The Virtuous Circle project, co-ordinated by DuPont and which has been running in 34 primary or pre-primary schools and one orphanage since last year, aims to provide children with a nutritious breakfast, to supplement the single meal they otherwise receive at school.
The pouches contain 200ml water and 50g of Futurelife powder, which contains 790kJ total energy, 8g of protein, and high levels of 25 vitamins and minerals, along with fibre, omega-3 and amino acids. Students break a seal separating the water and food powder, allowing them to mix, and then consume the contents immediately.
Providing a nutrient-dense breakfast
“Most South African school learners do not have access to drinking water and get served a cooked, very basic lunch at 10:30,” said Julika Falconer, CEO of the Futurelife Foundation.
“The ideal breakfast for these under-resourced, poor schools is a nutrient dense breakfast, which ensures slow-release energy and also hydrates the body. The pilot has shown that children at primary school level are able to apply enough pressure on the middle seal and don’t need assistance from adults,” she added.
According to a survey of 228 teachers from 18 schools in the pilot, 93% of teachers reported that children liked the taste of the meal, and 86% of children didn’t find it difficult to finish the meal. In addition 95% of teachers said the pouches were easy to use, and 99% said they saved time compared to standard school meals.
A head teacher at one of the schools in the pilot said the number of late students had fallen and attendance in general had risen, as the students now ate breakfast at school.
Mining industry requirements
According to Nic Watts of EqualTrade4, which developed the pouches, the packaging system originally came out of requirements from the mining industry.
“In the past miners were given a meal to be taken mid-shift underground but this in itself presented the following challenges: lack of nutritional consistency, inappropriate packaging, and quality control,” said Watts.
“So the challenge in essence was to come up with a product that would not only address the above, but which would also be practical to manage in terms of shelf life, storage and that could also be efficiently issued to a large workforce on a daily basis,” she added.
According to Watts, Futurelife was an ideal food for this application, but the lack of a preservative meant it needed to be kept separately from the water needed to make it ready for consumption – hence the development of the middle seal in the pouches.
“Any new concept requires a degree of research and development and this was no different – the foil used in the sachet is a complex formula and the machinery required to accomplish the packaging requires technical expertise – but like anything else once you get it right it just a matter of maintaining the quality of the product,” said Watts.
Along with the nutritional benefits, the used pouches are also recycled into school desks, and the project includes an educational component on waste and nutrition.
“We would like to see the dual pouch find its way into the school feeding, mining and the humanitarian aid sectors amongst others. Many African countries have been affected by the ongoing drought and the need for purified water – alongside good nutrition – is constantly growing,” said Falconer.