Why Soylent and Coffiest aren’t the end of food (yet)
Open sourced meal replacement Soylent was heralded as the “end of food” when it was launched by Rob Rhinehart two years ago. Now the company is worth over $100 million, and they're in the process of launching a new product.
From the off it was an intriguing and, for some, controversial proposition. From confusion about whether it really did contain human flesh to questions over whether people wanted to become food hacking guinea pigs, it made an engaging PR story, but lacked mainstream appeal.
A big part of this uncertainty came from how 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, it provided a story and a vision, 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 and caffeine replacement, is a proposition with two key differences:
The first is about the product. The risky sounding, ‘open source’ language is largely gone, and now we're told “Each great-tasting bottle contains 400 calories of plant-based nutrition.” There is also something 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 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 everything from the burgeoning bottled water market to cold pressed juices.
To reflect both these points, the Coffiest branding is also cleaner, and less function-led. Previous products (and the broader range still plays to this idea) would look out of place in a shop, but the black and white bottle isn’t trying to stress its laboratory background.
Rob Rhinehart, Soylent CEO (FT, 2016)
Reviews of Coffiest suggest it still retains a questionable taste. One critic said, “It’s not unenjoyable. In fact, it’s fascinating, like watching somebody run on one of those moving sidewalks at the airport." Evidently, Rhinehart isn’t chasing the soul-nourishing market quite yet, and we still need those soul nourishing moments — whether social or indulgent — that food can bring.
While the world does seem more ready for Coffiest today, it appears that food is going to stick around for just a little bit longer.
Image source: Soylent
- Article by Stuart Parson