ImageYoghurt has been around for more than 5,000 years, so you might think there’s little opportunity to do anything new with it. Well, yoghurt makers, including the leading US brand, Minnesota-rooted Yoplait, have proven that wrong: their products are among the most constantly evolving foods in the grocery aisles. Yoghurt already is a big food category, yet it still has lots of room to grow. And successful new products, coupled with new iterations of older lines, are the key to capturing more business.

“The thing about the yoghurt category is that it’s very well positioned for innovation,” said David Browne, a senior analyst at market researcher Mintel International. “It’s just a type of food that’s really open to a lot of interpretations.” In a report done a year ago, Mintel found that 1,200 new yogurt products – new styles, new flavours – had been launched since 2005. Read more

ImageTop Flavour Trends for 2011

Two weeks back we brought you coverage of RTS Resources’ predicted Food Trends for 2011. This week, here is the research company’s exclusive, essential list of the eight flavour trends that will take centre stage in 2011 and beyond. From Intense to Micro-Regional, it aims to show which trends will influence future NPD, as manufacturers seek new taste combinations to attract consumers. RTS Resources. Read more

US: Complexity, intensity and spice: McCormick predicts 2011 flavour trends

ImageAmericans are looking for more complex and intense flavours and are consuming more spices than ever before, according to McCormick’s annual flavour fusion forecast.

The seasonings company said that its flavour forecast looks at emerging flavour trends that are expected to feature strongly in the food industry over the coming year. Combinations to watch out for in 2011 include roasted curry powder with wild mushrooms, ancho chile pepper with hibiscus, and thyme with stone fruits, the report said. It cites US Department of Agriculture data that show US spice consumption at more than one billion pounds a year – and growing more than three times faster than the population. FoodNavigator-USA. Read more

Food trends predicted and realised

ImageThis week, the Hartman Group [always inspired and darned intelligent in its insights as it “takes the pulse of consumer culture”. Ed] offers the following recap of some of its most successful “ahead of the curve” insights from years past… and it expresses surprise at the level of insight that pre-dated current trends and outcomes… on issues such as “Keeping it Local. Keeping it Real”; on obesity and its consistent critiques of conventional public policy; on the globalisation of food, flavours and preparation; and on some new trends. The Hartman Group. Read more

Nutrition and Health Stuff

New vitamin D recommendations: what they mean

A new report from the Institute of Medicine is causing people to reconsider the essential nutrient. Here’s what the expert panel said, and why it reached its conclusions. The panel’s exhaustive report concluded that levels of vitamin D are — thank you very much — just fine in virtually all healthy North Americans. LA Times. Read more

ImageThe pill for almost every ill: aspirin cuts risk of cancers

It is not yet a panacea for all ills, but it is getting close. This week researchers announced the first proof that aspirin can cut the risk of a range of cancers by up to 50%. It is already taken by millions to protect against heart attacks and strokes and has an established role in preventing diabetes, dementia, pregnancy complications and pain. The Independent. Read more

Cranberry juice not effective against urinary tract infections, study suggests

ImageDrinking cranberry juice has been recommended to decrease the incidence of urinary tract infections, based on observational studies and a few small clinical trials. However, a new study published in the January 1 issue of Clinical Infectious Diseases, and now available online, suggests otherwise. ScienceDaily. Read more

Are depressed people too clean?

ImageIn an effort to pinpoint potential triggers leading to inflammatory responses that eventually contribute to depression, researchers are taking a close look at the immune system of people living in today’s cleaner modern society. Rates of depression in younger people have steadily grown to outnumber rates of depression in the older populations and researchers think it may be because of a loss of healthy bacteria.

In an article published in the December issue of Archives of General Psychiatry, Emory neuroscientist Charles Raison, MD, and colleagues say there is mounting evidence that disruptions in ancient relationships with microorganisms in soil, food and the gut may contribute to the increasing rates of depression. ScienceDaily. Read more

Skin/blood tests not good enough for allergy determination

ImageParents who have eliminated foods from their children’s diets based on allergy tests alone may find that some are safe to eat after all. The National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases this week issued the first clinical guidelines for diagnosing and treating food allergies, saying that blood or skin tests aren’t sufficient when making a diagnosis. The guidelines, published this week in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, are aimed at resolving wide discrepancies in diagnosing and treating food allergies among allergists, dermatologists, gastroenterologists, pulmonologists and emergency physicians, as well as pediatricians and internists. Wall Street Journal. Read more

Do energy drinks improve athletic performance?

ImageNew studies find little athletic benefit from drinking so-called energy drinks. This week in the US, Four Loko, the alcohol-and-caffeine-laced energy drink, is scheduled to be removed from store shelves nationwide, following a ruling last month by the FDA that the safety of such beverages is unproven and that they should no longer be manufactured or sold.

During the resulting media coverage, surprisingly little attention was focused on a corollary topic. What about nonalcoholic energy drinks, which will remain on sale? Are they safe? Effective? Who should be drinking them? Who shouldn’t? NY Times. Read more

Food Science Stuff

New method of testing for fibre to match new Codex definition

ImageStarting in the early 1990s, the Codex Alimentarius Commission — created in 1963 by the UN’s Food & Agriculture Organization and the World Health Organization to develop international food standards and guidelines — took up the task of defining “dietary fibre.” The organisation finally adopted a definition last year. A concurrent effort by AOAC International led to a new analytical method to test for fibre in foods in a way that would match the test to the definition. Read more

ImageGinseng just got better – not as bitter

Scientists have learned to mask the bitterness of ginseng, a common ingredient of energy drinks. While experimenting with five possible solutions to ginseng’s bitterness problem, they discovered that cyclodextrins – hydrophobic compounds made of glucose molecules that occur in a ring form – were able to capture the bitter flavour compounds and reduce bitterness by more than half. ScienceDaily. Read more

