- Kroger will sell Soylent products in more than 1,850 of its stores, the meal replacement company's largest retail expansion to date, according to a company release.
- Soylent has stretched its retail footprint to more than 10,000 stores throughout the U.S. this year. In April, the brand owned by Rosa Foods expanded to Walmart stores across 14 states, and its products are also being sold in more than 2,500 7-Eleven stores. In January, it was the No. 1 grocery product on Amazon.
- "Our success in building strategic retail partnerships around the country is evidence of the consumer demand for affordable, complete nutrition that delivers on expectations and tastes great," Soylent's SVP of sales, Melody Conner, said in the release.
As the grocery wars continue to sizzle, c-stores, regional players, big-box chains and national retailers alike are seeking points of differentiation. Perhaps this is why Kroger, the country's largest retailer, is bringing a brand as niche as Soylent into its product portfolio.
Soylent's venture into brick-and-mortar retail has been successful so far, but none of its existing partners can compete with the size, scale or mainstream appeal of Kroger. The supermarket's premium reputation is especially crucial to Soylent, whose plant-based meal replacement powders and drinks are still largely associated with Silicon Valley techies and gamers.
Still, the brand checks a lot of boxes on shopper wish lists — including convenience, nutrition and experience. This gives Kroger the opportunity to bolster its plant-based offerings with an emerging brand and cater to the coveted on-the-go millennial shopper at the same time. According to HealthFocus International data, 17% of American consumers aged 15 to 70 say they eat a predominately plant-based diet, and 60% claim to be cutting back on meat-based products. If Kroger can successfully market Soylent's benefits, which include 20% of daily nutritional requirements and 20 grams of protein per 12 ounces of its beverages, customers could grow to view the product lineup as a legitimate offering rather than just a novelty product.
But the brand comes with some baggage as well. Consumers have said that the taste of Soylent takes getting used to, comparing the flavor to unsweetened soy milk. The company also had a 2016 recall after products left some customers violently ill. These consumers took to the website Reddit to complain that Soylent's food bars incited nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. The dust has settled since this debacle, but it could leave an "ick" factor that Kroger could help the brand overcome.
It may be wise for Kroger to focus on the convenience factor of the products. The grocer has been making strides in this category lately — in May, it bought meal kit maker Home Chef for $200 million. With the right marketing, Kroger could position Soylent's portfolio as a similarly premium, on-the-go offering.
Still, it remains to be seen whether or not the the brand's meal replacement proposition will be attractive to Kroger shoppers. Soylent's performance at 7-Eleven has been strong, but these shoppers enter the c-store with convenience already at the top of their priorities — a mindset that may not be shared by mainstream grocery shoppers.