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Soylent (meal replacement)

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Soylent Nutrition, Inc.
Company typePrivately held company
IndustryMeal replacement
Founded2013; 11 years ago (2013)
FounderRob Rhinehart
Headquarters
Los Angeles, California[1]
,
United States
Key people
Demir Vangelov (CEO)
ProductsSoylent
Websitesoylent.com

Soylent is a set of meal replacement products in powder, shake, and bar forms, produced by Soylent Nutrition, Inc. The company was founded in 2013 and is headquartered in Los Angeles, California.

Soylent is named after an industrially produced food (the name of which is a portmanteau of "soy" and "lentil") in Make Room! Make Room!, a 1966 dystopian science fiction novel (which was the basis of the 1973 film Soylent Green) that explores the theme of resource shortages in the context of overpopulation.

The company developed a following initially in Silicon Valley and received early financial backing from GV, the investment arm of Alphabet, Inc., and venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz. In 2021, Soylent announced that it had become profitable starting in 2020.[2]

History

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A Soylent package, along with the powder and resulting drink

In January 2013, American software engineer Rob Rhinehart purchased 35 chemical ingredients—including potassium gluconate, calcium carbonate, monosodium phosphate, maltodextrin, and olive oil—all of which he deemed necessary for survival, based on his readings of biochemistry textbooks and U.S. government websites.[3][4] Rhinehart used to view food as a time-consuming hassle and had resolved to treat it as an engineering problem. He blended the ingredients with water and consumed only this drink for the next thirty days. Over the course of the next two months, he adjusted the proportions of the ingredients to counter various health issues and further refined the formula.[3][5][6] Rhinehart claimed a host of health benefits from the drink and noted that it had greatly reduced his monthly food bill, which fell from about US$470 to $155, and the time spent behind the preparation and consumption of food while providing him greater control over his nutrition.[3]

Rhinehart's blog posts about his experiment attracted attention on Hacker News,[4][7] eventually leading to a crowdfunding campaign on Tilt that raised about $1.5 million in preorders[8][9] aimed at moving the powdered drink from concept into production. Media reports detailed how operations began for Soylent Nutrition, Inc., in April 2014, using a relatively small $500 system to ship the first $2.6 million worth of product.[10] In January 2015, Soylent received $20 million in Series A round funding, led by venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz.[11] In 2017, the company raised $50 million in venture funding.[12] In 2023, Soylent was acquired by Starco Foods, the third Starco acquisition in six months.[12]

Soylent is named after a food in Harry Harrison's 1966 science fiction novel, Make Room! Make Room![13] In the book, most types of "soylent" are made from soy and lentils, hence the name of the product, a combination of "soy" and "lent". The word also evokes the 1973 film adaptation, Soylent Green, in which the eponymous food is made from human remains.[4] Rhinehart has said he chose the name, with its morbid associations, to pique curiosity and deeper investigation, since the name was clearly not chosen with a traditionally "flashy" marketing scheme in mind.[14]

Distribution

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Soylent was available for purchase and shipment only within the United States until June 15, 2015, when it began shipping to Canada.[15] In October 2017, Canada disallowed further shipments due to a failure to meet food regulations on meal replacements;[16] shipments to Canada resumed in 2020.[17]

In July 2017, 7-Eleven stores in and around Los Angeles became the first offline venues to sell Soylent.[18] By April 2018, the product was sold in over 8,000 U.S. 7-Elevens and was available at Walmart, Target, Kroger, and Meijer.[19] By 2021, over 28,000 retail stores carried Soylent.[12]

Health effects

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The makers of Soylent claim it contains the nutrients necessary for a healthy lifestyle.[20] Some people have experienced gastrointestinal problems from consumption of Soylent, particularly flatulence.[21][22]

