It has been only eight months since OK Foods opened its doors at the Gateway Lifestyle Centre in Hermanus and already its ‘handmade, homemade, healthier for you’ Mitolife strategy is starting to take root.

A key component of this vision is a commitment to sourcing locally. Not only does this ensure that customers receive fresher products, but supporting local companies helps to reduce the store’s overall carbon footprint and ensure that money remains circulating within the Overberg.

According to store manager, JJ Smith, of the approximately 150 suppliers whose products are stocked by OK Foods, over 30 are from the Overberg, including 17 wine estates.

Organic fruit and vegetable produce from Pure Farm in Bot River, meat from Bredasdorp, take-away coffees made from Tulip Coffee Roasting’s beans and bags of roasted coffee beans, The Beanery and Eden Café, and cheeses from Klein Rivier and Stonehouse are just some of the ‘homemade’ brands that shoppers are able to enjoy.

Organic fruit and vegetables have been particularly successful. Since the store first opened at the end of April 2019, sales have tripled.

“We are constantly on the lookout to improve our range of healthy living products,” says JJ, who points out that they have just introduced items from The Allergy Free Kitchen in Cape Town, a gluten-free, high in fibre range of baked snacks, breads and treats that have no added preservatives or sugar and are low in glycaemic carbohydrates.

But the biggest point of difference and what sets OK Foods Gateway apart from the competition has been the introduction of ‘Mitolife’ labelling on the shop shelves, coupled with the opportunity to ‘Shop with Doc’ and purchase ready-to-eat Mito Meals,

Progressively, the shelves have been labelled with green Mitolife stickers indicating that the product is mito-friendly.

“We get new products in all the time that are healthier and more affordable than what we had when OK Foods Gateway opened. We constantly send requests to management for what our mito supporters need and generally, the products are on the shelves within weeks,” says Dr Julienne Fenwick, who is responsible for deciding which products meet the criteria to be labelled as mito-friendly and who also runs the Shop with Doc tours.

Mito, the shortened form of mitochondria, are the body’s powerhouse. They make most of the cells’ supply of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), a molecule that cells use as a source of energy. Research has shown that certain nutrients and enzymes play a huge role in how the mitochondria function.

Simply put, as the saying goes, ‘You are what you eat’. If your mitochondria are not working properly, your cells won’t have the energy to do their jobs. This can lead to ill health.

This year, two Shop with Doc sessions have taken place. According to Julienne, “The Shop with Doc attendees thoroughly enjoyed the experience and learned a great deal about how to shop using food as medicine.”

“The experience was enlightening for me as I got to see first hand what misconceptions consumers are under when shopping. For example, when people are informed that their favourite cereal (advertised as high in fibre and super healthy) is, in fact, full of harmful flavourants, emulsifiers and hidden sugar (all info supplied on the label of course), they are horrified that they have been ‘lied to’. The conversations were eye-opening and I believe the attendees got a great deal of value from the tour.

“The shoppers were furiously taking notes and were subsequently able to redesign their monthly grocery shop. We did calculations to prove that buying healthier food doesn’t have to be more expensive. By following the green dots to replace certain favourite staples, one can actually save money. I received a few messages from Shop with Doc attendees asking me to check their proposed new healthy shopping lists. It is really rewarding to have an impact on such a seemingly small aspect of people’s lives, and yet eating yourself to health is the best (and cheapest!) medicine around,” says Julienne.

“For me, Shop with Doc was just what I needed to kickstart my clean eating regime,” says Dr Michelle Emmet, who attended one of the first tours. “Changing the way we eat and cook can be overwhelming but this was a wonderful experience that really opened my eyes to the many healthy and accessible shopping items that are available. I learnt so much!”

The introduction of ready-to-eat Mito Meals is still a new concept, but Julienne says it has been well received not only by her patients but also local business owners and their staff. “Our aim is to create a hub of health, where people coming from the gym, or popping in after a long day’s work or simply feeling in the mood for a snack, can enjoy a delicious, healthy Mito Meal with a variety of dishes that are satisfying and affordable. It takes patience and persistence to change the habits of a nation. This is our goal. One delicious Mito Meal at a time.”

Next year, OK Foods plans to sell organic vegetables from the Zwelihle Youth Cafe’s urban gardening project. OK Foods will also sponsor a few Shop with Doc tours for educational purposes to organisations they feel may benefit. “Anyone is welcome to approach management with suggestions,” adds Julienne.

She concludes by saying, “We look forward to working more closely with the community and populating the shelves of OK Foods Gateway with healthy food options that everyone can afford. The focus will then be on teaching the community about these options and showing them how to shop and cook to prevent and treat chronic disease. In a society where healthcare is inaccessible for most, we need to treat food as medicine in order to stay healthy. This is our small contribution to health education in our local community.”

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