Soylent is sidling up alongside Slurpee.
The Los Angeles company, best known for chalky nutrition-rich shakes used by coders who are too busy to eat, is trying to fuel growth by pulling in mainstream customers at the convenience-store chain 7-Eleven.
The move marks the brand's biggest attempt to expand beyond its California roots. For the first time, Soylent Co.'s bottled drinks, which pack 400 calories and are pitched as meal replacements, are now available in stores on the East Coast. The company is targeting busy New Yorkers who might otherwise opt for a fast-food breakfast or skip the meal entirely.
"We're coming for fast food," said Bryan Crowley, the company's chief executive. "The growth will come from the masses. This isn't a tech product — when people see it, we want them to think about food."
Soylent, which has raised more than $70 million from investors such as Andreessen Horowitz and Google Ventures, hit the market in 2014.
Rob Rhinehart, the company's founder and former CEO, was trying to build a tech business and had come to see eating — or at least acquiring the nutrition necessary to function — as a waste of time. So he set out to develop meal replacements that could be consumed quickly.
Bumps in the road
Soylent initially generated buzz in tech circles with a powder that was made into tasteless shakes. It later pushed into flavored bottled drinks and snack bars. The company has suffered setbacks, though. It experimented with an algae ingredient that led to a recall. The presence of milk traces in products labeled lactose-free was another gaffe. And Soylent got kicked out of Canada because of a dispute over nutritional claims.
Rhinehart stepped down as CEO in December, handing over the reins to Crowley, a food-and-beverage veteran with stints at Conagra Brands Inc., Mars Inc. and Pabst Brewing Co. For its first few years, Soylent was an online-only business. Last summer, it pushed into brick-and-mortar retail with a test of the bottled drink at a handful of 7-Elevens in Southern California. The products are now in hundreds of the convenience stores on the West Coast, and 2,000 outlets in total.
The East Coast expansion will put Soylent drinks in 300 7-Elevens in New York City and on Long Island. The company also is talking to major grocery chains as it pushes further into brick-and-mortar retail.
Soylent, wryly named after a 1973 science-fiction film that featured food made from human remains, is actually a vegan product. It offers convenience and portion control, capitalizing on food trends that will resonate among the harried masses in New York, Crowley said.
"We're targeting food as fuel," he said.