Lead and cadmium content

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On August 13, 2015, As You Sow filed a notice of intent to pursue a lawsuit against the makers of Soylent, claiming that the company was in breach of California's Proposition 65 for not adequately labeling its product given the levels of lead and cadmium present in the drink.[23] Although Soylent contains levels of lead and cadmium far below the national safety levels set by the FDA, it does contain 12 to 25 times the level of lead and 4 times the level of cadmium permitted in California without additional labeling.[23][24] A lawyer who had worked on settlements of Proposition 65 suits described the case as "alarmist", as the levels are well below FDA limits of what is allowed in food products.[25] However, as Soylent is marketed as a complete meal replacement, many customers consume the drinks three times a day, equating to 36 to 75 times the lead and 12 times the level of cadmium without the Prop 65 label.[26]

Soylent's website displays the Proposition 65 warning required by California.[25] Soylent Nutrition, Inc. published the position that the levels of heavy metal content in Soylent "are in no way toxic, and Soylent remains completely safe and nutritious".[27] The company also published an infographic and spreadsheet based on an FDA study of heavy metal content in common foods, comparing two selected example meals to servings of Soylent with a similar amount of caloric intake.

Product recalls

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In 2016, the company announced it would halt sales of the Soylent bar due to reports of gastrointestinal illness, including nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.[28] They asked customers to discard any unconsumed bars and offered full refunds.[29] On October 21, 2016, the company triggered a product recall.

On October 27, 2016, they also halted sales of Soylent powder.[30] The company said tests on the bar had not shown contamination[clarification needed] but also stated that some powder users had reported stomach-related symptoms.[31][32]

Soylent initially suspected soy or sucralose intolerance.[33] However, on November 7, 2016, the company instead blamed algal flour for making people sick and said it planned to remove it from future formulations of the powders and bars,[34][35] which it did in the next formulation, version 1.7, introduced on December 15, 2016.[36][37] The drink-based products use algal oil, not algal flour, so were deemed to be safe for users.[citation needed]

Reviews

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Soylent has gone through multiple iterations since its release, which have significantly changed the flavor, texture, and nutritional ingredients.

Rhinehart called the flavor of the original versions "minimal", "broad", and "nonspecific".[38] Soylent 1.0 contained soy lecithin and sucralose as masking flavors and to adjust appearance, texture, and smell.[39] Before version 1.4, vanillin was included as an ingredient for flavoring.[40]

Dylan Matthews of The Washington Post noted in 2013 that Soylent fulfills a similar need as medical foods like Abbott Laboratories' Jevity, but at a much lower cost.[41]

Reviews on the taste of powdered Soylent have varied. Writing for The Verge, Chris Ziegler said he was "pleasantly surprised" with the "rich, creamy, and strangely satisfying" flavor,[22] and a reviewer for Business Insider likened it to a vanilla milkshake with the texture of pancake batter,[42] while a writer for The Guardian wrote that it was "purposefully bland", "vile", and made the taster "gag".[43]

Farhad Manjoo of The New York Times said he "found Soylent to be a punishingly boring, joyless product".[21] Chris Ziegler of The Verge, who experimented with subsisting only on Soylent for almost a month, said that although he liked and "never really tired of the flavor", he still concluded that "Soylent isn't living, it's merely surviving", and described the apple he ate at the end of that period as "my first meal back from the abyss" and the best he'd ever had in his life.[22] A writer for Gawker said he "was having trouble getting it down" and eventually "dumped the whole thing in the sink".[44]

Both Manjoo and Ziegler said they had experienced some gastrointestinal problems from drinking the product.[22][21] Lee Hutchinson of Ars Technica also reported a brief period of "adaptation gas" at the beginning of a four-day experiment.[14]

The mocha-flavored version has been described as similar to a "caffeinated Nesquik drink".[45]

