Let’s call this an intervention: Soylent, it’s time for a rebrand.
On Monday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration posted a product recall message from Soylent related to 890 boxes of Soylent 1.8 Powder that may have contained undeclared milk.
“It has recently come to our attention that a small amount of whey powder may have been incorporated into one production lot of Soylent 1.8 powder during manufacturing at our third party facility,” reads the message from Soylent.
“As a precautionary measure we have halted shipments of Soylent 1.8 powder We are advising our customers to immediately discard any remaining Soylent 1.8 powder in their possession from the lot referenced above.”
Termed as an “allergy alert” on the FDA website, this is just the latest health scare from the tech-industry-centric would-be super food.
In 2016, after a number of reports from users that Soylent snack bars and then meal-replacement powder caused diarrhea, the company pulled both products off the market as they investigated the cause of the issues and worked on new formulas for both.
People were already wary about trying an unfamiliar “food” that contains what the company calls”renewable algae sources,” seemingly named after the ’70s science fiction film Soylent Green, a film about cannibalism disguised as a meal replacement. But now that the brand is getting a reputation for not just tasting a bit odd, but making some people sick, and now having to issue recalls for potential allergic reactions, the story of Soylent needs a major refresh before it’s too late to save the brand from its own missteps.
Let’s start with the name. In a time when tech billionaires are said to be investigating using the blood of the young to live longer, the last thing a genuinely healthy, safe, and totally not evil meal replacement brand needs is to be associated with the dystopian terror of humanity eating itself.
On Soylent’s YouTube page, a video meant to explain the product is titled “What is Soylent?” Despite the earnest and totally non-human ingredients, for most sci-fi fans there’s only one answer to that question. As Charlton Heston so famously yelled in the film: “Soylent Green is people!!”
Yes, I know soylent green isn’t Soylent. But the founders had to know what they were getting themselves into when they picked the company’s name. With that kind of dark, albeit fictional cloud hovering over a product, your meal replacement product has to be damn near flawless when it comes to its effects on people’s stomachs. Sure, no food product is perfect, but this early in Soylent’s history, and with that name, there’s simply not much margin for error.
After the product’s successful crowdfunding campaign in 2013 and the usually tech-focused Andreessen Horowitz investing a whopping $20 million in 2015, it seemed like Soylent was on its way toward becoming a staple of every too-busy-to-munch techie. But years later, I still don’t know many people who use the product. Personally, I’ve avoided trying Soylent for years (I prefer to chew my food), until today.
I tasted three flavors of Soylent: Original (tolerable, not bad, wouldn’t want a daily dose), Coffiest (best of the three, but takes getting used to, could see drinking regularly), and Nectar (doesn’t live up to its name, but not horrible, a distinct medicinal aftertaste). And, as of this writing, my stomach feels fine and I wouldn’t be averse to trying this stuff again.
But I’m also the guy who recently tried my friend’s nootropic cold brew coffee that was untested by any health agency and made me queasy for an entire day, so I’m probably not the harshest critic.
That said, even I can tell that it’s time to scrap the whole Soylent-as-vaguely-sci-fi-related schtick and just pick a new name (along with, hopefully, a consistently less stomach plucking formula). It doesn’t have to be too clever, just as long as it has zero links to horrific, imaginary Hollywood foods. So no Gagh (Klingons on Star Trek), Spice (Dune), or Moloko Plus (A Clockwork Orange).
Just come up with something that sounds healthy and tasty, you know, like Tranya.
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