The college market


#1

I explored/skimmed topics related to retail, having not been to this site very often the past year or so. (I do kind of miss it, I must say.) I did not find much directly related to the post I’m about to make, but if I this is in fact something under discussion already, I apologize and invite moderators to move this post to the appropriate thread.

As a professor, I have direct, extended experience with college students. I know that there are college students on this discussion board, and perhaps they can react to my observations here. I see the college student/grad student demographic as a gigantic, natural, and largely untapped market for Soylent. College students, near as I can tell, are always hungry, and they are not especially gifted at cooking, interested in cooking, reliably with access or the space to cook (especially if they are in classes all day). Nor do they have the time to cook, or in any other way as easily able to interface with the cooking experience as most people. So they eat out. A lot, especially fast food. Fast food is relatively cheap (but not as cheap as Ramen noodles, tuna fish, or other common alternatives I am used to seeing and hearing about), quick, and gets the job done. That’s the appeal, and while college students usually remain skeptical about the long-term consequences of their dietary choices–I know I was, too, at their age–because they don’t see the results the way they will in 15 years, I believe they would prefer reliable access to equivalently priced and satisfying healthy alternatives.

I have a fridge in my office stocked with Soylent as well as some other foods–I typically eat one “real food” meal per day-- so my students see me drinking Soylent regularly and are usually intrigued. When I offer it to them, they sometimes say yes (if they are hungry enough), and those who drink it invariably like it. Other professors are basically biased against it, so that’s a lost cause. But the students would be VERY open to it, IF IT WERE AVAILABLE. If the little convenience stores that are in every student center in America had Soylent, students would buy it. If the snack machines all over campus stocked Soylent, students would buy it; too often I literally see students in my night classes eating chips and candy for dinner because the only thing they had the time and opportunity to eat was what they could get from those machines. If supermarkets in the vicinity of college campuses sold it by the case, as we subscribers get it, they would buy it. I could see it catching on very, very quickly, probably after a slow burn while students wrapped their heads around drinking their food, just like the rest of us. Mail-order subscriptions just don’t make much sense for most college students, certainly not for those who live in dorms, and by relying almost exclusively on it, I think Soylent is cutting itself off from its main market opportunity. And college students, after a relatively short time, become college graduates and the engine of our economy.

Just my perspective.


#2

Funny, I literally just yesterday got an email from Soylent saying it was now available at a 7 Eleven near me. (I’m in SF)


#3

Funny thing is for me it’s the other way around. As a grad student, I’m often the person introducing Soylent to college professors (e.g., my thesis committee) during long presentations.


#4

I know that Soylent has done some sort of a college brand ambassador program in the past. @Conor would have more details about it.


#5

Ohhhhh you’re in SF? Any chance you like Coffiest and want to buy (at discounted price) 3 boxes of it? Or trade me 3 boxes of any other flavor (including Original, best deal for you)?


#6

What they need is just to be able to sell it retail, at a reasonable price, in and around college campuses. It would get legs on its own.


#7

Most professors I know have been reflexively and stubbornly opposed to Soylent.


#8

I wouldn’t be surprised, as younger people tend to be more open to change (willing to try new things and take risks) and more convenience-minded. I imagine professors are more likely the kind to scoff at products like Soylent, while thumping their Michael Pollan “Food Rules” bible. (Just kidding, I actually like that ‘book’.)


#9

Hey man, sorry, I’m not using Soylent these days. I’m one of the sorry few who get gas from it. Plus the Coffiest has way too much caffeine in it for me. Thanks anyway!


#10

Everything you wrote is already in the works. We have a small retail team but you should start seeing it rapidly come to campuses accross the us.


#11

I buy mine on Amazon.com
I am not in college, but the new kids in the office that are seem to use amazon quite alot. with Prime, its at your door in 2 days. Although it will be great once its in the grocery stores near the house for when I run out too soon.


#12

Delivery does not work for college kids as a rule, especially those in dorms. Whether Prime or getting Soylent directly from RL does not matter in this case. Retail will open things up a lot, and snack machines even more.


#13

I certainly can’t talk for Soylent, but I assume they have the mail order model they do because it is murder to get shelf space in grocery stores and to fill vending machines. The mail order model allows them to do more just-in-time production and keep their inventories and returns low. I am not so clear on why students wouldn’t like mail order. Do you think the dorm mail room couldn’t deal with it? Do you think students are too moody?