See also

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References

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  1. ^ "Soylent Offices – Los Angeles". May 20, 2019.
  2. ^ "Soylent, once the beverage of tech bros, finds a new audience". finance.yahoo.com. July 28, 2021. Archived from the original on March 12, 2022. Retrieved March 21, 2022.
  3. ^ a b c "How I Stopped Eating Food". Rob Rhinehart personal blog. February 13, 2013. Archived from the original on May 14, 2016. Retrieved April 4, 2015.
  4. ^ a b c "The End of Food". The New Yorker. May 12, 2014. Archived from the original on July 24, 2020. Retrieved February 9, 2018.
  5. ^ Storr, Will (May 6, 2013). "The man who lives without food". The Telegraph. London. Archived from the original on May 8, 2013. Retrieved May 13, 2013.
  6. ^ Hannan, Caleb (July 18, 2013). "Could This Liquid Replace Food?". Popular Science. Archived from the original on September 4, 2017. Retrieved February 9, 2018.
  7. ^ Johnson, Theresa Christine (March 14, 2017). "The Fascinating Start to Future Food Brand Soylent". The Dieline. Archived from the original on February 10, 2018. Retrieved February 9, 2018.
  8. ^ Hutchinson, Lee (October 21, 2013). "Soylent gets a $1.5 million infusion of venture capital". Ars Technica. Archived from the original on February 6, 2017. Retrieved February 6, 2017.
  9. ^ Luzar, Charles (October 22, 2013). "Crowdfunding Darling Soylent Nets $1.5 Million in VC Funding".
  10. ^ Ballantyne, Alando (June 3, 2015). "How We Spent $500 on Tech to Ship $2.6M of Soylent". Medium.com. Archived from the original on March 6, 2016. Retrieved June 28, 2015.
  11. ^ "Soylent Raises Money". Rob Rhinehart personal blog. January 14, 2015. Archived from the original on January 21, 2015. Retrieved January 22, 2015.
  12. ^ a b c Hall, Christine (February 21, 2023). "Soylent acquired by Starco Brands as nutrition company shifts into its 'natural next stage'". TechCrunch.
  13. ^ Varughese, Ansa (March 15, 2013). "Rob Rhinehart, 24, Creates Soylent: Why You Never Have To Eat Food Again". Medical Daily. Archived from the original on May 12, 2013. Retrieved May 13, 2013.
  14. ^ a b Hutchinson, Lee (September 15, 2013). "Ars does Soylent, the finale: Soylent dreams for people". Ars Technica. Archived from the original on December 22, 2016. Retrieved February 8, 2017.
  15. ^ "Soylent: Now Shipping to Canada". Soylent Blog. June 15, 2015. Archived from the original on June 18, 2015. Retrieved June 28, 2015.
  16. ^ Kappler, Maija (October 25, 2017). "Meal replacement company Soylent has imports blocked in Canada". CTV News. Toronto. Archived from the original on October 25, 2017. Retrieved October 25, 2017.
  17. ^ "Meal Replacement Startup Soylent Returns to Canada for First Time Since 2017". forbes.com. April 13, 2020. Retrieved May 5, 2020.
  18. ^ "Soylent is being sold offline for the first time". The Verge. Archived from the original on July 12, 2017. Retrieved September 6, 2017.
  19. ^ "Soylent Meal Replacement Drinks Are Coming to Walmart". Fortune. Archived from the original on March 12, 2022. Retrieved March 21, 2022.
  20. ^ Hutchinson, Lee (January 29, 2014). "Soylent gets tested, scores a surprisingly wholesome nutritional label". Ars Technica. Archived from the original on June 13, 2015. Retrieved June 11, 2015. However, nutrition testing done to gain the label established that Soylent meets the Food and Drug Administration's standards for a whole raft of healthy claims: 'Everything from reduced risk of heart disease and some cancers to absence of tooth decay', said Rhinehart. Based on the testing, he explained, Soylent can make many of the health and nutrient claims that the FDA tracks.
  21. ^ a b c Manjoo, Farhad (May 28, 2014), "The Soylent Revolution Will Not Be Pleasurable", The New York Times, archived from the original on February 15, 2017, retrieved March 3, 2017
  22. ^ a b c d Ziegler, Chris (July 17, 2014). "Soylent survivor: one month living on lab-made liquid nourishment". The Verge. Archived from the original on February 20, 2016. Retrieved February 23, 2016. Each box contains seven packets of powder – one per day – paired with seven bottles of a fish oil / canola oil blend.
