Pick any sci-fi flick in the last half century at random, and you’d find a less-than-admirable presentation of what gastronomes have to look forward to (read: Charlton Heston led away screaming: “Soylent Green is people!”). Miami-based startup SquarEat is dispelling that myth. In a way. By bringing food squares, protein cubes and nutrient gunk into the 21st century via SquarEat.
This is one time you should take the name of a spunky young startup literally. The company hopes to make meal plans – prepackaged food services that deliver cooked, or ready-to-cook, grub all planned and sorted – even more convenient and effortless. How? By transforming the raw ingredients into standardised 50g squares through a proprietary process that results in no loss of nutrients, while lasting for up to three weeks additive-free (or so they claim).
There’s definitely utility in transforming beef, broccoli or basmati rice into neat little squares. For example, bodybuilders usually only care about the numbers behind the grub they’re eating six times a day. Those trying to overcome food aversions (at least in appearance or texture) might also find the cubes a palatable alternative. And most of all, anyone could benefit from a modular meal plan that promises a touch more flexibility than possible with conventional food services.
The brand has fifteen different squares on offer, including meat, seafood, veg and carbs. Four, squares, or six for bigger eaters, comprise a single meal box. Each square has been cooked to get a texture meant to complement the food (i.e. they haven’t blended everything into mulch), and can be eaten cold, reheated on a pan or microwaved.
We speak to the man behind the madness, CEO and founder Paolo Cadegiani (pictured above), to find out what exactly drove him to create SquarEat.
What was the idea behind SquarEat?
The idea comes from one of the most common issues. People struggle to deal with a busy lifestyle while keeping up with a proper, healthy diet that doesn’t compromise on taste. After experiencing firsthand the inefficiencies of traditional meal plan services, we saw an obvious possibility of disruption in bringing a complete transformation to a fast-growing sector. 100 per cent natural food, with a shape that’s simply the result of the cooking process necessary to achieve our goals: preserve nutrients, ensure convenience, guarantee taste and maximise practicality.
You mentioned working with a chef during last year’s lockdowns to develop the meals on your website. Can you go into that?
We had to take care of everything: taste, texture, balanced ingredients, and nutritional value. The focus was on developing techniques that standardised foods while keeping their natural peculiarities. After the lockdown, we took another year to perfect the concept and the production chain structure.
Speaking of the production chain, how do you get your Squares to last three weeks?
Thanks to the process of thermal shocking and low-temperature cooking, we preserve all the nutrients. After that, we vacuum seal every square individually, maximising consumption flexibility. The uniform shape allows the bags to stick perfectly to the product and the total absence of oxygen inside the package extends the food life significantly.
On the backend, do the squares help optimise your operation?
The way we process fresh food simplifies our production chain. When we receive ingredients, we don’t store them like other meal plans do. We transform them into Squares right away, extending the products’ shelf lives significantly with no additives. Since we handle only one ingredient at a time, it can be processed in one batch and stored as a square. This model allows the company to work on high volumes, improve the margins and keep the operations unconstrained.
Where do you see folk getting these meal plans?
Our product is for everyone. Whether the Squares are made of chicken, broccoli, salmon – they are exactly what they should be, just regular food. A tasty meal, for children, adults, women or men of any age seeking a healthy lifestyle. As the squares are highly digestible, practical and handy, people who suffer autism and food aversions have shown a lot of interest. We will start a subscription model with a meal plan delivery service. Since our product has infinite applications, we will expand through other channels like vending machines in offices, universities and gyms. Supermarkets and airlines will follow.
Is the modularity of the meals a big selling point?
Consumption flexibility is in the long-lasting nature of the Squares and the fact that they’re individually sealed, letting you choose when and where to eat them. What the modularity does is give customers better portion control and an easier way to get nutrients based on their needs.
All said, they’re still food squares. Do you think they’ll catch on?
People compared us to Snowpiercer and Soylent Green where the idea of shaped food is often associated with a dystopian future where people are oppressed and forced to eat awful things. We force no one to eat our Squares!
Where do you see the company in the future?
Immediately after our launch in Miami, we will expand our services nationwide. In reality, it will take us less than a year to deliver across the major cities in the United States. In three years, our company will most likely rely on a fully automated production chain, taking our Squares all over the world.
We will certainly improve our market segment by adding other products like juices or alternative foods to our business. A decade on, many things might change but I see SquarEat competing and collaborating with the most important companies in the world.
We base our business plan on a five-year projection where we see SquarEat reaching U$40 million (S$53 million) total revenue. A realistic, and even modest, scenario if you think about a market – the meal plan delivery services – that has US$6 billion (S$8 billion) yearly revenue, only in the States. We came up with a completely new product in an enormous market that is growing constantly, which is why we are extremely confident about our project.