After Blaming Ingredient Maker For Customer Stomach Issues, Soylent Could Face Shortages

Last month, meal replacement startup Soylent announced that it knew what was making customers sick after consuming its recently released nutrition bars and long-running powder: an algae-based ingredient called algal flour. While that could have been the end of the debacle, it wasn’t: the supplier for that component apparently isn’t too thrilled with having the blame placed on its shoulders, and is now cutting Soylent’s ingredient supply. 

TerraVia announced Tuesday that “effective immediately” it would suspend all ingredient shipments to Soylent nearly a month after the meal replacement company pinned customers’ bouts with gastrointestinal issues — including vomiting, diarrhea, and stomach pain — on the algal flour supplied by the company.

The supplier says that it made the decision based on the “high level of concern that Soylent’s actions in addressing its issues with Powder 1.6 indicate a pattern of behavior that is damaging TerraVia’s business.”

ArsTechnica reports that the withheld ingredients are used in Soylent’s 2.0 ready-to-drink meal and its new Coffiest beverage.

Issues between TerraVia and Soylent began earlier this fall, shortly after Soylent launched its nutrition bars; customers began to report becoming violently ill after eating the item and the company’s Powder 1.6.

Soylent pulled the products and began investigating what might be causing the issues. A few weeks later, the company determined the issue was likely tied to the only ingredient unique to the two items — algal flour. At that point, the company said it would stop using the ingredient in future batches of the product.

“We are releasing new formulations of our powder mix and meal replacement bars early next year,” Rob Rhinehart, Soylent’s co-founder and chief executive officer said at the time. “Our new formulations will no longer contain algal flour.”

Last week, Soylent announced that it had reconfigured the powder to create Powder 1.7 without the flour and that the products would immediately begin to ship.

However, TerraVia said on Tuesday that it believes Soylent failed to rigorously investigate the GI issues or provide data to substantiate its decision to remove algal flour from the products.

“We are surprised and disappointed that Soylent rushed to imply that algal flour is to blame and removed the ingredient without providing any evidence that they conducted a full investigation of their formulations and the more than 40 ingredients in their products, as would be standard practice in the food industry,” TerraVia CEO Apu Mody, said in a statement.

The company says that its algal flour — which is classified as Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) — has been used in more than 20 million servings of products without issue.

“We uphold food industry best practices and remain committed to partnering with our valued customers who align with these same principles,” Mody said, noting that as of last week TerraVia had fulfilled its commitment to supply Soylent with ingredients.

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