By 22 May 2024 | Categories: feature articles


In the pursuit of new technologies, it is not that often that we are easily or quickly surprised. However, most recently a real breakthrough came from an unexpected direction, in food technologies, as food producer in2food group launched Smul in South Africa this month.

The brand consists of a range of nutritious products, including protein bars, protein powders, granolas and rice cakes at launch.

Smul's managing executive, Eric Labuschagne, stressed that everyone deserves access to nutritious and tasty food no matter their lifestyle or schedule. He stressed that people should be able to trust in where their food comes from and how it was made.

"In recent years the global market for health and wellness foods has seen remarkable growth. According to research the wellness market is estimated to reach $1.6 trillion by 2030, driven by increasing customer awareness. People are no longer content with empty calories. They seek foods that enhance their physical and mental health," he continued.

Admittedly, one doesn't automatically think of food as being technology, but in fact, health foods often require a great deal of technical research and implementation, particularly to produce foods that aren't highly processed and yet have a long shelf life.

Why being healthy has become hard

The problem, noted Labuschagne, is that in an increasingly fast paced, digitally driven world, many find themselves having to sacrifice their health to keep up with the rapid pace of life.

''For the sake of convenience, we're forced to choose between a quick unhealthy meal or time consuming, complicated cooking process. The result is having to contend with chronic diseases and a general decline in wellness as for many, it is too difficult to balance the pressures of modern living with maintaining a healthy diet,'' he points out.

Well then, shouldn't wellness and health orientated foods enable this? ''Unfortunately, the health market often caters for a niche audience while neglecting the vast majority who crave a balanced diet, and many health foods are bland and expensive," he adds.

Smul, however is aiming to change this. 

At the launch in Cape Town, Labuschagne explained that Smul's focus is on creating food that is healthy, nutritious, and tasty, while also being sustainable and accessible. Getting to this point though has been a process.

Labuschagne explained that finding the right combination to achieve this took them three years of much trial and error. He stressed that all foods in the range - which include granola mixes, protein bars, and rice crackers - were designed to keep their ingredients simple; utilising whole grains, seeds and nuts while avoiding refined sugars as far as possible.

''Some products have gone through multiple versions to fine tune and find the perfect balance between the flavours and nutritional packs we believe our consumers deserve,’' he elaborated.

Processed food and the technologies used that essentially strip food of its original nutrients, are well known. And while processed food may taste good, they are frequently loaded with chemicals, and artificial additives. The latter, according to the European Research Council can be detrimental to people's health and general wellbeing, and is marked as one of the causes of cancer and cardiovascular disease

Dr Tracy Flowers pointed out that the basics of good health are still eating nutritious, fresh food, and getting enough exercise. However, while fitness trackers and smart watches – lauded for helping promote better heart health have made it much easier to keep track of our activity, sleep patterns, heart rate and more, it is not nearly as easy to discern the content of the food we eat.

In most ways, discerning the ingredients of foods are one area where technology hasn't been applied. Rather than using QR codes or other means to make scanning and viewing the nutrients - or lack thereof - in a food easy to read, the ingredients of most foods are still written in seemingly the tiniest font possible.

Addressing this, Smul pointed out that its key product attributes are highlighted on the front of the packs, allowing consumers to select the right product to suit their needs, through easy access to the nutritional information that matters to them. Packaging, for example, clearly displays the nutritional components present, without requiring a magnifying glass, such as calories, total fat, sodium and cholesterol levels.

The Proof of the Pudding is in the Eating

As the adage goes, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Too often, health foods are a bit like knock off iPhones. They may contain less sugar and preservatives, but they just don’t taste like something you would want to eat. 

Based off the samples we tried though, that is not the case for what is Smul debuted. The rice cakes, in particular, are delicious. One of the samples (brown rice sorghum) boasted 0% carbohydrates and 0% sugars, no artificial flavours and a tiny 3% total saturated fat.

Protein bars are a difficult health food to get right. Many are edible, some are just dry, others look and taste like thick cardboard, or something you would shove under an unbalanced table to keep it from wobbling.

 Few are actually viable, appealing snack alternatives. That is another area where Smul's approach appears to have worked. Though I preferred some flavours to others, which is going to be a matter of personal preference, none of them had that dense, wooden protein bar taste; and I was pleasantly surprised by how effective they were in satiating my appetite.

With 13 grams of plant protein and a lightweight 3g total sugar per serving, the cocoa almond variant made for a delicious and guilt free snack. 

The other food that the company presented were granolas. Often misconstrued as a health food, many store-bought variants are loaded with sugar, and thus not good for diabetics or those who want to avoid that dread disease.

As with the other products, this too had 0% cholesterol and a light sugar content (between 3 grams and 5 grams, depending on which flavour you go for). While the coconut turmeric flavour weighed in at 280 calories per serving, the chocolate chip sea salt one was slightly more at 310 calories per serving. That is still well within acceptable parameters for those watching their weight.

Labuschagne assured that there were still more products to come, with the company getting ready to launch a ready to heat, shelf stable meal range, that features Lentil Ragu, Chilli 'non' Carne and Tikka Masala, as well as a multigrain oatmeal.

These meals go through a Retort process which, he explained, is used to ensure maximum freshness without the need for preservatives. The result, he promised, will be tasty ‘take anywhere’ meals with a 12-month shelf life that don't require refrigeration. 

Going beyond

The launch of the new line of food is one part of the story. Also critical though, in helping people improve their health through nutrition, is providing people with the information they need to make well-informed choices.

For this reason, Smul announced a new holistic and wellness focused podcast series as well, called Smulcast. In the first episode, dieticians Abby Sinclair and Mbali Mapholi unpacked protein and its importance. Sinclair also mentioned to me that the pandemic certainly spurred on a greater awareness for health-related matters. 

Although the company has South African roots, it is setting its sights on a global stage, with a US debut next month in New York (all Smul's products and packaging have been developed to meet the American Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations). This will be followed by a European launch in October, at the SIAL trade show in Paris.

The bottom line is that with all the technologies available to us to monitor and improve our health and still to come, the basics of ensuring sufficient exercise, regular and adequate sleep, and that we feed ourselves nutritious food, is an imperative that will not change. With this launch, hopefully, establishing those basics has just become just a bit easier.

The products are, as of this writing, available from


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