#14

It can be hard to make sure a package isn’t stolen from a dorm.


#15

Yeah I don’t really understand where you’re coming from either, considering the amount of popular delivery apps that are marketed towards people in dorms specifically (and I’m not talking about the more mainstream ones like DoorDash and Postmates that adults of all ages use).


#16

I’ve been getting Soylent since it started except for the first few months, when there was a long delay. I put my first order in maybe two weeks after they started. Mail order wasn’t especially premeditated as the optimal way to bring the product to consumers as much as the only possible way to do it.

I don’t think students are moody or that they don’t eve get things delivered. But there are a few reasons why retail is far superior a model for college students.

  1. Credit is hard to come by for college students, and a subscription requires a credit card, as well as an ongoing financial commitment that is not consistent with most students’ financial lives.
  2. Delivery in campus mail rooms is a lot different than homes; getting something to a student living off-campus avoids those issues, but those students are usually even more strapped and less able to commit financially to a subscription than the ones living in dorms, whose room and board has typically been paid for by parents.
  3. Delivery apps are for one-time purchases, not subscriptions, so I don’t see them as having relevance analogically. They are in fact more consistent with one of the biggest advantages of retail than subscription in this respect:
  4. Students (like the rest of us) make a lot of impulse or spur-of-the-moment purchases, especially of food. If a student is hungry and something is right there in a store or vending machine, that’s what they’ll buy and eat. Mail-order food is much more pre-planned.
  5. Soylent tastes better refrigerated, I think most would agree. This makes it very difficult to be useful for long days spent on campus. During those long days on campus, students often will eat out (including a cafeteria) at least once, sometimes 2 or 3 times. Carrying around Soylent from home/your dorm room and drinking it warm won’t really appeal.
  6. A lot of students will just want Soylent once in a while, and they will buy it here and there but not necessarily want to make it a staple part of their diet, as the subscription model mandates.

Overall, students would be much more likely to drink Soylent and provide a consistent market via retail. I say this as someone who has worked closely with students for almost two decades, is the parent of someone who just finished a master’s degree (so six straight years of college living), and who, like all professors, was once a college student too. Nothing I am writing is at all a knock on college students as much as a distillation of my observations and memories of how young people approach food. Students as a rule are much more functionalist, convenience-oriented, open-minded, opportunistic, and hungry than adults 5 or 10 years their senior.

Spontaneous episodes of, “Let’s get a pizza,” happened all the time in the dorms when I lived in them, but I promise you it never happens between a bunch of neighbors out mowing their lawns and griping about their bad backs. My son has a good job but still doesn’t pack his lunches. Pretty much all faculty 35 and older always pack their lunches. Only some of the most junior faculty members eat out regularly. These are my observations and interpretations, not judgments.


#17

Subscription requires a debit card, which can be acquired by someone with no credit whatsoever, like me.

My friend taught for 30 years at a Southern California college and went out to lunch frequently. Even though she is an accomplished cook, I never saw her pack a lunch once. She must have sometimes, but rarely.

I think bottled Soylent tastes fine unrefrigerated. I frequently get a bottle and forget to drink it cold and later drink it room-temp. Also, in chilly weather I often don’t want cold Soylent.

It is hard for me to visualize a let’s-get-a-Soylent party the way a pizza party works. Typically, students in a convenience store each buy their preferred food.

I don’t think Soylent is much more pre-planned than six-packs of beer. You keep some around for consumption as needed.

I don’t think I would pay extra for Soylent from a store often. But it might get me hooked and cause me to subscribe.


#18

#1 - As stated above, subscriptions do not require credit cards. But point [somewhat] taken about the rest (however, I think a good portion of college students these days have been well versed in how debit and/or credit cards work since ~16). Like cell phones, parents are making the users get younger and younger out of convenience and safety (and to develop an important life skill). And the proliferation of online banking that is accessible with just a few taps on your phone has pretty much erased whatever learning curve there was to being on top of your “finances” (in quotes because we are talking about college students here). You can treat a subscription like a one time purchase by just pausing it, if you were to run in to some kind of financial issue. I don’t think this is too much responsibility for a student, and I was a very immature college student.

