Soylent: A joke no more as it gets millions in venture cap investment

It surely started as a one-man experiment, and evolved into something of a social media joke – but Soylent, the Los Angeles start-up that makes a powdery meal replacement with a sweeping nutritional composition, has just raised $20-million in additional venture capital, the company announced last week.

The components of basic staples including dairy, grains, fruit and vegetables are combined into Soylent and sold as an instant replacement for a balanced meal.

Though developed to be mixed with water and sipped, many early consumers have found the taste too bland and are tossing Soylent into traditional recipes to make cookies, boba and oatmeal. The company has shipped more than 3 million “meals” since May.

The new funding from the venture capital powerhouse, Andreessen Horowitz, along with Lerer Ventures and others, should help Soylent speed production to clear up a nearly five-month backlog of orders.

“I’m confident we can make serious headway,” said chief executive Rob Rhinehart.

Based on his own research about what a body needs to survive, he started developing Soylent a couple of years ago in his kitchen-turned-lab. He kept an online diary and picked up $4.5-million in seed funding along the way.

The all-vegan ingredients include rice protein, oat flour, calcium and folic acid. The powder has about 510 calories per serving, with 45 derived from fat.

Rhinehart, a computer engineer, saw his concoction resonate with busy, hungry peers in tech. That has helped Soylent gain credibility over protein-packed meal replacement products traditionally aligned with the fitness and bodybuilding crowd.

Investors see promise in Soylent being a healthy, affordable and environmentally-sustainable alternative to traditional foods.

Soylent and start-ups developing substitutes for meat and eggs are just some of the food-tech companies being graced with Silicon Valley’s wealth and expertise. The entrepreneurs and investors see a worldwide demand for such products.

“People want to be healthier and save money and save time, but they don’t know how,” Rhinehart said. “We’re trying to extract out a lot of that complexity. We feel very fortunate to have our investors really share a vision of having better food in the future.”

Rhinehart expects the $3-a-meal price for Soylent to slowly decrease as his team of researchers determine how to synthetically produce or harvest raw ingredients at lower costs. Most consumers seem to be using Soylent for about 60% to 80% of meals, he said. The long-term effect of Soylent consumption isn’t a likely candidate for study until the recipe stabilizes — a milestone that Rhinehart said is near.

Source: LA Times

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