Soylent - which is looking to expand the audience for its ‘nutritionally complete’ beverages – recently closed a $50m Series B financing round led by GV (formerly Google Ventures), bringing its total funding to $74.5m.
Despite a challenging few months, Soylent - which has until fairly recently conducted most of its business via its own website - has performed well on Amazon, and built a loyal and highly engaged online community of fans that helps to explain why it has attracted as much interest from investors.
“[Soylent founder and CEO] Rob [Rhinehart] and his team have done a fantastic job building a tremendous e-commerce platform and a lifestyle brand with an incredibly loyal following, and I look forward to building on that success together," said Crowley, who will take over day-to-day running of the business.
“I have a personal passion for health, nutrition, sustainability and disruptive innovation, and this opportunity checks all the boxes for me,” added Crowley, who was previously chief strategy officer at functional beverage brand KeVita.
The appeal of Soylent
The success of Soylent, which was launched in 2013, has both intrigued and baffled trend-watchers, given that its sterile packaging, deliberately bland formula and utilitarian ‘food as fuel’ approach appears to fly in the face of the culinary trend towards ‘minimally processed,’ colorful, flavorful whole foods that are inherently nutritious rather than fortified with nutrients, although there has been growing interest in more portable nutrition and drinkable meals and snacks.
So who are the heaviest users of Soylent – a brand some more uncharitable observers have described as “only slightly more appealing than an IV bag” - and how are they using it?
The biggest misconception about Soylent is that it is being used to replace every meal, 365 days a year, says Rhinehart, a software engineer who quit the day job in 2013 after deciding “to bet my life on the idea that food could be empirically rebuilt.”
Soylent is not about replacing 'food' 24:7, 365 days a year
In reality, he told FoodNavigator-USA in an interview last year, while you could eat Soylent exclusively (it has been formulated as a ‘nutritionally complete’ food), most customers don’t, and are instead using it when they are busy, or traveling.
“A lot of people are passionately working on their careers, or their studies or taking care of their families and they want a convenient quick way to have a healthy meal at an affordable price point,” argued Rhinehart.
“If you can save time going to the grocery store or cooking now and again, our product frees up your time and means you don’t have to compromise on nutrition.”
We have a very diverse customer base across all income brackets
He added: “We have a very diverse customer base across all income brackets. It’s like coffee, people drink it however much money they make."
As for food fatigue, Rhinehart points out that many users customize the powdered product by adding their own ingredients, and that many foods we eat on a regular basis are “actually pretty bland,” from fries to oatmeal, and we don’t get bored with them.
Soylent has also expanded its range in the past year to include flavored products Soylent Nectar and Soylent Cacao, but has yet to provide a date for the return of the Soylent Bar, which was recalled last year shortly after launch.