Edible Innovations: Are Meal Replacements the Future of Food?

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Edible Innovations: Are Meal Replacements the Future of Food?

From Singapore to the USA and all around Europe, Edible Innovations profiles food makers that engage in improving the global food system at every stage, from production to distribution to eating and shopping. Join us as we explore the main trends in the industry from a maker perspective. Chiara Cecchini from the Future Food Institute — an ecosystem with a strong educational core that promotes food innovation as a key tool to tackle the great challenges of the future — introduces you to the faces, stories, and experiences of food makers around the globe. Check back on Tuesdays and Thursdays for new installments.

Did we already get to the point where eating food in capsules, bars, and shakes is the normal way to go? In the last few years, the number of people who desire to eat healthier, by including organic and natural foods in their diet, has been growing. As result, an increasing number of food makers have been focusing on delivering ready meals and snacks that don’t take much time to cook and still contain the nutrients for a healthy lifestyle.

Even if more eaters want to eat healthier, it’s apparent they want to do so with the smallest effort. So, portable meal replacements are taking over our supermarkets’ shelves. After all, they offer a speedy alternative for someone who wants to pursue healthy eating.

The popularity of meal replacements started with Soylent. What began as an idea of not having to worry about food to be healthy is now popular, and currently selling in its third and fourth iteration. The creator of the product, Rob Rhinehart, designed Soylent while earning his engineering degree.

Rhinehart was tired of eating frozen and unhealthy food, so he researched a way to eat better. As an experiment, he mixed together 35 different minerals, vitamins, and components into a smoothie-like drink. The resulting product was disgusting, and more grey goo than a full meal. But after some adjustments, he actually got a marketable product that eventually created a whole new food category.

Examples with similar names, but different philosophies, are popping up extremely fast. Many are following the ketogenic diet. It utilizes ketones to cut around sugars. The process can be a great fat burner and energy maker. Ketolent is a synthetic low carb shake, produced by Keto and Company and its team from Boston. Their specialty is to make ketogenic products, like sweeteners and even brownie mix. The shake has fast and slow digesting proteins which ends immediate hunger and keeps you feeling full for a longer time.

Another shake for fast pacers is MANA, created in 2014 in Prague, Czech Republic, by Heaven Labs.

The team of four founders has different backgrounds, from a chemist to a business specialist. They wanted to create a healthy and organic option, with the formula being less synthetical: algae, soy, oats, coconuts and other ingredients. But it’s carbohydrate-based, which might lead to weight gain if ingested with regularity.

Algae turned out to be a favorite ingredient for new plant-based meal replacements. Algae has a long list of health benefits as a functional food. It reduces overall fat, and adds fiber and plant based protein to any diet. Furthermore, it perfectly fits into a vegan diet.

Soylent tried using algae oil in its 2.0 version in 2015, but it didn’t taste good and didn’t succeed in the market. Since 2017, the search for algae based products doubled, and now, companies like Nonfood are making this product a core part of their brand. Nonfood, a Californian company created in 2016 by Sean Raspet, developed Nonbar, a light meal replacement that works as a mid-morning snack. It’s 34% made of algae, with the rest packed full of fibers, vitamins, and minerals. The taste? Well, not everything can be perfect!

From the consumer perspective, meal replacements are still controversial. Some people aren’t ready to enter a Jetsons-like world, where everything is eaten out of a capsule, bottle, or pill. Eating is culture, and the food industry “shapes the diet of any society.” What about you? Do you think we’ll ever be really to cut off regular food for good?

Special thanks to Carolina Oliveira for her contributions to this article.

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Chiara is fascinated by food as a means to impact bodies, minds, and environment. She has studied international business in three different countries, and is an alumni of the Food Innovation Program and US Director at the Future Food Institute.

Based in California, she is also a Research Scholar at Food Science and Technology at UC Davis, working on building the first comprehensive Internet of Food to enable food care through food systems semantics. She is a selected member of Barilla Center Food Nutrition Foundation, a Research Affiliate at Institute For The Future, Board Member at Maker Faire and selected member of the Global Shapers, a young global network of innovators promoted by the World Economic Forum.

She is passionate about social entrepreneurship and impact investing, and aims to leave her mark on society.

View more articles by Chiara Cecchini


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