A meal-plan company that aims to "revolutionize" dining has gone viral on social media, with many teasing the brand for its futuristic-looking, square-shaped food options.
The Miami-based company, SquarEat, uses processes like "low-temperature cooking" and "thermal shocking" to turn foods like chicken, beef, broccoli, rice and more into precooked, 50-gram square patties. The small squares are designed to be consumed in either four or six-piece meals. Four-piece "Meal-Boxes" — from "Sweet Break" (chocolate pancakes) to "Mediterranean" (seabass, asparagus, zucchini) — range in price from $5.50 to $7.99.
Once delivered, the squares stay fresh for two weeks or more, and can be eaten cold or prepared in a variety of ways, including sautéed in oil, air-fried or warmed in the microwave.
"There's so many ways you can eat it … They have everything," Maria Laura Vacaflores, SquarEat's chief marketing officer, told TODAY Food. She also noted that the long shelf life of the squares reduces food waste. "They have all the spices, salt, pepper, you really don't need to do anything."
Vacaflores said there are several reasons for the square shape, including convenient packaging and easy preparation.
"Thanks to the square shape, we are able to run mass production using gourmet techniques … Allowing us to produce a superior-quality food and sell it at an affordable price," she said. "We are not the first food concept that adopted the square shape, if you, for example, think about tofu. The only thing we are asking people to leave behind is their original idea about the external appearance of the food."
On social media, many compared the products to science fiction movies, including references to the dystopian movie "Soylent Green" and the futuristic thriller "Snowpiercer."
Some social media users also criticized the nutrition of the meal plan. While the nutritional value and caloric information varies from square to square, Vacaflores said that the chicken square, their most popular option, is about 68 calories per square and includes 11 grams of protein.
Vacaflores said she believes many were misunderstanding the concept of SquarEat.
"People are like, 'Oh, one square is one meal,' and no," said Vacaflores, who said that the meals will offer a mix of protein, carbohydrate and vegetable-based squares in packs of either four or six, as well as breakfast options. " … People say they're so tiny but you're going to be full after eating it."
Eating three chicken squares, as the regular meal provides, would be 204 calories with 33 grams of protein, and eating two squares, as the smaller meal provides, would be 136 calories with 22 grams of protein.
Vacaflores also emphasized that the products use real ingredients.
"There's no substitute at all. … For example, the chicken is just chicken breast, black pepper, lemon and rosemary," she explained. "It has nothing weird, no additives. I know a lot of people think this is a meal replacement, but it's not, it's just chicken. People try it and say, 'Wow, it tastes just like chicken,' and yes, because it is chicken. There's nothing else."
While many people joked about the product, there were those who showed enthusiasm for it.
On WeFunder, a site that allows individuals to invest in startups, the company has raised over $150,000, with a final goal of $700,000.
Vacaflores said she was hurt by the negative response on social media.
"We know not everyone is going to love us, we're going to have haters, but a lot of people don't understand the concept and they judge you before even trying it," she said. "Once you try it, if you say you don't like it, I respect that, because you're trying it, but people think because of the shape or the look that it's something not normal. I don't know why they keep comparing it to 'Soylent Green.' It's a crazy thing."
While SquarEat has already made a splash online, Vacaflores said that the products are not actually for sale yet. The Miami-based company will start delivering locally within the next few weeks, and later expand to nationwide delivery. She said all the social media buzz has increased the company's visibility.
"Yesterday we had 20,000 visits on the website. 500 people tried to subscribe, and we're not even open yet," said Vacaflores. "It was very, very crazy. We've received more than 100 emails from influencers and investors who want to do a tasting or invest. It was really, really crazy yesterday, in a good way … Everyone wants a little piece."