We get to talk with Prodigy Founder, Sameer Vaswani
Prodigy, with the slogan ‘eat no evil’, is a reinvented classic chocolate bar brand using natural ingredients. Prodigy was established in 2017 by Sameer Vaswani who aims to bring chocolate and biscuit products to the mainstream market which are made from clean, natural ingredients with nutritional benefits, packaged in sustainable materials.
Prodigy has been two years in the making and endeavours to be a company which creates goodness for its consumers and the planet, so we wanted to get a clearer insight into founder Sameer Vaswani’s vision behind the product.
Reinforcing the company’s ethos of being good for consumers, the planet and humanity, Prodigy Snacks proudly donates 5% of all profits to support the following organisations: The Blue Marine Foundation, Akshaya Patra, Friends of the Earth and Hope for Justice.
Facts and figures about refined and unrefined sugar.
Refined sugar is extracted from the sugar cane and processed, studies show that having too much sugar can cause multiple health implications. Sugar is being added to almost everything processed that we eat; fruit juices, smoothies, sauces. Refined sugar has no nutritional value and is ultimately empty calories. Unrefined sugar is natural sugar and hold many natural nutrients. Unrefined sugars include; honey, maple syrup, agave nectar. Lots of brands still market themselves as better alternatives by using gimmicks like “single origin” or “organic” or “Carb Killa” – but still using refined sugars, glucose syrup, or highly processed proteins. The worst is “sugar free” - Replacing white sugar with artificial, highly processed sweeteners, or polyols and sugar alcohols is hardly the answer!
The harmful practices and personal stories from having worked in the confectionary industry for over 16 years.
I witnessed first hand the negative environmental impact of industrial food production. In a bid to make packaged foods as cheap as possible and accessible to the masses, companies have to source “ingredients” from all over the world without much consideration for their carbon footprint. International shipping and logistics, whilst beneficial for economies, is terrible for the planet. Again with the motivation of producing cheap snacks, the “ingredients” being sourced are nothing but chemicals, and highly processed materials that are toxic for the body and have very little nutritional benefit. In order to produce affordable convenience foods, you need large scale factories to “process” and produce the foods, I don’t have a problem with that, it’s the highly processed ingredients being used that are the problem.
Sameer’s entrepreneur story.
I come from a family of entrepreneurs. My grandfather left India by boat in the 1920’s and started his own business in Hong Kong. My father did something similar in Africa in the 60’s. I started my first business in London, at the age of 23, as a Chef. My second business began from scratch in 2002 – Confectionery & Sweet Snacks. I built that food business over 14 years and managed to sell it to a Multinational in 2015. With the proceeds, I became an investor and began investing in “better for you” F&B businesses – 5 in total now. I have now started again with my 3rd business in life – Prodigy Snacks.
The most detrimental issues with the production of confectionery products and how Prodigy has avoided these practices.
Refined sugar is diabolical, the method of production in many sugar refineries was jaw dropping for me. Sugar starts out as a plant, then becomes black gooey molasses, then ends up as white powder. As if refined white sugar wasn’t cheap and toxic enough, big confectionery brands went one step further and used even more toxic and cheaper “sweetening” ingredients like High Fructose Corn Syrup and Glucose Syrup – totally synthetic. Chocolate should be made with Cacao Butter as the fat of choice. Again, to drive costs down, big brands substitute cacao butter and use palm oil instead. To make a cheap “buttery” shortbread biscuit, no butter is used, but synthetic artificial butter flavours! To make a gummy bear, industrial emulsifiers are used and artificial dyes / colours as well to make them look pretty! What’s wrong with beetroot juice to make something red ? Or Carrot juice to make something orange?
Top trends surfacing in the confectionery world
In confectionery, as well as in packaged foods / snacks in general, the top trend is a return to natural ingredients with all the inherent nutritional benefit retained in the product. Even for confectionery / sweet snacks – why not ? It’s more expensive, but just like anything else, the more people consume of it, the lower the costs. Refined sugar is now finally recognised by many western governments as a health hazard – but we all love sweet things! I consider Coconut Sugar as the best alternative. Plant based products are clearly an explosive trend as more and more consumers become conscious about the impact on the planet from consuming animal products. The “Planetary Diet” is another welcome trend where we consume food & drink that has a low negative impact on the planet. Plastic or carbon fuel based packaging materials is one of the biggest crises in convenience foods, and I am just so glad that new technology is now available to offer an alternative.
