People: In 2022, It’s Time to Draw the Line at Soylent and Other Fake Food Brands

Grocery stores are full of more and more organic food, and not just at Whole Foods or The Fresh Market. Customers are looking for sustainably raised and non genetically modified options in every category of food.

Case in point? The humble Hershey bar, which is now offered in a non-GMO “organic” edition. The marketing position raises the question of how any genetic modification would be needed in the main ingredients of a humble milk chocolate bar, which would be sugar, milk and cocoa.

An organic Hershey chocolate bar, as seen in a checkout line at a Publix store in August, 2020.

Yet at the same time, there is also a counter trend backward, to fake foods, in the genre of “plant-based.” Factory foods seemingly went off the rails decades ago, when the Mad Men era of food-fakery and Kool-Aid finally ended. Consumers were taught by the likes of Oprah, Oz and Alice Waters to shop the outside of the of supermarket, not the inner aisles. And to avoid any food that was a chemical concoction.

But corporations figured a way around this. They began to create fake food for the outside aisles of the supermarket. Companies added fake meats to the meat section, and fake dairy to the dairy case, with success.

This fall, however, the trend went off trend.

Sales of fake meats were down in 2022. In a Sept. 4 report, The Financial Post reported on data from Information Resources Inc., which said that year over year, the category was not only stagnant, but down 10 percent.

There are two main reasons cited for the drop. The first was cost; in some cases there was a premium needed for brands from Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods. (Note that the companies promise a drop in retail pricing in 2023.)

The second reason cited is woke-ness. Deloitte, the consultancy, surveyed 2,000 consumers, and found a drop in the percentage of people who believed that these foods were better for the environment than actual meats. Consumers even protested fake meats at Cracker Barrel, and won a p.r. war.

FDA Approval Questions

The issues raised first came to national attention in 2019, when the Food and Drug Administration approved the main ingredient for fake meat “blood”, namely soy leghemoglobin (also leghaemoglobin or legoglobin), after complaints from the Center for Food Safety. While the approval was an approval, the ugly question was now in the minds of consumers. Do consumers want or need fake heme “blood” in our food, even if it comes from soy fermentation? Even the name of it repels.

Consumers no longer trust the FDA; its disproven food pyramid, foisted on generations of Americans, is meme worthy. Many consumers know that eating just about anything in small amounts will not hurt you. They also know that soy leghemoglobin is new on the market, and still untested over time. So an “approval” means little, except that some people in Washington decided it ok.

The other question involves simple human nature. People have eaten patties made from plants since the beginning of eternity. And meat and fish cakes are always stretched with breadcrumbs, and made more tasty with various types of vegetable sauce. No one has a problem with that. What is a hash brown but a vegetable patty? What is wrong with that?

So to what purpose are these extremes?

The question should not be: Can we make these foods safe? The question should be why are they necessary at all.

Industry Excess

A visible sign of the industry is the “protein” brand Soylent, which is made by Soylent Nutrition Inc. Soylent is found at major supermarket chains, including Target, Publix and Walmart. It dates from 2013, when software engineers decided to make food, and adopted their name brand from the 1973 MGM movie Soylent Green. The movie, with Charlton Heston and Edward G. Robinson, is a dystopian thriller with the idea that industry is making franken-food with human flesh.

The movie is adapted from the fiction novel Make Room! Make Room! by Harry Harrison; it was an ecological critique of overpopulation. The irony, so often mentioned this year, is that the year that the movie was set in 2022.

So here we are, with a sort of Nutrament or adult Similac drink with an ironic name like Soylent.

Of course, the idea of using the Soylent name for a product totally works. Those who got the joke knew it wasn’t so. Those who missed the joke got the name, as soy in the name actually describes the product.

The name Soylent for a protein food reminds of a certain historic preservation agency that considered a name for its snack bar at Jamestowne, Virginia. The name considered was Starving Time, which was sort of funny on first thought. On second thought, the answer had to be no. It wasn’t someone would be terribly upset or offended. It was just that in the face of many other names, a name with that connotation, no matter how clever, did not fit.

This is from their website:

After a lot of frustrating meals, founder Rob Rhinehart, alongside co-founders Matt Cauble, John Coogan, and David Renteln, developed Soylent as an experiment. Their hypothesis: Food can be simplified for the better. They were software engineers after all so they wanted to engineer better food for themselves.

About the Company

So the marketing idea for it is catchy. But there are many questions:

  • Do consumers need a drink brand named after such an idea?
  • Do we want food made by software engineers? Or do we want food grown by farmers? (Note that a software engineer can be a farmer.)
  • Do we need protein cakes from it?
  • And if they are to sell it under this name, do we really need a green version?
  • And then, when one asks that question, the next question is what is it made from, and do we really need to be concocting all of these overpriced fake food products in plastic packaging at all?
  • Or can we just eat the ingredients that we see, grow and understand, without faking it?

About the Author

  • Garland Pollard

    Garland Pollard is publisher/editor of BrandlandUSA. Since 2006, the website BrandlandUSA.com has chronicled the history and business of America’s great brands. He has decades of experience across all media, including newspapers, TV, radio, magazines and the web.

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