ImageButter contaminated by PBDE flame retardant

A new study reports what scientists believe is the worst documented US case of food contamination with polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE) flame retardants. The incident also marks the first time food contamination has been thought to result from PBDEs in a food’s packaging. ScienceDaily. Read more

Reversing vitamin and mineral deficiencies by fortifying crops

ImageEstimates show 127 million preschool children worldwide do not get enough vitamin A. And children with vitamin A deficiency are also likely to be deficient in other nutrients. Globally, micronutrient malnutrition affects more than 2 billion people—mostly women and children—increasing their susceptibility to diarrhea and other deadly illnesses and infection. When deficiencies exist in many nutrients, brain function is affected, reducing economic well-being for families and countries.

That is one reason that in 2011, HarvestPlus, an alliance of over 200 agriculture and nutrition scientists and development program implementers, is on tap to receive $1.3 million from USAID to biofortify seven staple crops that represent the source of food for the vast majority of people on the planet. Read more

The case against peer review

ImageThe recent announcement of a newly-discovered, arsenic-based life form has come under fire from microbiologists, who say the research paper is fatally flawed. So far, the paper’s authors have refused to respond to the criticism, on the grounds that “any discourse will have to be peer-reviewed in the same manner as our paper was, and go through a vetting process so that all discussion is properly moderated.” That is to say, they won’t acknowledge the informal vetting provided by their colleagues on science blogs and in the press. In the following column, first published in 2005, Daniel Engber explains why formal peer review doesn’t always work. Slate. Read more

Sustainability Stuff

Impending crisis: earth to run out of food by 2050?

ImageIs the earth running out of food? That’s what scientists warned if the world leaders don’t act now and negotiate food security policies at this week’s Climate Change talks in Cancun. In a new book, The Coming Famine: The Global Food Crisis and What We Can Do to Avoid It, Professor Julian Cribb argues a catastrophic global food shortage will hit by mid-century. His predictions paint a glum picture of the perfect storm that could threaten the lives of hundreds of millions of people: Populations will grow to 9.2 billion by 2050 and in turn double today’s global food requirement and outstrip growth in food output. Time Magazine. Read more

 COMMENT: No food on earth by 2050? The ghouls never run out of horrible scenarios

“So let me get this straight, one professor, Julian Cribb, writes a new book, “The Coming Famine: The Global Food Crisis and What We Can Do to Avoid It“, and the media and their food ghoul pals slip quickly into panic mode — “Ohmigod, the sky is falling! We’re all going to starve to death … the earth is doomed!” … Do these people like Cribb and their media pals never run out of scenarios designed to frighten the bejeebies out of us?

With all the science and technology at our disposal, with the rise of genetically-modified foods and nanotech solutions slowly but steadily evolving, we are still doomed? Based on a book by one professor spinning a doomsday scenario? I give the bright minds in the global food production industry a lot more credit than its critics do, because I think the food industry’s ability to innovate and develop technology to manage a global population’s food needs is unparalleled.

But what really worries me is that Cribb and his book will now spark a new call-to-arms for politicians, media and activist groups worldwide to ‘save the earth from total famine’. Which will likely lead to even more legislative roadblocks and punitive taxing concepts that will make it even harder for food producers to produce food. That’s what really scares me.”

  Bob Messenger, Editor, the Morning Cup

Weird, whacky and wonderful stuff!

ImageThe day I ate as many E numbers as possible

Food labels such as “natural” and “pure” are confusing shoppers, according to a survey. But even more misunderstood are the E numbers that populate ingredient lists, says Stefan Gates, who set out to see if additives are as bad as is often assumed. Why would anyone do something as irresponsible as try to overload on sweeteners, flavourings, emulsifiers and preservatives, when food additives are a byword for culinary evil? BBC. Read more

Cutting Darren down to size

ImageFor years, we’ve known him as the big man with the husky voice on SuperSport and East Coast Radio. But viewers will have noticed that there is now considerably less of Darren Scott.

Darren ballooned to 130kg at the end of 2005 but he shed 40kg in just a few months and everyone wants to know how he did it. Sadly, there’s no short cut and while we’d all like to pop a pill and wake up thin, it does not work that way. Darren says his weight loss formula consists of four mantras: balance, discipline, portion control and discipline (and a hot new girl friend, now his wife) – all lacking in his fat life. And he’s told his story in an entertaining new book “No Fries on Us“, published by Penguin. IOL. Read more

ImageUS: Of all the fries, customers choose McDonald’s

Whether you call them French fries, chips, or frites, whether they come thick-cut, crinkled, straight, or curly, fries are a staple of the American diet, most notably at quick-serve restaurants. The taste of McDonald’s French fries has played a critical role in the chain’s success. Fries are more profitable than hamburgers. The secret to McDonald’s fries lies in the cooking oil. QSR Magazine. Read more

Japan: New 3D, eco-friendly vending machines

ImageAnybody who has ever visited Japan knows of the country’s fondness for vending machines. Now Coca-Cola is introducing new high-tech models that are not just aesthetically appealing – vending machines are at the forefront of Japan’s green movement, and the aim is for consumers to feel good about using the machines … The new “3D-Vis” vending machines employ mini solar panels, energy-saving LED lighting and a tracking function showing all the social contributions each machine’s sales have made. Ozone and climate-friendly non-CFC refrigerators (instead of the refrigerant “freon”) and heat pumps are incorporated into the machines, which also offer many non-cash payment options. The Independent. Read more   

That’s all the stuff for this week, folks! 

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