While Soylent’s recent success in 7-Eleven – its first foray into physical stores – showed the brand could work in a convenience store setting next to cold brew coffee or grab & go meals and snacks, the traction it had built online in the New York area also proved there was a ready-made customer base in Big Geyser’s territory, Soylent CEO Bryan Crowley told FoodNavigator-USA.
“One of the things about being a successful brand online is that you are able to mine a huge amount of consumer data. No one knows our customers better than us.
"New York is already our #1 market online and we were able to show Big Geyser by zip code where our consumer base is; we could even target specific stores [where it made most sense to stock the brand]," added Crowley, who joined Soylent as president in May 2017 following a stint as chief strategy officer at KeVita, and took over as CEO in December after founder Rob Rhinehart moved into the executive chairman role.
“One of the biggest complaints we get from Soylent consumers is that they forget to bring it with them, so we can now access those existing consumers, as well as millions of new consumers that would love to try the brand but don’t want to pay 39 bucks and buy 12 bottles online.”
The goal for 2018 is to be in 5,000 doors
He added: “The universe is potentially huge with Big Geyser [which has access to around 25,000 doors] but our distribution goal for 2018 is for Soylent to be in about 5,000 doors, and after that, the sky’s the limit."
The deal with Big Geyser – which follows a successful launch in 7-Eleven, H.E.B and other retailers in Texas, California and the pacific northwest – is “a reflection of a couple of things,” said Crowley, who is the keynote speaker at the FoodNavigator-USA and BeverageDaily beverage innovation summit on February 21 (more details HERE).
“First, those guys are brand builders, they look at opportunities like this to really build brands like us that are trying to do something different, to build new categories. Second, it reflects the fact that we have been hugely successful on the ecommerce side, so we are very attractive to them. People are always looking for proof of concept [when they take on new brands], and we’ve got people buying cases and subscribing to us every month online.”
The 7-Eleven partnership: We work well in grab and go beverages and grab and go foods
So what has Soylent learned from its partnership with 7-Eleven?
First, that Soylent is something busy professionals and Millennials will grab for lunch or a mini-meal, and second, that it can be merchandised successfully in at least two locations, said Crowley.
“7-Eleven has been great in enabling us to try things and test different placements, and what it told us was that in convenience and gas, we work well in the grab and go beverage segment, next to products such as ready-to-drink coffee. But there’s also a whole secondary placement opportunity in grab and go food, as we are selling a complete meal in a bottle, and so we’ve been very successful there too.”
“We just launched in northern California, the Pacific northwest and we are full on in Texas with H.E.B and 7-Eleven. New York is our number one priority right now, but we’ll add three or four other markets as we find the right retail partners and the right approach to get products into their stores, which in some cases will be direct and in other cases we’ll find distribution partners who will help us.”
Bryan Crowley, CEO, Soylent
Our broader competitive set is fast food
While the term ‘meal replacement’ might conjure up images of brands such as Ensure or Slimfast, Crowley sees the competitive set in slightly different terms.
“People ask us all the time, who are your competitors? So in retail, we compete in RTD protein, RTD coffee and grab and go, but our broader competitive set is fast food, which is often where people go because it’s accessible and inexpensive and affordable on a per calorie basis, but they don’t necessarily love it.
“We’re supplying 400 calories, 20g of plant-based protein and 20% of your daily needs in terms of micronutrients – the vitamins and minerals, there’s nothing like it on the market, you can get a protein drink and those are fine, but most of the calories are from sugar and most of the protein is from whey.”
Who’s drinking soylent?
While Soylent was initially billed as something to replace food as we know it (founder Rob Rhinehart quitting his day job as a software engineer in 2013 after deciding “to bet my life on the idea that food could be empirically rebuilt”) the user base has since expanded from code monkeys in Silicon Valley too busy to waste time on distractions such as, er, eating, to anyone that is looking for a nutritious breakfast, lunch or meal on the go, said Crowley.
“Those core loyalists built the brand, and a lot of those consumers were living off soylent like Rob was for a period of time and blogging about it, and that really helped build the brand. But now, we’re focused on a much broader consumer set.
“People always ask me: Who is Soylent for? So I ask them: Do you ever skip a meal? It’s for anyone that ever skipped a meal. But the core targets are young, busy professionals, and college and university students.
“Our new focus from a marketing perspective is all about, Do you ever make a choice you wouldn’t otherwise make? And we call those unhealthy and unsustainable food voids [that Soylent can fill].”
We want to be accessible to all
While Soylent began with a pared down formula and brand reflecting a rather utilitarian ‘food as fuel’ approach [users had to mix a sachet of powder with oil and water], it has since broadened its portfolio – and customer base – by adding ready to drink options and new flavors (cacao, coffee, chai, vanilla). An abortive attempt to move into the bar category was less successful, but new products are in the pipeline.
“Expansion into the new flavors has obviously changed the portfolio and the perception of the brand,” said Crowley.
“The cacao product – which is our #1 variety now - is absolutely delicious and tastes just like a chocolate milkshake, and we’re excited to launch new flavors in the spring time.”
New flavors, new products
He added: “From an innovation standpoint, we’re all about complete sustainable nutrition that’s accessible to everyone. We’re not trying to create a super premium high priced product that only a few people can afford, we want it to be accessible to all, so we’ve got a couple of things in the broader innovation pipeline that are pretty exciting.”
Bryan Crowley is the keynote speaker at our FREE-to-attend beverage innovation summit on February 21, which opens with a trendspotting panel featuring:
- Sarah Hardgrove-Koleno: Co-founder, CEO, KRā Drinks for Athletes, Inc
- Greg Steltenpohl: Co-founder, CEO, Califia Farms
- Howard Telford: Head of soft drinks at Euromonitor International
- Gabe Nabors: Director of marketing & category management, Mustard Seed Market and Café
- Ryan Kaiser: Partner, Amin Talati Upadhye LLP
- Simon Thorneycroft: Founder, CEO, Perspective Branding