Raising the Bar

Protein alternatives power next-gen meal replacements

The global meal replacements market is projected to grow to $12 billion by 2020, and the popularity of protein bars is emerging as a major driver. Six in 10 Gen Ys and more than two-thirds of Trendsetters tried them in 2015, and companies are getting creative to meet new demand, incorporating atypical ingredients that speak to youth’s health hacker mindset.


The makers of Soylent engineered the meal replacement to provide all the protein, carbohydrates, lipids, and micronutrients that a body needs to thrive. All of the products use bioengineered algae as a source of lipids and essential omega fatty acids. Produced efficiently in bioreactors rather than on farmland, these single-celled organisms require less resources than traditional agriculture. The sci-fi-inspired product comes in different forms and flavors: Soylent Drink, which offers 20% of the body’s daily nutrition in a bottle; Coffiest, which combines Soylent with coffee; and Soylent Powder. It’s Soylent Bars are currently recalled following reports that they were making people ill.


Meal bar startup Exo, which recently raised $4 million from investors like Nas and Tim Ferriss, sources its protein from crickets rather than the more common whey or soy. Like other unappetizing insects, what crickets lack in appeal they make up for in substance—they are a “complete protein” that contain all the essential amino acids and more than twice the iron of spinach. According to Exo, they also produce 100 times less greenhouses gases than cows. The paleo-friendly bars pack 10 grams of protein, come in flavors like PB&J and Cocoa Nut, and contain no gluten, soy, dairy, or added sugar.


While NASA is busy making Soylent-like food bars for astronauts who will be part of Orion’s 2018 mission, Space Nutrients Station is on a mission to help people eat like astronauts here on earth. Its meal replacement product, 100%FOOD, touts itself as a nutritionally complete food with varieties for productivity, bodybuilding, or weight loss. The company takes different nutrients from natural ingredients like flax seeds, hemp hearts, sesame seeds, and white rice, then adds vitamins to fit the FDA’s 2000-calorie diet, considered to be sufficient to meet the requirements of 97–98% of healthy individuals in every demographic in the United States.