At Pioneers we are always on the lookout for the next big thing – the next big thing that will change the world. Food tech and health are among the categories, where we see a lot of room for improvement (read, "room for innovation": health issues like malnutrition, diabetes, obesity; availability and affordability of nutritious, healthy food, just to name a few). Back when Rob Rhinehart first started it was merely a self-experiment in nutrition, meanwhile Rhinehart has built a company (and a community) around Soylent.
We have to admit, it wasn’t until Soylent was accepted into YC (S2012) and later raised $1.5 million in seed funding from Andreessen Horowitz and consortes that we took a closer look (Note: Soylent is now venture backed by Andreessen Horowitz, Lerer Ventures and Index Ventures).
There are numerous alternatives in the powdered food space today. One of the most promising competitors is Heaven Labs, who showcased their product last May at Pioneers Festival 2015. "Soylent is a community of people who are enthusiastic about using science to improve food and nutrition," says Chris Dixon of A16Z. We are eager to see if Heaven Labs can replicate and improve upon this for the European market, so we visited their production facilities to see what they are up to:
Vienna, July 2015 – A few months ago Heaven Labs was just a startup operating out of a garage. Now it is expanding its business with their own production line, already serving thousands of customers all around Europe. Czech Republic is known for its beer production, not so much for its cuisine, let alone for the ultimate nutritional solutions. We talked to Jakub Krejčík (CEO of Heaven Labs, producer of MANA):
What do you eat these days? Do you live on powdered food?
Yes, our whole team is eating MANA since August 2014, when the initial product was developed. Don’t worry, we do regular blood checks and everything is great! MANA is designed to be the only food you need, however if you want to treat yourself to a gourmet experience at a nice restaurant with your friends you can still do that, your stomach will have no issues with that. Fun fact: our fans already sent us pictures with MANA recipes, so you can even have a birthday party with MANA cake.
MANA is prepared for adults (children need a different nutritional mix). My son was born two months ago. Okay, why am I telling you this? Well, he is fed by MANA… to be precise, his mother eats MANA, which is then "transferred" to him. She ate a meal of specially improved MANA during pregnancy and currently she eats two MANA meals a day, all accompanied by regular blood tests, to make sure that everything is in order!
Seriously, it’s safe. It’s science!
What is it made of? And why the funny name?
MANA is the ultimate food that God gave to the Israelites during their travels crossing the desert for 40 years. Analogically we created an all-you-need food, nothing less and especially nothing more!
Imagine that you take all those non-wanted substances out and leave the pure nutrition, which your body needs. It is a complete alternative to quality groceries. It contains balanced amounts of protein, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, fibre, and valuable fat. MANA contains fat in the form of nutritionally high-quality oils with proper ratio of polyunsaturated, saturated and unsaturated fats. Carbohydrates are represented by maltodextrin, which has high content of polysaccharides and provides influx of energy into the body, in contrast to sugar, which provides only a momentary surge of energy. Vitamins are represented by A to K with mineral microelements calcium, phosphorus, sulphur, magnesium, potassium, sodium, together with the necessary amount of microelements iodine, manganese, selenium, zinc, chromium, iron and copper plus fibre, phytochemicals and antioxidants. We constantly strife for perfection and we are improving MANA with every version. /Nerd mode off.
Who is your typical customer?
Generally speaking, MANA is for anyone who wants to have control over what he/she eats, what it consists of and how it will affect his/her body.
Among our "useres" we find those, who completely replace their diet by MANA, but also "recreational users" replacing a meal or two, which in most cases they would otherwise have no time to eat or they would choose some unhealthy fast food experience. We have many supporters among active people – athletes, climbers, hikers or people focused on productivity and business – programmers, designers, startups, etc.
You showcased your product at Pioneers Festival – why?
So it was my first time at Pioneers Festival. Two ridiculously intensive days – in a good way! Our booth at the Pioneers Showroom was constantly packed with people wanting to try MANA – starting from the Czech ambassador up to Asian media. We had very positive feedback and it was just great to see that even the most sceptical people were surprised by the taste of “powder food”.
Can we go see your production facility?
Sure thing, let’s go!
Heaven Labs, Prague – Czech Republic
Sure, this is somewhat of a controversial topic, but there are numerous players out there already – so there seems to be a market. Is Soylent with its open approach and super active community going for the home run? Perhaps. Is there room for more players? We definitely think so – especially if each player finds their own raison d’être – be it geographical or simply for "taste" reasons. After all it still is food and – and assuming perfect nutrition values are covered by each product – "great taste" certainly remains a deciding factor of what our society will eat. For now at least. And we heard that MANA tastes pretty great.