|A Science Fiction Fanzine||Winter 2005-6|
Art by Randy Cleary
It is quite rare these days for any Fortune 500 company making several widely distributed food products in numerous domestic and international markets to be as absent from the public spotlight as the Soylent Corporation has been in recent years. But with the controversial leader in the synthetic food field, no news is good news. When the company first was founded in the early 1970's, then CEO Asmodeus Johannes (A.J.) Garner launched his company with the first synthetic food manufactured from soy and lentil by-products. He named this innovative substance Soylent Red, which had modest but encouraging sales. A year later, Garner's researchers developed both Soylent Yellow and Soylent Blue. These products were introduced quietly after uneven test marketing. Although there were brief and occasionally violent protests aimed against the Blue variety, Garner was not discouraged and promoted all three varieties with equal fervor. With the three products in place and sales at a reasonably high level, A.J. Garner convinced his financial backers to go to a much higher level. In 1973, The Soylent Corporation embarked on a bold public relations and advertising experiment. Garner had found a copy of a little known science fiction novel by Harry Harrison that briefly mentioned synthetic foods. Playing on generally circulating fears of overpopulation and "final solutions", Soylent Corp financed a large budget science fiction thriller loosely based on the novel and starring big name actors like Charlton Heston and Edward G. Robinson. Originally, the movie carried the working title Make Room, but in a brilliant example of ultimate product placement, Soylent Corp paid the producers to have the name of the film changed to Soylent Green. The motion picture's popularity and easily quotable lines brought mass recognition of the entire product line. Garner's gamble paid off almost immediately. Soon sales for all Soylent products went through the roof, but particularly the Green.
Within months, small children everywhere were heard at supermarkets screaming enthusiastically with their whining voices, "but Mommy, I want Soylent Green, It's People! Mommy, It's People!" It flew off the shelves and into their shopping carts. In less than two months, the first imitators appeared on the shelves. This included such obvious copies as, Soynut Green, Soymix Red, Soylac Blue, and Screaming Yellow Zonkers. During this entire period, Soylent Corp remained a privately owned company with Garner owning 78%. Times were good for Soylent and revenues exceeded all expectations. Unfortunately, this was not something that was going to last.
In the 1980's, health consciousness awoke the nation and all synthetic foods were considered bad news. "All Natural" and Organic were the catchwords in the food industry. Sales plummeted rapidly and Soylent products were forced into a tiny niche market, and placed into hidden recesses of the supermarket shelf next to Tang and freeze-dried ice cream. Garner was distraught and tried any means to re-build sales. He hired some street performers, had them painted the color of Soylent Blue and placed them in many venues to promote his company's Blue brand. This Blue man group eventually gained a perverted popularity nearly a decade later, but did little to re-ignite the fervor that once existed for the Soylent products. Like the breweries were forced to do during Prohibition, selling yeast and malt products just to get by, Soylent Corp had to sell its patented colors to food and other manufacturers. Soylent Red triumphed incognito as Big Red Gum, Red Hot Cheetos, and Red Pop. Soylent color Green was found to possess unexpected but remarkable cleansing properties and was marketed as the popular cleaning formula Simple Green, commonly used in homes to this day. The Soylent Blue color became widely distributed in many blue-colored raspberry drinks and candies and it was also about this time that Mars Candy Company replaced the light brown M&Ms with a bright (and suddenly inexpensive) Blue. Could it truly be just an innocent coincidence that the four colors of candy promoted in their commercials were the same as the four colors of Soylent products? Despite the fact that the sales of colors kept Soylent solvent, it was not enough to save Garner"s position as CEO.
By the early-1990's, Garner was facing an angry board of directors ready to revolt and reluctantly stepped down. His replacement, the youthful yet very experienced Frank LePort, inexplicably was brought in not from the food industry, but rather from the software giant NIXtSUN in Silicon Valley. Bringing in expertise from the computer field might have seemed a bit odd for a food industry giant, but as Board Member Calvin Hastings noted, "If Apple Computer can hire a guy from some soft drink company, then we can hire a guy from a software company."
Although this move by Soylent did nothing to help sales initially, it did bring some fresh and original thinking to the company. Soylent introduced its first new product in twenty-two years, with Soylent Orange. This was followed up with the flesh tone series, Brown, Black and White. As LePort grew into the CEO position, he realized that Soylent would have to go public to raise the capital needed for expansion. He also knew that there was a vast, untapped market out there through Internet sales. The IPO for Soylent (NYSE symbol SOYL) started at $1.50 went up to $31 in the first three days, but dropped to a more realistic $7.50 after that. The Soylent Corp went on to add dozens of new colors, including Beige, Purple, Gray, Mauve, Tan, Coffee, Teal, Pink and (believe it or not) Clear. In fact, the Soylent line now boasts the following new colors, Violet, Indigo, Chocolate, Cream, Scarlet, Vermilion, Lilac, Maroon, Gold, Silver, Lime-green, Magenta, Rust, Almond, Salmon, Jade, Aqua, Baby Blue, Taupe, Goldenrod, Puce, Sepia and the mysterious, Color. As usual, the Soylent Corp still refuses to give out the exact source or key ingredients of the flavorsome crackers, but there have been surreptitious leaks made to the press about some of the more exotic colors. The company spokesperson notes that any of these colors can be purchased online through the Soylent website, www.soylentcorp.com, although only the top sellers are available in stores.
So what has Soylent Corp done for you lately? It has brought to the marketplace a whole new generation of designer color synthetic foods that can complement any home or decorator scheme. In addition, it continues to utilize high-tech marketing techniques. Its tie-in with Google has been the most successful of these attempts. Just enter Soylent followed by any color mentioned above and one or more references will instantly appear for you to check out. In fact, Soylent Green is mentioned on over 127,000 pages, and even Soylent Pink is found on over 99 pages. This is amazing considering many popular children's cereals barely rate 150 pages. The company also sponsors the famous Wine and Soylent festival held in New York City each March, which draws tens of thousands of established fans and new patrons eager to sample the latest colors. Many of the award winning recipes from previous festivals that feature the product are available on the website listed above. Soylent products were featured prominently on the Food Channel last August and the company will be releasing a cookbook with tempting recipes contributed by celebrity chefs. I got to try the Soylent Salmon with Soylent Almond, Merlot and Ginger-Wasabi sauce prepared by famous Iron Chef Morimoto and it was absolutely fantastic. As CEO LePort quipped recently, "Soylent - it's not just people anymore!"
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