The status of sugar consumption in the UK
An unrefined sugar is a naturally occurring sugar that has been delivered by mother nature! Not bleached and having undergone multiple processes before it can be consumed. Honey from bees is the best example. Maple Syrup from trees, Coconut sugar comes from the sap of a coconut / palm tree. Fructose from fruit. Agave from plants. Just like in many developed countries, sugar consumption in the UK is just way too high. The amount of parents allowing their kids to put sugary cereals as the first bit of nutrition into their bodies to start the day is simply a tragedy. Obesity and diabetes is of course a huge problem, but it's also about polluting the body, and fuelling sugar addiction.
The future for plastic-free packaging
As I said earlier, the plastic free packaging movement has already begun. We started out with biodegradable / compostable materials which are considered “renewable” because they are plant based, and then decompose / biodegrade back into the earth to then grow again. However, the one issue with these materials is the lack of infrastructure to A) Collect the disposed of packaging materials, and B) industrially “compost” them. In the UK for example, the system of waste collection is determined by each council. There is no uniform policy for the whole country. Richmond Council distributes compostable rubbish bags. I don’t know of any others. Compostable materials need to be collected separately to recyclable waste – eg along with garden or food waste. Thankfully, a new solution has just come into the market – Paper based packaging which is fully recyclable. It’s still not a perfect solution, as we need to chop down trees to produce paper, but being recyclable is a HUGE positive and a massive improvement to plastic. Likewise, compostable packaging is not perfect, but a huge step in the right direction.
Sameer’s motivation for making an impact on the world and the food we eat
My whole career has been in food. Nutrition and a healthy diet with freshly prepared food was a cornerstone of my upbringing – hence why I became a Chef! I didn’t grow up on packaged foods that you shove in the microwave. So I was fortunate to have that core value instilled in me. Then having built my own food factories and experienced industrial food production, when I became a father to my two beautiful girls, I just couldn’t allow them to put these pollutants into their body. We all live in the developed world, and fast paced lives need convenience foods. Not everyone has the time to cook fresh food. Convenience food certainly does not need to be bad for you and as I said, with natural nutritional ingredients, the way food should be, there is absolutely no reason why we can’t have packaged snacks that are good for you.
Prodigy’s ingredients and the benefits
Prodigy Snacks is a range of chocolates and biscuits that do you no harm and actually have a nutritional benefit. I am a chocoholic, I cannot live without chocolate. Cacao is the original “food of the gods” not only because it delivers so much sensory pleasure, but also because the natural cacao fruit is packed with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. The key here is retaining all that nutrition and not killing it by highly processing cacao and heating it at extremely hot temperatures. So our cacao ingredients are “raw” and thus retains its nutrients. We boost the nutritional value by adding superfoods like Baobab, Lucuma, Green tea, and added fibre which benefits the gut. We also only use plant based “milks” and no dairy which is better for the planet and also (believe it or not) makes for a richer tasting chocolate. We are reinventing Chocolate for the mainstream, not just for a premium niche market. It’s a rebirth of how chocolate should have been made – we are taking all the classics we all grew up with and making them better for you, better for the planet.
Prodigy’s charity partnerships and why this is so important to Sameer
We want to protect the planet, and do what we can to reverse climate change. We understand the importance of nutrition and that every human should have access to nutritional food. We also believe in freedom, for people to be who they need to be and fulfil their potential. Hence we support Friends of the Earth to help save the planet, Hope for Justice to protect against Human trafficking and maintain Human freedoms, and Akshaya Patra who ensure millions of Asian children have access to nutritional meals. We also wish to support a charity / organisation to protect the Oceans and are working on that.
The future for Prodigy
Short term, we want to deliver the same pleasure from sweet treats that we all love and enjoy but without the negative impact on both the body and the planet. The big brands have got away with hoodwinking us for far too long. The American food industrialisation of the 50’s got us here – teaching us to eat convenience / packaged foods that were cheap and accessible because we demanded it with our lifestyles. However, we DESERVE to be provided with food / snacks that are not void of nutrition. Long term, Prodigy seeks to take on the big companies and show them that reaching the mainstream with affordable and natural convenience food is very possible and need not adversely affect our amazing planet.