Past Issues

The business of fitness and wellness.

Who needs food?


“Stop eating” was an actual tagline of early weight management products like nutrition shakes. Now, meal replacements have grown into a booming category appealing to a variety of health-conscious consumers.

Through the years 

  • In 1959, Metrecal introduced a pink, goopy shake advertised as a meal alternative for consumers looking to shed pounds.
  • In the ’70s, brands like Ensure and Slim Fast hit the scene, promising a healthier (albeit sugary) and better tasting liquid meal replacement.
  • In the ’90s and early-2000s brands like Sustacal, Nestlé (Boost and Resource), and Muscle Milk reoriented the category around protein.

Flash-forward to the present day, and meal replacements have evolved yet again. Now, liquid meals aren’t just for bulking up or slimming down; the main sell is saving time. 

Fueled by busy and health-conscious consumers seeking convenience and nutrition, the meal replacement market has seen considerable growth. In 2016, the global meal replacement market was estimated at $15.1B, and growing at a rate of 6.9% annually, that number is forecast to reach $20.6B by 2021. It’s no surprise, then, that a number of upstart brands are looking to take advantage of the opportunity.

The pivot-point for the category came in 2013 when Soylent launched a prototype drink for time-crunched Silicon Valley techies who couldn’t spare a moment for a real meal. As Soylent founder Rob Rhinehart put it: “I didn’t have the time, energy, or motivation to eat well, but my diet was harming my health, and that harmed my productivity.” 

For Rhinehart, the answer was a more efficient way to get the nutrition his body required. As an alternative to food that’s ordered or prepared, meal replacement shakes save on time, effort, and decision-making. 

Now, in an attempt to appeal to the modern, on-the-go consumer, powdered or ready-to-drink shakes are popping up everywhere. 

  • In 2017, Soylent raised $50M in a Series B round led by GV, with Lerer Hippeau and Andreessen Horowitz, bringing total funding to $74.5M.
  • Huel has sold 50M meals globally, with an annual growth rate of 150%. The company predicts a valuation of $1.25B in the next three years. 
  • Ample raised over $4M from investors and another $774K in an equity crowdfunding, boasting a 150% monthly growth rate for Amazon-based revenue.

While each brand is ultimately focused on convenience, their products vary to include keto-friendly, vegan, protein-packed, or soy-based formulas. But these brands aren’t all that dissimilar — they all seem to embrace clean-label ingredients and online DTC sales. 

Cleaning up: The evolution of meal replacements has created a competition for the “cleanest” label.  

According to CMO Mark Olivieri of vegan meal replacement company OWYN, consumers don’t want “the filthy ingredient label of some of these legacy brands.” By removing chemicals, fillers, and sugar alcohol, Olivieri thinks the winning meal replacement brand is the one that develops the cleanest label. 

OWYN and other newcomers have ditched the processed sugars, chemicals, and synthetics common among the old guard. Instead, these companies market their high-quality ingredients as a selling point for health-conscious consumers. 

Moving Online: Upstart meal replacement brands are increasingly adopting a DTC, ecommerce-driven approach to sales.

Huel CEO James McMaster credits this approach as being vital to his company’s global ambitions, saying: “Being direct-to-consumer has meant we could launch faster internationally than [our competitors] as we didn't have to go out and get distribution deals.” 

  • Huel now ships over 1.5M meals each month to 80 countries around the world.  

As an added benefit, the DTC model lets brands cash in on a subscription-based model. Huel, Soylent, and Ample have built loyal followings by offering 5–15% discounts for subscribers. 

  • Ample, for one, earns over 60% of its revenue from subscribers who spend more than $100/month for shakes delivered to their doorstep. 

Ecommerce-driven expansion has also proven to be a pathway to retail. Soylent, Huel, and OWYN each got their start online and are now securing distribution deals, landing on the shelves in mainstream retailers like Target and Whole Foods.

Zooming out: Technically speaking, we can eliminate food from our diets with a nutritionally complete alternative. But whether or not these replacements offer the same benefits of real food is somewhat unclear. By synthesizing an alternative in a lab, there’s a chance we might be missing something, risking nutritional deficiency—or worse, overall well-being—at the cost of convenience.

The concept begs the question not only of health, but also of our relationship with food. Holistically considered, it seems as though food, or possibly the experience of eating—be it social, emotional, or sensory—is in many ways central to our daily lives. What happens when we replace that vital experience with a five-minute slurp of a 300-calorie ‘balanced macronutrient profile’ remains to be seen. For now, though, it offers a health-conscious option for those too busy to find something solid.

Headlines & Happenings

🌎 Foreign Relations 

The escalating trade war with China is giving Johnson Health Tech, the world’s third-largest maker of gym equipment, a leg up on the competition. 

