Complete Food Survey 2017 | Archive

Each morning, Thomas starts his day by drinking a tasty nutritious shake. For the next 4 hours he’s full of energy and doesn’t have to think about food in the meantime. And then, for lunch, he drinks another serving with a different flavour. He only occasionally visits the supermarket these days. He hasn’t eaten fast food in months at this point.

This is the new reality that hundreds of thousands of people have embraced in the last 4 years. These shakes are called Complete Foods and are sold under a variety of brands.

For the uninitiated, Complete Food is a mix of grains, soy, some source of protein and other staple foods to meets all nutritional requirements for an average adult. It can come as a pre-mixed drink (think milk, but better), a powder (to mix with water), or a nutritious food bar. It is vegetarian (sometimes vegan), low in sugar, and packed with vitamins and minerals.

This is a report about Complete Foods and how forward-thinking people are using them.


  • 51% of respondents have been using Complete Foods for 1 year or more
  • People try Complete Foods for convenience and nutritional completeness
  • On average people replace 1 meal per day, 13% uses it for all meals of the day
  • Unlike what experts expected, 25% lose weight with Complete Foods
  • The average user is a 30-year-old man who is highly educated and cares about sustainability
  • 52% of people who use Complete Foods are flexitarian or vegetarian/vegan
  • Complete Foods are bought primarily online via the website of the different brands

An initiative by Queal and Saturo.
With support from Feed, Hol Food, Lently, KetoGenesis, Trinkkost, Pulve, Satislent, Smeal, and Kuasa.
Data is taken from the Complete Food Survey 2017, plus additional data from Queal’s own analytics.

Complete Foods for Breakfast, Lunch (and Dinner)

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Out with the bagel and in with the shakes. In a world driven by time constraints, breakfast has always been a moment of rushing. Where many families opt to sit down for dinner, don’t expect a 5-star meal right before you jump head-first into commuter traffic.

For Thomas, and many like him, breakfast is one less thing to worry about. He just scoops some powder and water into a shaker and one minute later has a balanced meal, ready to go. He will get all nutrients his body requires, with zero of the headache, dishes, and feeling of unpreparedness he experienced before.

Breakfast is the most commonly replaced meal, closely followed by lunch. Only a third of people replace their dinner with a Complete Food. Commonly replaced foods range from relatively healthy breakfast cereals, home-made sandwiches, and a surprising number of bagels, to junk food ranging from pizzas to late-night kebab sessions. For some Complete Food is the meal of choice for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Since its inception, on average a person is using Complete Foods for 15 months. More than twenty percent are using for more than two years. And slightly over half are using it for more than one year. This is up from one fifth in last year’s survey.

Months usage: Based on Complete Food Survey 2017, percentages

Stats for geeks: Average calories per week 4735 kcal (median 3500 kcal, st. dev. 3585 kcal). Average calories per meal 590 kcal (median 600 kcal, st. dev. 138 kcal). Average meals per week 8 meals (median 6 meals, st. dev. 6 meals).

Why Would Anyone Eat This? Nom, nom, nom

Nom, nom, nom

There are a thousand things to choose from for your breakfast. Get a mouth-watering doughnut, make a kale-smoothie, or indulge with some breakfast pancakes. So why would anyone in their right mind choose to eat something that “tastes like a chalkboard-eraser-Elmer’s-glue smoothie”.

A few months ago Christina started drinking Complete Foods because she was running out of time. She is finishing her studies and needed a more convenient breakfast. A nutritionally complete meal is a perfect way to start her day and to complement a healthy lifestyle. Price wasn’t one of the main reasons for starting, but definitively beats getting something at the universities cafeteria.

Like many, she heard about Complete Foods from friends and read more about it online. She decided to give it a go because of the nutritional balance. She chose her preferred brand based on the value it offered in combination with the right set of ingredients. She is delighted with shaking up a coffee flavoured Complete Food every morning. And luckily the taste is more like Latte Macchiato than Chalkboard-eraser.

Some other experiences include:

“Convenient and balanced meal replacement when there's no time to prepare food conventionally but you don't want to resort to fast food.”

"Complete foods will never replace good, proper, solid food. What they replace is the rubbish that we eat day-to-day, such as underwhelming sandwiches at petrol stations and dubious office breakfasts. Proper food, cooked at home or by a chef, will always be more enjoyable, but Complete Food is a big improvement compared to 50% of most office workers' meals."

"A mildly uninteresting shake-style product which contains every nutrient and is perfect for replacing those meals that are eaten alone with no regard to taste or experience in the first place."

Reasons for trying the first time: Based on Complete Food Survey 2017, Likert-scale (1-5)

Reasons for choosing a brand: Based on Complete Food Survey 2017, Likert-scale (1-5).
Most commonly cited other reasons are taste, dietary needs, consistency/texture, availability, flavour range.

Stats for geeks: 56% hear about Complete Foods from a news article. 21% hear about it from a friend recommendation. 8% find it via Google (or similar). Also, 8% encounter it first via online advertisement. 3% find it via Reddit, and 4% via other places (Youtube, blog, event, offline advertisement).

Jamie is a typical customer, a 32 year old man, holding a steady job at a university. Almost 9 out of 10 people who use Complete Foods are men. They work about 40 hours per week and many work in software development. Other common occupations are students, engineers, and software engineers.

Every now and then people like Jamie are up for a video game, but probably not more than the average person. They are much more active than the average Joe and spend about twice as much time exercising than average. The online social media presence of people like Jamie is limited, he is aware of his privacy.

