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How fast-growing startup Sustenance is shaking up the meal shakes industry in S’pore and APAC

sustenance meal shake

Gautam Param and Leon Chen first met each other a couple of years ago when they were working for the same company and went on a business trip together to the United Kingdom.

Leon was a senior executive at a Singapore-listed company, before serving as the general manager at an e-commerce company.

Meanwhile, Gautam used to work as a business analyst before he tried his hand at a couple of ventures, including a delivery-only restaurant.

Then in 2019, two years after meal replacement company Sustenance was founded, they joined forces to scale it.

“I saw that a lot of people and companies were preaching on how to live healthy through ‘breakthrough’ diets and eating strategies, but nobody was coming up with good products to help people execute (it),” said Gautam.

“I wanted a simple way to eat healthy without putting my diet at the centre of my life. I looked at other options in the market, but didn’t really like them because they had a lot of artificial junk and were too far away from nature to be considered an actual meal.”

Creating a drinkable meal

Noting this gap in the market, the duo wanted to offer people with minimally processed products that use real food ingredients from premium suppliers in the United States and United Kingdom.

sustenance meal shake
What goes into a Sustenance meal shake / Image Credit: Sustenance  

In fact, their products contain plenty of protein and fiber and minimal bad stuff like saturated fat and artificial junk.

The idea behind Sustenance is simple — we want to make it simple and painless for people to eat healthy. We want to empower people to lead healthy, disease-free lives without having to put diets at the centre of their lives.

– Gautam Param, co-founder of Sustenance

The 30-year-old added that their meal replacement offerings are suitable for time-starved people like busy workers who prefer quick, yet healthy meals. There are also some who turn to Sustenance to incorporate it as part of their diet to lose weight.

After all, their shakes contain ample fruits and vegetables, grains, seeds and plant-based protein.

“They come closer to a healthy home-cooked meal than any other option out there in the market,” said Gautam.

Since the meal shakes are also high in fiber and protein, it makes them very filling, relative to the calories.

sustenance meal shake
Working on new and improved formulas / Image Credit: Sustenance

Every single batch produced is third party lab-tested at a Singapore Accreditation Council (SAC) accredited laboratory in Singapore for safety and purity.

“We test for things that don’t show up in labels like heavy metals and harmful bacteria,” said Gautam.

Meal replacements versus a conventional healthy meal

Although Sustenance offers plenty of nutritional benefits, Gautam stressed that it does not precede a healthy, conventional meal.

sustenance meal shake
Suitable for time-starved individuals / Image Credit: Sustenance

The winning factor of Sustenance over such meals is its convenience factor. If you are short on time, can’t find affordable options or healthy food around you, then Sustenance’s meal shakes make for a good alternative instead of resorting to something unhealthy like fast food.

“I think the meal replacement industry has a stigma for over-using unnatural ingredients and not being filling. After all, who will believe a drink will fill them up for hours?” mused Gautam.

“This is a pity as the benefits of meal shakes are often overshadowed by these stigmas. By going back to the basics and using satiating whole food ingredients, we hope to change the way meal shakes are perceived and introduce our healthy and convenient shakes to everyone.”

sustenance meal shake
Sustenance meal shake / Image Credit: Sustenance

According to Sustenance, the main obstacle to healthful nutrition is the difficulty of consistently eating healthy and meal replacements can help fill this gap.

Science has established that consistently eating healthy is a behavioural problem, not a knowledge problem. People know what eating healthy means, but they struggle with doing it consistently in the long run because of how much of a hassle it is.

Nobody wants to spend their lunch break queuing (up for food), spend a bomb eating grain bowls every day, or spend an hour cooking and cleaning up during weekdays. If we were to reduce the decision friction to eating healthier, many people would eat healthier more consistently.

– Gautam Param, co-founder of Sustenance

This is the unique proposition of meal replacements — they serve as a “backup option” that is readily available anytime and anywhere, and suffices as a quick and healthy meal.

Dispelling stigmas associated with meal replacements

Starting out, Gautam said that their key struggle was addressing the stigmas associated with meal replacements.

Historically, the industry has had so many “bad apples” like multi-level marketing schemes and companies promoting unhealthy crash diet products.

It was really difficult to cut through all of this and convince people that we are selling honest products. Things eventually got better after we got bigger (as more customers tried our shakes).

– Gautam Param, co-founder of Sustenance

He added that most of their customers started out as non-believers who never tried any meal replacements before. However, after signing up for free samples and purchasing their starter kits, they became converts.

sustenance meal shake
Customers sampling Sustenance meal shakes at a pop-up event / Image Credit: Sustenance

“These people who were initially on the fence end up being regular customers and making many repeat purchases. They would then recommend it to their family and friends — this is our main source of growth.”

To date, its pool of customers has grown to “several thousands” over the past 12 months, and its products are rated 4.9 out of five stars across several hundred reviews on Google, Facebook and Shopee. Many of these reviews talk about the unexpected deliciousness of the shakes despite its green appearance, and how filling they are.

sustenance meal shake
Freeze-drying versus fresh food / Image credit: Sustenance

By using real, whole food ingredients as well as utilising premium manufacturing methods like freeze-drying and enzyme processing, they incur very high production costs but Gautam reasoned that it helps to retain the nutritional value of the ingredients.

Despite the high costs, their shakes are affordably priced, ranging from S$4.50 to S$10.50, depending on the packaging and size of the shakes. Besides selling directly to customers on their own website, they are also stocked online in supermarket FairPrice, local pharmacy Watsons, as well as e-commerce platforms Shopee and Lazada.

The company has grown its revenue by more than six times in 2020, and started selling in Hong Kong and Australia in March 2021. They plan on entering two more Asia Pacific markets by the end of this year.

The team is also working on introducing a new snack bar in the next six months as an alternative to its meal shakes.

“We are aiming for the snack bars to deliver the same level of goodness as our meal shakes nutritionally and most importantly, keep to our ethos of using minimally processed whole foods,” said Gautam.

To check out Sustenance’s array of meal shakes and find out which ones suit you best, you can visit its website here.

This article is written in collaboration with Sustenance.

Featured Image Credit: Sustenance

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