How we wish we could bring you news of a Star Trek-esque contraption that turns nutrient powder into full Sunday roasts, but we must go on waiting. Meanwhile, the closest thing, meal replacement, is slowly starting to make an impact on the wider food sector, with a number of companies set up to provide consumers with new routes to nourishment through convenience, speed and without the need to get behind the stove.
Meal replacements are often viewed as a gym nut’s bread and butter; a protein-laden shake designed to provide all of the key nutrients needed for a balanced diet. But meal replacement is edging its way into the mainstream, with its demographic expanding beyond the sweaty locker room and into the office and even the home.
In recent years, the classic powder and shake formats have been broadened to bars, ready-to-drink meals in bottles and even cereal, with 'functional food' threatening to burst onto the scene as consumers look for easy-fix chow – all amid the vegan boom.
All aboard the vegan express
Veganism has never been bigger, with new products released almost every week. Practically every major supermarket has embraced the movement wholeheartedly, and even top restaurant Gauthier in London’s Soho district has plans to go completely vegan within “18 months to two years."
One of the main selling points of meal replacements is that they are, for the most part, vegan. With many vegans and vegetarians taking regular supplements to offset the lack of vitamins and protein in their diets from not eating meat, meal replacements look well placed to benefit from the current trend.
LighterLife Fast is one brand that is going with the vegan angle. The UK company this month released two new products to its existing range: Super Green Soup and Banana Porridge.
Rob Rona, director of new markets, products and services, said: “The demand for vegan products is continuing to rise on an almost daily basis and, as a brand, we feel it’s important to cater for all lifestyle choices.”
Feeding without food
Several enterprises are attempting to turn meal replacements from niche to norm. Feed. is one of the pioneers. Formed in 2017, the French outfit offers a range of different products in a “practical, time-saving format.”
One of its bottled meals, Feed. claims, provides 33% of one’s daily nutritional needs, with proteins, fibres, lipids, carbohydrates, minerals, trace elements and vitamins contained across the range of bars, drinks and shakes.
The concept clearly struck a chord with investors: just last month it raised $17.4m (£13.18m).
“We find that people are spending less time for their meals every day and turning more and more towards fast-food options that are unhealthy and lack the nutrients your body needs on a daily basis,” James Berry, project manager at Feed., tells Food Spark.
“Feed. hopes to help active people maintain a balanced and healthy diet for those moments when you lack the time or the possibility to eat well.
“Moreover, the practical form factor means that you can always have a meal ready and waiting at the bottom of your bag, in your desk draw or kitchen cabinet for that moment when you need a quick, healthy meal that is also vegan, gluten free, lactose free and GMO free.”
First France, then the world…
Designed so as not to remain a niche gym or weight loss concept, Feed.’s core demographic is the working person between 18 and 35, with the numerous bars – including cranberries and chocolate as well as fig and almond – among the best sellers. They have also struck a deal with French chef Thierry Marx, known for his molecular gastronomy, for a line of exclusive drinks and bars.
“Clearly, the incredible growth of Feed. these last few months indicate that there is a real need for such a product,” says Berry. “People understand the need to eat well, but often don't have the time or possibility of doing this due to an increasingly busy lifestyle.
“We find that many people working busy office hours enjoy our products between meetings, on their way to the gym during lunch hours or just because they don't have access to an option that suits their diet. That being said, our products are also perfectly suited for students in need of cheap and healthy dietary options, as well as highly mobile people looking for a practical and easy to carry meal solution.
“Now that Feed. has become a well-known brand in our home country of France, we plan to expand to Europe then to North America... then the world!”
While most will think a shift to a predominantly meal replacement world would be pretty extreme, it seems that the industry is starting to make its way out of the shadows. Well, if it’s good enough for Captain Kirk...
What do you reckon Sparkie, down for an all-in-one nutritional eat?
As a foodie, I would feel biased in commenting on something that is designed to replace eating. There definitely seems to be a market for these things but I don't see what it is from the outside. Personally, i would not trade the eating experience for the extra 20 minutes working but there seems to be people who would. The big question is whether there are enough people to create a big enough market to keep multiple companies viable.
The other side of this is due to some of the ingredients involved (algae and the like), these products are generally not pleasant to consume. Not to mention these meal drinks are 8 euros each. However, I think the market would really open up if someone found a way of balancing everything this type of product needs to be.
I am not sure whether retailers would know quite where to shelve these types of products, as there really isn't a category for them. If they are put along side the health supplements like protein shakes, they will likely miss their biggest market who simply don't go down that aisle. They would likely have to take up valuable end-of-aisle space in order to make a show of them and ensure people know what they are, so I can't see that happening in the UK until one of the company really carves out a niche for itself.
Ultimately, these products are a maths juggle rather than anything culinary. In order to be the jack of all trades on the nutritional front, it leaves you with very little wiggle room to impart any kind of quality or include flavours which do not offer intensive nutritional value. That's not to say it can't be done, just that it is difficult to achieve.