#3 - What do you mean delivery apps are only for one time purchases? Many of these delivery apps have subscription based functionality, which is why I referenced them in the first place… For example, a student at pretty much any California college can set up a one time purchase or daily/every other day/weekly/monthly/whatever you want subscription schedule for Soylent through the local CSU/UC/private school delivery app(s) via 7-11. Many of these apps are even developed by the school and/or encouraged. I don’t know how one time purchases vs subscriptions makes any kind of difference here though regardless. Anecdotally though, I wouldn’t buy a more expensive Soylent from a store or from a 3rd party delivery service. To me, it just seems pointless. As much as I love Soylent, I don’t see a situation where I will be out and about and need an ‘emergency’ Soylent from a store, but that’s just me and I’m still capable of eating stuff that isn’t Soylent.

#5 - This applies to a lot of people, not just college students… and people develop workarounds either through planning, tricknology (special containers and whatnot) or just realizing that room temp Soylent isn’t that bad.

#6 - A 12 bottle a month subscription (with the ability to pause whenever you want, or request more) surely seems like the best option here still, to me. Both economically and for convenience.

Ugh, apologies for being such a contrarian about this. Normally I wouldn’t waste either of our time, but this really took my mind off my hangover for a bit.


#19

Good stuff. I think that both you and Geneven are more discussing what is possible or even relatively common, and I don’t disagree with anything either of you wrote, nor what other posters said. Instead, I am describing observed behavior, which is a little different.

For example, plenty of people are OK with room temperature Soylent, but I think most people prefer it chilled if they can. Students therefore can carry Soylent around with them, just as they can carry sandwiches around with them. Some do carry sandwiches to eat when they get hungry. Most don’t, overwhelmingly. Students here on the East Coast are perfectly capable in every respect of subscribing to Soylent. Almost no one does, certainly no one I have observed on my campus of 23,000+ students. Students can also make “smart” purchases by avoiding student-center convenience stores and the like. Usually they do, but frequently they don’t. If they are hungry and haven’t planned ahead, they will instead buy what’s available. We all do, but most adults 25 (or 30) and older are experienced enough and sick of having wasted money on food bought because they’re hungry but didn’t plan/pack ahead, that they find themselves in that situation more rarely. College age students are in this situation more often, for whatever reason. Those convenience stores and snack dispensers exist for a reason.

There will never be “let’s order Soylent” parties. I was discussing the spontaneity of food consumption in college age people versus older folks. Going to Taco Bell is another spur-of-the moment, social activity involving food I see college students do all the time. Maybe I don’t know enough people, but folks in their 40s and 50s seem to participate in social occasions involving food that are planned in advance, like dinner parties. They don’t often say, “Let’s order pizza” or “Let’s go to Taco Bell,” unless maybe they’re out on some day-long activity together. Even then, the eating part is frequently incorporated into the day’s planning ahead of time.

No one likes spending extra for food, and no rational economic actor would spend more for retail for a product that they can buy more cheaply as a subscription. But humans are rarely rational actors, as all economic models beyond ECON 101 explain. That’s why we have marketing, which appeals to emotion, not reason.

I think my point is just a little different than the one everyone is responding to (whatever that point is). My point is this: if Soylent were available as a retail option in and around college campuses, students will buy it. Period. I have hungry students sitting in my classes and office all the time–ALL THE TIME–and 9 out of 10 will leave my office/class and buy a meal somewhere. They will not go anywhere and cook, and they will not eat something they have carried with them throughout the day, because they did not carry food with them. Those are simple facts. Every such hungry-student occasion is an opportunity for Soylent to be purchased that is not happening, because it is not a retail option available to those students. Will most students buy Soylent then? No; most will still grab a meal somewhere. But some would buy Soylent. I’m sure, at the very least, that most students who are currently buying chips from vending machines to serve as meals that they can squeeze in during the 15 minute gap between classes would prefer Soylent.


#20

I don’t know if I should good or guilty, but one of the students I’m mentoring has started drinking Soylent. He thinks it’s expensive but likes the convenience. (The guilt is my discomfort with my position of power/authority over students in any way influencing decisions like these, even if I would never, ever do so explicitly.) Let’s see if the Soylent starts seeping outwards from this student, who is pretty gregarious, in the absence of a retail market.