What’s happening: Gym equipment is among the $110B in Chinese goods affected by US tariffs. As a result, American companies are having to shift their manufacturing and sourcing away from China. 

  • Johnson Health Tech supplies Planet Fitness and Marriott International.
  • The company’s 2019 sales are expected to grow 11% to $800M.
  • 2020 revenue is estimated to be closer to $1B, rivaling industry leader Life Fitness.

Looking ahead: According to a report by Bloomberg, Taiwan-based Johnson Health Tech plans to use a new factory in Vietnam to avoid tariffs placed on made-in-China fitness equipment making its way into US gyms. The company’s new $20M facility is set to open in December, helping them capture market share while applying pressure to competitors in the US and China.

⌚️ Winning Wearables 

When it comes to wrist-worn wearables, names like Apple and Fitbit spring to mind. But even as newcomers like WHOOP make strides, Garmin quietly executes, overtaking competitors in the process. 

  • Garmin’s shares are up 25+% since January while Fitbit's shares have fallen to record lows.
  • The company’s products range from $70 to $1,500 in price.
  • In July, Garmin boosted full-year guidance to $3.6B, up from 3.5B in February.
  • The wearables market is set to be worth more than $27B by 2022.

Standing out: According to Garmin CEO Clifton A. Pemble, the company is differentiating itself with superior technology that helps athletes monitor activity and health. 

While Apple initially focused on creating a luxury, mass-market accessory that required an iPhone to function, Garmin has succeeded by catering to athletes, helping them monitor their training, preventing overtraining, assessing runners’ gait, and monitoring sleep, in addition to playing music and displaying messages. 

Reality check: Even as Garmin outperforms expectations and Apple doubles down on health tracking, we still haven’t seen wearables transform everyday life — which begs the questions, what ever happened to the wearables revolution?

👉 icymi

We’ve teamed up with the Fitness & Active Brands Summit to bring you a two-day event devoted to the innovations, investments, and opportunities developing in fitness and wellness.

Taking place in Los Angeles on December 4-5, 2019, the Fitness & Active Brands Summit offers panel discussions, private meetings, and keynote presentations from industry-leaders like Barry’s Bootcamp, ClassPass, Xponential Fitness, [solidcore], Gympass, North Castle Partners, L Catterton, and many others. 

Check out the full agenda for more details. We hope to see you there. 



💰 Money Moves


Fitplan, a personal training app, closed $4.5M in funding led by Alex Rodriguez and Corazon Capital, with fitness mogul Mark Mastrov also participating. Rodriguez will also join the platform as a trainer accessible to users. 

Let’s Do This, a marketplace for endurance events, raised $5M in seed funding, with Serena Williams and Usain Bolt joining the round.

Barcelona-based NOVAMEAT, developers of equipment that produces 3D printed meatless “steak”, raised seed funding from prominent plant-based investors New Crop Capital. Terms were not disclosed.

New Wave Foods, makers of a plant-based shrimp substitute, raised an undisclosed amount of funding from Tyson Ventures.
More from Fitt Insider >> The Future is Plant-Based

Elevate Labs, a “mental fitness” startup, closed $7.1M in Series B funding after announcing its new personalized meditation app, Balance

The Alkaline Water Company will acquire AQUAhydrate, a bottled water producer backed by Sean “Diddy” Combs, Jillian Michaels, and Mark Wahlberg, in an all-stock transaction. 

NOW, a leader in healthy foods and natural supplements, acquired the SuperNutrition supplement brand. Terms were not disclosed. 

Hershey acquired a minority stake in Irish protein bar producer Fulfil. Terms were not disclosed.

LB Equity made an undisclosed investment in Herb Essentials, a cannabis-driven lifestyle beauty brand.

Cooks Venture, a sustainability-driven chicken producer and vertically-integrated regenerative agriculture company, raised $12M from AMERRA Capital Management.

Grove Collaborative, a natural home products and personal care brand, closed $150M in Series D funding led by Lone Pine Capital, Glynn Capital, and General Atlantic. The round brought the company’s valuation to over $1B.

Culture Fresh Foods, an upstart plant-based dairy producer, raised $11M in Series A funding led by CEI Ventures and FreshTracks Capital

RocketBody, a wearables technology brand using machine learning and ECG data to build personalized workouts, raised $1M from Gagarin Capital Partners and AltaIR Capital.

Malaysia-based edible cricket farmer and roaster Ento secured seed funding led by Singapore-based VC firm Rapzo Capital. Terms were not disclosed.

uBiome, a health-tech startup, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The company had previously raised more than $100M from investors, including YCombinator, 8VC, and Andreessen Horowitz, before an FBI raid and investigation revealed predatory practices.


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