Since its introduction in 2013, the protein drink Soylent has become the go-to food substitute for many coders and venture capitalists in Silicon Valley.
For $2 a serving, techies too busy to cook for themselves can pour the powder mix into a glass of water and imbibe a nutrient-rich, if bland-tasting, meal. It's like a jock protein shake but for nerds.
Soylent has figured out what's been making its customers sick: algae. Customers complained of nausea and other stomach issues after eating newer formulations of its products. In October, Soylent maker Rosa Foods Inc. stopped selling its powder mix and recalled its protein bars.
Soylent got the algal flour from biotechnology company TerraVia, which contests the company's results and maintains that the ingredient is safe for consumption.
"Our algal flour has been used in more than 20 million servings of products, and we are aware of very few adverse reactions. In no cases was algal flour identified as the cause," TerraVia told Fortune. The company added that Soylent's products contain upwards of 40 ingredients, a number of which have "well documented digestive side effects."
TerraVia shares fell 8.1 percent to $1.70 at the close in New York. They had declined 25 percent this year through Friday. The loss of Soylent's business is shaking some investors' confidence, said Jeffrey Osborne, an analyst at Cowen & Co. But he said the startup probably didn't account for much revenue.