Editor’s note: We kicked off our first annual Food Loves Tech event last summer in Chelsea—here’s a recap. We’re bringing a taste of the food and farming future back this year, but just across the East River at Industry City. Leading up to the event, this story is part of an ongoing series about technology’s effects on our food supply.
In the futuristic drinkable meal space, most of the attention has been on Soylent. The white liquid has become a darling of more than 600,000 monthly subscribers in the US and growing. It also has enduring a recall of its first solid food product, the Soylent bar, and had to recall its drink because a formula advertised as non-dairy contained milk solids. Nonetheless, Soylent just attracted 50 million in fresh investment from Google Ventures and other Silicon Valley titans.
You probably haven’t heard about Ambronite, though, a meal replacement drink born in Scandinavia that, like Soylent, claims to contain all the nutrients of a well-balanced meal. Like Soylent, the aim is to “give you more freedom, time and choice” when it comes to eating on the go. Unlike Soylent, Ambronite is green colored and made entirely from whole foods ingredients. Compare the ingredient labels of both and Soylent reads like a chemistry project, while Ambronite reads like a natural food store shopping list. I recently spoke with one of the company’s co-founders, Mikko Ikola, about how Ambronite came to be.
Suzanne Zuppello edited this interview for clarity and brevity.
Edible Brooklyn: So, Ambronite launched about a year ago—how has it been?
Mikko Ikola: We launched our crowdfunding campaign two years ago, which actually became the most funded food campaign in the history of IndieGoGo. So that was a great launch provided visibility with the likes of Time, Wired, Forbes, Business Insider and so on. We’re selling entirely online to monthly subscribers and single users. Since the IndieGoGo campaign, we’ve been developing the product further, focusing on taste and yield. Our continued focus is to make a drinkable supermeal out of real foods which fulfill the nutrition guidelines and gives you everything your body needs.
EB: How do your ingredients compare to your competitors in the market? Are you feeling that it’s a challenge to find the ingredients as you scale, or it’s just part of your business model?
MI: Well, I would say that for the next two years, at least, even a huge increase in sales volume wouldn’t create a barrier. The ingredients that are large in volume, like oats and nuts, those are pretty standard ingredients and won’t be a problem. The same goes for the less available ingredients, which are used in such a small volume that scale won’t be a huge problem.
EB: Ambronite has been compared to Soylent because both are drinkable meals. In what ways do you see them as a competitor?
MI: That’s really where the comparison ends; we’re both following the same trend of drinkable meals. Ingredients of many of our competitors are also quite different; because they use lower quality, synthetic ingredients. Soylent is able to keep price low, which seems to be the driving factor for their customer base. Their customers like to survive on the cheapest. With Ambronite, we provide optimal nutrition for people who see nutrition as an investment to their body, mind and daily productivity. It’s two pretty different goals at the end of the day. It’s true that many people out there don’t care or understand the difference in the quality.
At the same time, we can identify that our customers have above the average understanding of nutrition. Also, we don’t plan to add caffeine to our product, like Soylent does. We don’t want to incorporate a stimulant into the daily routine.
EB: I did read your newsletter where you note that Ambronite users are knowledgeable about nutrition. Do they tend to be athletes as well, or just an active, health-minded person? What do you think they’re looking for beyond good nutrition?
MI: Actually, I think the biggest part of our base is software engineers and entrepreneurs, which is likely a result of how we market our product in a different way by making it socially acceptable to drink your meal.
Besides that, there are other adventurers, people who want to put Ambronite at their backpack when they go hiking or biking. That’s one thing, and of course, some athletes use Ambronite. For example, Ben Greenfield is one of our endorser. He was selected the number one personal trainer of the year in the US few years ago. We also had a group of customers who sailed across the Atlantic, two weeks in a boat, just themselves have two Ambronite meals every day. There’s a lot of stories like that from our customers.
EB: Back to nutrition, are you thinking about adding probiotic or something similar to Ambronite?
MI: Probiotics is something that’s been discussed for a while but haven’t decided yet. In general, we want to keep the product understandable. Right now, the ingredients that you have in Ambronite are the same ingredients that you would have in a normal healthy meal, just in a convenient powder format. Putting all these different probiotics and nootropics would would overcomplicate the product and increase the price. With the current ingredients, we can already meet both North American and the Scandinavian nutrition recommendations. That’s been the goal, and we’ve reached that.
And now, you see a lot of trusted nutritionists say that whole foods are really the best source of nutrients—better than a supplement. Supplements are supplements, you know, and our body can use them, but it’s not whole.
EB: What is your background? Are you a food scientist?
MI: Actually I have a background in computer science. My co-founder is in charge of the formulation development, alongside advisors made up of nutrition experts, medical doctors and PhDs in the field.
EB: As a computer scientist, what inspired you to get involved in food?
MI: Well, that part didn’t really have anything to do with it. I just got curious about healthy eating and nutrition myself. Just before starting Ambronite, I was setting up a qualified self and biohacking community in Finland. I got to know a lot of nutrition experts and medical doctors and, I talked with them, interacted with them. I guess the fundamental learning was as simple as the healthier you eat, the better you feel and the more productive you are.
When you live in Finland, most people eat pretty healthy because there’s more healthy food available than in the US, so it’s just automatic. Still, I could see the difference and I got very excited about it. As I had these people around me, I could deepen my knowledge much more and much more safely.
Arno, my co-founder, who is behind the formulation, was a triathlonist and comes from the sports nutrition background. My other co-founder, Simo, he’s just been making smoothies for his entire life and so on. I guess all of us were busy, everybody is today but we cared about health and nutrition and shared the same problem of anyone that is healthy and busy.
So, we asked ourselves a question if it would be possible to create a meal that would contain everything your body needs. We started out experimenting three years ago and, after a few months, our friends got excited and helped turn it into a company.