Many users of Complete Foods were the first of their friends to try it out. You might call them the early adopters. Trying something new or being the first seen with a non-socially accepted product scares a lot of us. It takes a while before the early majority follows. But with sales reaching in the tens of millions this year, the early majority is catching on. Most will recommend Complete Foods to friends. And between when they started and now, each has recruited, on average, one friend. A small percentage of respondents is a super promoter and has told more than 10 friends. Only some are hesitant, stating that their friends might find it a bit weird.

Most common occupations: Based on Complete Food Survey 2017, open question (categorised, percentages).

Stats for geeks: 86% is male, 14% women (plus one self-identified cyborg). Last year’s survey had 81% male. The average workweek is 40 hours and 5 minutes (median 40 hours, st. dev. 13 hours). Sports per week is done for 3 hours and 48 minutes (median 3 hours, st. dev. 4 hours). Gaming is done for 6 hours and 5 minutes (median 2 hours, st. dev. 9 hours).

More stats for geeks: When they started most knew no-one else using it (average 0,75 acquaintances, st. dev. 1,33 acquaintances). Most recommend it to 4 friends (average 4,89 friends, st. dev. 3,92 friends). At this moment most know one person also eating Complete Foods (average 1,83 friends, st. dev. 2,68 friends). About 18% know 3+ friends who eat it too, and 3% know 10+ friends who are eating Complete Foods.

Dystopia or a New Way of Living

One of the first brands of Complete Food based its name on the dystopian movie Soylent Green. The movie is set in 2022 and because of overcrowding, pollution and global warming (not unlike today), resources are scarce and many people have to live off of a nutritious goop. There won’t be any spoilers about what the goop is made of, but it’s different from what today’s brands offer.

People in the movie don’t seem too pleased with what they get offered. So how are fans of Complete Foods faring here in 2017? They are doing great. About a third of them has lost weight in the last year and almost all have indicated that they feel healthier than before. More and more people are sticking with it.

One possible explanation for their enthusiasm is found by looking at the alternative. Doctors and nutritionists are slow to endorse Complete Food but also won’t touch the typical Western diet with a 10-foot greasy pole. Middle aged men aren’t well known for their brilliant cooking skills (except that other Jamie). And in a world where Coca Cola and McDonald’s are doing $15 billion in sales each year, it’s a tough world to eat healthy in.

Compared to the average American diet (3600 kcal of questionable quality), Complete Foods offer a better alternative. People feel full for hours and many report that snacking and other bad behaviours have vanished. Some even mention that by going less to the supermarket, they are less prone to make impulse, Ben & Jerry’s-like, purchases.

One fear from the medical community was that by drinking (some of) your meals, you wouldn’t feel full and therefore resort to snacking. Or that you would need to chew food to get the full (mouth enzymes and all) experience. Our results do not support those outcomes.

Stats for geeks: 51% have been using Complete Foods for over 1 year. 8% is doing it full-time (up from 2% last year’s survey). Many (57%) are about the same weight, with quite a few losing some (28%) or a lot (6%) of weight. A few people gained some (7%) or a lot (1%) of weight. This is very comparable to last year’s results (55% same, 41% lost, 5% gained weight).

More stats for geeks: The (subjective) experience of health was the same for the majority (54%). About a third (36%) experienced some improvement, and some (9%) a lot. Only 1% deteriorated a bit (0% a lot). There is a 0.27 correlation between health outcomes (positive) and weight change (loss). This does not imply a causation or that it’s caused by Complete Foods.

Even more stats for geeks: We also asked people about energy levels, mood / happiness, sex drive, and farts. They rated this on a 5 point Likert-scale (5 higher/more, 3 same, 1 lower/less). None of these questions produced a significant result (tested against the status quo), not even the fart question.

A Tesla Model 3 in the Driveway

People who use Complete Foods do this for efficiency, nutrition, and a wide variety of personal reasons. But they don’t only do it for themselves. Most care deeply about sustainability and are (maybe without knowing it) making a difference already. Where ‘normally’ about half of food is wasted, here the waste is close to zero. Expiration dates are normally at around a year, ingredients come straight from the field, and there are no left-overs.

Compared to the average population, twice the amount of people are vegetarian (or vegan). And 4 in 10 identify themselves as flexitarian, limiting the amount of meat they eat. For some, a Complete Food has expanded their choice of foods greatly and is a cheaper option than (often costly) other sustainably sourced products in the supermarket.

Stats for geeks: On a 5 point Likert-scale people indicated they cared a lot (4) about sustainability (average 3,85, st. dev. 1). 48% say they eat meat often, 41% sometimes (flexitarian), 6% are vegetarian, and 5% vegan.

Where are They Getting Complete Foods From?

You won’t find many Complete Foods in the supermarket (yet). Most are sold through the websites of the producers. The early adopters are finding their favourite brands online, but many are also eager to find them on Amazon (and the like) or at their local supermarket.

Brands of choice: Based on Complete Food Survey 2017, totals (primary brand).
Not all producers emailed customers, therefore this is only an indication of the number of people who filled in the survey, not how well-known or popular each brand is.

Coming to a Body near You

The world of Complete Foods is growing at a breakneck speed. The ingenuity and science coming from the producers ensure that better products come on the market every few months. The growing number of people who drink it are recruiting their friends and spreading the news. Some might be hesitant because of their love for ‘real’ food or find it strange and weird to drink a nutritious shake.

In this fast life that we’re living Complete Foods is a movement that many are embracing wholeheartedly. It might not be as good as that freshly prepared meal, but it's light-years better than what many are eating today. And it is absolutely more environmentally friendly. So for anyone who is interested in innovation and trying something new, I invite you to give it a try.

Floris, CEO of Queal
Hannes, CEO of Saturo