‘We had to make dramatic changes or we would have run out of cash…’

The brainchild of Rob Rhinehart, a software engineer who quit the day job in 2013 after deciding “to bet my life on the idea that food could be empirically rebuilt,”Soylent​​ both intrigued and baffled trend-watchers in its early days with its bland-tasting beige powders, sterile packaging and “joyless​” utilitarian ‘food as fuel’ philosophy (the idea being that you could consume Soylent exclusively and get all the nutrients you need).

Rhinehart – who argued that many food staples such as cornflakes and oatmeal are neutral-tasting and therefore easier to customize​ – nevertheless recognized that more convenient formats and new flavors would help Soylent reach a wider audience, launching his first ready to drink beverage in 2016 followed by a bar (which was recalled​ after some shoppers experienced digestive issues).

Despite a challenging few years ​​dogged by recalls​, a public spat with a supplier​ and a setback in Canada,​​​ Soylent built a sizeable direct to consumer e-commerce business before launching on Amazon in 2016 and bringing on former KeVita executive Bryan Crowley​ in 2017 to spearhead its launch into bricks & mortar retail.

Crowley – who departed in early 2020 – was replaced by Vangelov, who joined Soylent as CFO and COO in 2018 from Califia Farms and became CEO in February 2020. (Rhinehart stepped down as chairman of the board later that year, but remains on the board.)

‘Our sales were stagnant, we were not profitable, and we had to make dramatic changes or we would have run out of cash…’

Speaking to FoodNavigator-USA after launching at Rite Aid stores nationwide this week, Vangelov acknowledged that the brand had been on a rollercoaster ride over the years, but says it is now firing on all cylinders, growing steadily with key customers such as Walmart and Target and picking up significant new business in the drug channel.

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