  23. ^ a b Houck, Brenna (August 16, 2015). "Soylent Under Fire for Allegedly Failing to Provide Adequate Warnings on Its Labels". Eater. Archived from the original on August 17, 2015. Retrieved August 16, 2015.
  24. ^ "As You Sow Files Notice of Legal Action Against Soylent Super Food". PR News Wire. August 13, 2015. Archived from the original on August 15, 2015.
  25. ^ a b Watson, Elaine (August 17, 2015). "Soylent case reignites debate over Prop 65: 'It's basically extortion,' claims attorney". Archived from the original on August 16, 2015.
  26. ^ Westervelt, Amy (August 18, 2015). "Heavy metals prove all too common in meal replacement products, says watchdog group". The Guardian. London. Archived from the original on October 26, 2017. Retrieved October 25, 2017.
  27. ^ "Soylent FAQ: California Proposition 65". Archived from the original on March 31, 2017. Retrieved December 27, 2016.
  28. ^ Mole, Beth (October 12, 2016). "Soylent halts sale of bars; investigation into illnesses continues". Ars Technica. Archived from the original on October 13, 2016. Retrieved October 13, 2016.
  29. ^ Lomas, Natasha (October 13, 2016). "Soylent Bars recalled after some customers get sick". TechCrunch. Archived from the original on October 13, 2016. Retrieved October 13, 2016.
  30. ^ "Soylent Thinks It Found What Was Making People Sick: Algae". Bloomberg.com. November 7, 2016. Archived from the original on December 20, 2016. Retrieved December 17, 2016.
  31. ^ Lomas, Natasha (October 28, 2016). "Soylent pulls Powder as part of probe into customer sickness". TechCrunch. Retrieved June 21, 2023.
  32. ^ Dave, Paresh (October 27, 2016). "Soylent halts sales of its powder as customers keep getting sick". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on October 28, 2016. Retrieved October 28, 2016.
  33. ^ Mole, Beth (October 12, 2016). "People get "violently ill" from Soylent bars; company stumped". Ars Technica. Archived from the original on October 12, 2016. Retrieved October 13, 2016.
  34. ^ Filloon, Whitney (November 7, 2016). "Soylent Blames Algae for Making Customers Violently Ill". Eater. Retrieved July 28, 2022.
  35. ^ Mole, Beth (November 8, 2016). "Solved: Algal flour was causing violent illnesses, Soylent says". Ars Technica. Archived from the original on November 8, 2016. Retrieved November 8, 2016.
  36. ^ Purbasari, Anisa (November 7, 2016). "Soylent blames algal flour for consumer complaints". The Verge. Retrieved June 21, 2023.
  37. ^ "Powder 1.7 Now Shipping". Soylent Nutrition, Inc. December 15, 2016. Archived from the original on December 16, 2016. Retrieved December 16, 2016.
  38. ^ "Stephen Colbert Taste Tests Soylent... And Finds It Delicious?", Inc., June 13, 2014, archived from the original on November 9, 2017, retrieved February 11, 2018, Rhinehart described the 'minimal flavor' as 'broad' and 'nonspecific'
  39. ^ "Soylent: There is more to food than nutrition. Even a..." soylent.me. January 13, 2014. Archived from the original on September 13, 2014. Retrieved September 13, 2014.
  40. ^ Soylent 1.4 begins shipping today., February 25, 2015, archived from the original on February 27, 2015, retrieved March 20, 2015
  41. ^ Matthews, Dylan (March 14, 2013). "Rob Rhinehart has a crazy plan to let you go without food forever. It just might work". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on February 28, 2017. Retrieved February 8, 2017.
  42. ^ Love, Dylan (July 14, 2014), "Soylent Review", Business Insider, archived from the original on May 23, 2016, retrieved August 15, 2014
  43. ^ Mahdawi, Arwa (February 8, 2016), "Mansplain it to Me: inside the Stupid Hackathon for extremely stupid ideas", The Guardian, archived from the original on February 8, 2016, retrieved February 8, 2016
  44. ^ "We Drank Soylent, the Weird Food of the Future", Gawker, May 19, 2013, archived from the original on October 5, 2014, retrieved February 5, 2017
  45. ^ Robinson, Melia. "I gave up breakfast for a week and drank this caffeinated meal-replacement shake instead". Business Insider. Archived from the original on November 5, 2020. Retrieved March 21, 2022.
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