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"Starco is a public company, which gives us access to public capital and it’s well-versed in disruptive marketing." Image credit: Soylent

Soylent acquired by Starco Brands. ‘Starco gives us access to public capital and disruptive marketing,’ says CEO

February 21, 2023

  • “Complete nutrition” brand Soylent has been acquired by Starco Brands, a consumer goods company trading on the over-the-counter (OTC) stock exchange.
  • According to an 8K form filed with the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) by Starco Brands today, Soylent is merging into Starco and shareholders will take shares in Starco Brands (STCB). Soylent shareholders including CEO Demir Vangelov will stay on as the largest single voting bloc in the company.
  • Under the deal, Soylent will operate as a separate business unit within Starco that will be led by Vangelov.
  • Vangelov is the only person from Soylent on the Starco board going forward and will represent all remaining Soylent shareholders when they become Starco shareholders.
  • The other two board members are Starco Brands CEO Ross Sklar and EVP Darin Brown.
  • Starco invents or acquires ‘first of their kind’ consumer products such as alcohol-infused whipped cream brand Whipshots; personal care brand Art of Sport; popcorn seasoning spray Winona Pure; and hypoallergenic fragrance brand Skylar.
  • Vangelov told AFN he sees opportunities to expand Soylent’s retail presence and step up marketing.

CEO: ‘Soylent has been consistently cashflow positive and profitable for the past 2.5 years’

“Starco is a public company, which gives us access to public capital and it’s well-versed in disruptive marketing,” Vangelov told AFN.

Asked whether this was a distress situation, he said: “Soylent has been consistently cashflow positive and profitable for the past 2.5 years. We will bring these strengths to the new entity, which will benefit from it. We will be able to provide support to the other brands with our financial foundation.”

He added, “This is not a pump and dump type of situation where we’re hoping for a quick exit.”

The current climate is ‘not good for an exit’

As to the value of the company, he said, “We believe the share price is going to change very dramatically. It will start low. That’s the challenge with an OTC company, hence why we want to give it a few years.”

He added, “What we’re doing is saying the current climate is not good for an exit. Instead of trying to raise additional capital on bad terms or trying to sell the company at valuations that are not appropriate, what we’re trying to do is really double down on a bigger portfolio of products. By joining Starco Brands Soylent’s potential to grow its base and expand in adjacent category whitespaces will be game changing.”

Asked about the end game for Soylent’s key investors, he said: “They will be able to trade their shares at the right price.”

Soylent can tap into Starco’s relationships in media & entertainment

Quizzed on what “doubling down on a bigger portfolio of products” meant in practice, Vangelov said, “There are a few other brands in the Starco company with a lot of potential to grow, but we also want to tap into its ability to really quickly innovate and partner up with a good marketing team and tap into relationships Starco has in the media and entertainment world.”

For example, Starco brand Whipshots — alcohol-infused cream — is growing rapidly, in part “because they were pretty adept on how to market it, but also they partnered up very successfully with Cardi B,” claimed Vangelov.

“I’m excited to do something like that with Soylent.”

“Soylent is one of those rare brands that successfully transitioned from Silicon Valley tech start-up to mainstream with mass distribution, thanks to Demir and team’s operational execution and a global mission to improve human health and nutrition.” Ross Sklar, CEO, Starco Brands

From food-as-fuel beige powders to mass-market appeal

Launched as a powdered meal replacement by software engineer Rob Rhinehart in 2013, Soylent gained a cult following among Silicon Valley programmers with its sterile packaging and utilitarian “food as fuel” philosophy.

Backed by $72.5 million from investors including Alphabet Inc.’s venture arm GV and Andreessen Horowitz, it has since evolved to reach a more mainstream audience with ready-to-drink products and listings at Walmart.

Three-quarters of its business is still online, primarily at soylent.com and Amazon.

Despite a challenging few years ​​dogged by recalls​​ and a public spat with a supplier​​,​​​ Soylent built a sizable direct-to-consumer business before launching on Amazon in 2016 and making a push into bricks & mortar retail in 2017 under new CEO Bryan Crowley.

Vangelov took the helm in February 2020, telling reporters a year later that he “had to make dramatic changes or we would have run out of cash.”

Vangelov made a flurry of changes, from reformulating the core range to reduce sugar to changing to a new co-manufacturer for powder, switching partners for fulfillment and warehousing, slashing spending on customer acquisition, and restructuring the management team.

How are consumers using Soylent?

Today, Soylent has a broader audience — around 50:50 male to female — with some consumers drinking it regularly to replace selected meals; others consuming it in higher quantities for a short period for weight management; and others using it intermittently to keep control of calories or nutrient intakes.

Soylent products appeal because they contain meaningful levels of protein, vitamins, and minerals, and low or no sugar, said Vangelov.

“Many consumers also appreciate that they are plant-based although I don’t think that’s the lead [purchase driver]. We’re also seeing wider adoption across the country, not just in the big cities, from a wider range of people including healthcare workers, and teachers.

“In Florida, where we work with a big retailer [Publix], we’re seeing consumers in an older demographic coming to us as well because the product is a good fit for their lifestyle.”

 “When combined with Starco Brands’ portfolio of formulas, access to commercial manufacturing facilities, and disruptive marketing, Soylent’s potential to grow its base and expand in adjacent category whitespaces will be game-changing.” Ross Sklar, CEO, Starco Brands

Soylent offers 'complete nutrition' products with low or no sugar and high levels of protein
A brand once described as “only slightly more appealing than an IV bag” when it first gained a cult following among Silicon Valley programmers as a powdered meal replacement, ‘complete nutrition’ brand Soylent has steadily evolved its format to appeal to a far wider audience. Image credit: Soylent

‘We have not sacrificed profit’ to maintain topline growth

Vangelov did not share revenues, but said, “We were trying to get to a $100 million run rate by the end of last year but that didn’t happen in part because Amazon reduced inventory levels for many brands and stopped ordering. They started reordering in January, so we’re back on track with them.

“But we probably had one of our best quarters for soylent.com in a long time, and [bricks & mortar] retail for the meal replacement and protein shakes category is continuing to be a very healthy business.”

He added, “Publix was our first big conventional retailer and now we have the budget and the team to be able to work with sophisticated retailers at scale.”’

Successful recent initiatives include new 12-packs of 11oz bottles for the retail market and limited-edition flavors such as gingerbread and café latte, said Vangelov, who raised prices on Soylent’s 14oz products in September to combat rising inflation with “minimal” impact on volumes.

“We are still very competitive on a per ounce basis, and we are still cashflow positive and profitable.  Online, we saw an increase in average order value and no drop off in subscriptions or subscribers.”

AFN has reached out to representatives from GV and Andreessen Horowitz for comment.

The Soylent range: High-protein, low-sugar, plant-based

  • Soylent powder:​​ 400 calories, 20g protein, 15g sugar
  • Soylent complete meal RTD:​​ 400 calories, 20g protein, 1g sugar
  • Soylent complete protein RTD:​​ 250 calories, 30g protein, 0g sugar
  • Soylent complete energy RTD:​​ 180 calories, 15g protein, 3g sugar
  • Soylent squared bars:​​ 100 calories, 6g protein, 1g sugar

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