- Soylent believes that an algae-based ingredient may be the reason why consumers became ill after consuming newer versions of its meal replacement drink powders and snack bars, according to a Bloomberg report Monday.
- The company says reformulations of these products, which the company will release early next year, will not contain the algal flour it suspects is making consumers sick.
- TerraVia supplied the algal flour, which the company contends is safe. "Mark Brooks, a senior vice president at TerraVia, said ... that Soylent products contain several known irritants, such as soy protein isolate and glycerin, that can cause symptoms similar to those reported by the startup’s customers," Bloomberg reported.
Regardless of whether Soylent is accurate in blaming the algal flour for consumers' illnesses, this doesn't bode well for TerraVia. The company's stock tanked more than 8% Monday following Bloomberg's report, after the stock had already fallen 25% this year through last Friday.
But this report implicates not just TerraVia but algae-based ingredients in general, which health experts and several food companies have heralded as a better-for-you plant-based protein alternative. As more consumers seek out non-animal-based proteins, whether for health or lifestyle reasons, algae had been a promising option more brands were continuing to use.
But TerraVia's SVP Brooks has a point: Many other companies, including Unilever, have also used algae-based ingredients in their products — though Unilever uses algal oil rather than flour and in body lotions and soaps rather than food products. But Enjoy Life Foods has also used TerraVia's algal flour in its baking mixes since September 2015, as do products from the OLLY and K'ul Chocolate brands.
These brands have not made recall claims similar to Soylent, and they seem to have been using the algal flour longer with no such reports from consumers. This could be because consumers didn't consume products from these other brands to the same extent that they did Soylent products, or Soylent's formulation may have used more algal flour per serving.
But Soylent could also be trying to save face and quickly find an ingredient to blame consumers' illnesses on, whether or not the brand has actually solved its formulation problem. Early next year, when Soylent releases the new formulations without algal flour, it will be interesting to see whether consumers welcome Soylent back. It will also be critical whether Soylent's products will continue to make people sick, should the company have pinpointed the wrong problematic ingredient.