After five years fuelling tech workers and gamers in the US, bean-based meal replacement Soylent (opens in new tab) has arrived on UK shores.
This is the first time Soylent has been available in Britain, but the product is already a household name in tech circles worldwide. The product was born in Silicon Valley, where founder Rob Rhinehart, putting in 18-hour days at a startup, realized there must be a more nutritious alternative to ramen noodles and peanut butter sandwiches.
After developing the initial Soylent formula, Rhinehart lived off his creation for a full month, documenting the process on his personal site (now offline). His experiment went viral, and time-poor tech workers were soon keen to sample the liquid meal themselves.
"There was already a trend for life hacking, and this caught fire," says Crowley. "It really connected with people who couldn’t or didn’t want to buy and prep food."
Hot on the heels of the tech workers came the hardcore gamers. "Gamers enjoy the product because they’re so passionate, and many of these games can’t be paused," explains Crowley.
"Social gamers have a responsibility to their teammates, but they want to get some nutrition into their bodies, and do it affordably. [Soylent] enables them to continue to play, and we have a great relationship with our gaming consumers. They always give us feedback and ideas. The gaming community has been great."
Soylent teamed up with esports group Team Endpoint to run a performance trial, working with dietitians and replacing the team's junk food.
"I'm the kind of person that rarely (if ever) eats breakfast, so pretty much every day this meal would be missed," team member Mighty Max (opens in new tab) told us. "Most days I would eat something in the late afternoon (3-4pm), something snacky like a sandwich and would cook or order around 10pm at night depending if we had food in the fridge. I would estimate that I would skip 10 meals a week (seven breakfasts and the occasional lunch)."
During the experiment, Max used Soylent to replace the missed breakfasts, and the occasional lunch. Although certainly not a scientific result, he thinks he benefited from not skipping meals.
"I think I was able to perform better, as I always felt 'full', and never slipped in concentration or focus when playing our matches, especially at the UK Masters tournament where generally, in previous tournaments that I have attended, you always feel drowsy and have no energy as the time gap between getting food can sometimes be eight hours or longer."
Max's teammate Reece Marrs followed similar eating patterns, usually skipping breakfast and drinking nothing but water and Pepsi Max.
"I started drinking [Soylent] everyday whenever I woke up, since I didn't usually have breakfast I noticed the difference straight away and I just felt more awake and focused and a bit more productive," he says.
Marrs continued to drink Soylent for breakfast after the experiment, and reports that his Pepsi intake has reduced significantly.
Soylent is available in the UK in three flavors: Original, Cafe Mocha and Cacao, in packs of 12 ready-to-drink bottles (mixable powders will be coming in 2019).
Crowley compares the Original formulation to flavor taste of milk at the end of a bowl of Cheerios. To us, it tastes pleasantly nondescript – not unlike custard. We found Cafe Mocha the strongest of the three, with a kick that's definitely more espresso than latte, and Cacao was our favorite – virtually indistinguishable from chocolate milkshake. All three are best served chilled.
Ready-mixed Soylent is also available in vanilla, chai and strawberry flavors in the US, but Crowley and his team aren't rushing to expand their offering.
"Part of our process is constant iteration – a tech approach that’s rare in food," he says. "The powder is currently on version 1.9, and the drink is 2.0. When we find better ingredients, we like to upgrade and get them in the product."
So why the UK, and why now? "We were the first in this space, so we've been able to tap into fans around the world," says Crowley. "There have also been other product launches, and this helped give the idea a boost and more momentum."
"Our largest market in the US is in the biggest cities, and it’s understandable why; people are always on the go. The UK has a dense urban population in cities like London. This idea of consuming on the go is a natural fit for us. Breakfast is our number one use. If you’d have to stop in a coffee shop and get a muffin or skip breakfast, Soylent is a good alternative."
The other big connection to the UK is Amazon. Soylent is one of the top grocery products on the US – a position that made it much easier to establish a foothold across the pond. Amazon is the only place in the UK currently stocking the product (opens in new tab).
Crowley won't be drawn on the company's plans to bring Soylent to other countries, but he says the company is going to take its time and work out a best practice before making a move.
"The way we think about it is building playbooks. Who do we connect with, how do we galvanize our outreach. Then we can take the playbook to other countries."
Keep an eye on your local grocery shelves.