Not (quite) the “end of food”

The open source food product Soylent was heralded as the “end of food” when it launched 2 years ago. Now they are a $100m-plus start up, and launching their latest product.

Coffiest, from Soylent

From the off it was an intriguing, and a (for some) controversial proposition; from confusion about whether it really did contain human flesh to questions if people did want to become ‘food hacking’ guinea pigs, it made an engaging PR story, but lacked mainstream appeal.

A big part of this appeared to be about the way it was framed: Soylent seemed to be ‘space food’. In fact, it wasn’t even really food, it was sustenance. At a time when the world was wrapped up in a fog of craft, indulgence and sensation, this new product provided a story, but lacked nourishment for the soul.

Now Soylent has returned, with a new, smarter and slicker product that seems to have a better understanding of its place in the market. Coffiest, a portable breakfast/caffeine replacement, is their new offering, and there are two key differences to this proposition:

The first is about the product. The risky sounding, ‘open source’ language is largely gone, and now “Each great-tasting bottle contains 400 calories of plant-based nutrition.” There is also something very key about the introduction of caffeine to the mix. The original Soylent was a leveller, it sustained but did nothing more, the introduction of coffee allows it to go beyond this and become an optimiser. It keeps you going and then dials you up.

The second is the market it is entering; consumer mind-sets have evolved from Soylent’s original launch date. The modern obsession with wellness has taken us in a number of strange directions: as part of this, we have become experts at creating strange tasting, unidentifiable liquids in the pursuit of health. Nearly two years ago the Nutribullet was one of the biggest selling items at Christmas, shifting an impressive 3,000 units per hour. Today we are more comfortable with this, from the burgeoning bottled water market, to cold press juices.

To reflect both these points, the Coffiest branding is also cleaner, and less functional-lead. Previous products (and the broader range still plays to this idea) would look out of place in a shop, but the black-white bottle, isn’t trying to stress its scientific background.

Despite Soylent’s early press, much of it heralding the “end of food”, its creator doesn’t see it necessarily in this way, and this latest product seems to reflect this:

“You get home from work, you’re not in the mood to cook or you’re running out the door in the morning, you don’t have time, but then Friday or Saturday night rolls around and you want to go out with your friends. That’s what I think we’ll move towards.”
Rob Rhinehart, Soylent CEO (FT, 2016)

The reviews of Coffiest still suggest it still retains a questionable taste. One critic described it by saying “It’s not unenjoyable. In fact, it’s fascinating, like watching somebody run on one of those moving sidewalks at the airport.Rhinehart isn’t chasing that soul-nourishing market quite yet, and that we will still need those shared, soul nourishing moments (whether social or indulgent) that food can bring.

So, while world does seem more ready for Coffiest today, perhaps food is going to stick around for just a little bit longer.

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