Imagine it’s lunchtime and you’re in the middle of an important task. You’re feeling peckish, but you don’t want to step out to grab a bite, so instead you make your way to the office pantry to get a cup of Lembas. You drink it in a minute, and your hunger pangs are satisfied for the next four or so hours. Such is the brand new meal replacement drink that was inspired by the special bread made by the elves in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings books: one bite will satisfy a man for an entire day.
Of course, we’re not discounting the value of warm and hearty food, but think of how much you can accomplish in your daily lunch hour if you only need five minutes to eat – at least, that is the idea that Alvin Chong, the founder of Lembas, is trying to promote.
Hi Alvin, tell us, what is the primary purpose of Lembas and who is it for?
The biggest time drain in daily life is commuting, and the next is the process of obtaining food. Travelling to a restaurant, queuing, eating – or grocery shopping, cooking, and cleaning up after take up enormous amounts of time that could be otherwise used productively. Lembas makes functional food that saves you time for when you don’t have time or don’t feel like eating. Our first product is a powder mixed with water to create a full meal in one drink, allowing you to prepare and finish a meal in less than 5 minutes.
Lembas is for people who love life and all it has to offer; for people who have great experiences and want to share them with others; people who believe that there is no nobler purpose than making an impact and helping others; who value efficiency, are their own person and spend every day living with passion.
When did you know you wanted to create such a product?
I like eating, as does everyone, but I abhor having to eat when I didn’t feel like it. In 2014, I read about Soylent, a similar product concept from the United States of America, that seemed like the answer to the pain of obtaining food. The creator of Soylent was a techie that believed in making knowledge open source, so he put the recipe online that anyone might be able to make their own Soylent at home.
After tinkering at home to make my own recipe and exploring manufacturing possibilities and market demand, I decided to make it a business. Subsequently, I realised that it was an opportunity to be much more than a business; I had a message and could spread the message to try and change the world for the better.
How long did the R&D process take?
The initial idea to final formulation took approximately two and a half years, and it started off very painfully. I modified Soylent’s recipe with locally available ingredients and set out to fulfill the nutritional requirements; but having no background in nutrition, it was like having to juggle 20 balls as all the values would change if you adjusted just one ingredient. I enlisted the help of one of my polytechnic friends who became a nutritionist. She formulated the base recipe, which was refined by a food technologist, and subsequently perfected by the R&D teams of factories I work with.
What’s in a typical package of Lembas?
Lembas does what it says on the tin – it’s a full, balanced meal that contains all the macro and micronutrients that the human body needs to thrive, to the best of our knowledge. It’s made up of real food – oat, soy, and coconut powder provides the carbohydrates, protein, and fats, and a custom mix of vitamins and minerals to ensure there’s no nutritional deficiency.
How often do you consume Lembas? Surely not every day?
Lembas is meant to replace your most inconvenient meal of the day, the one where you eat just for nutrition rather than pleasure or socialising. I call that your obligatory meal. I drink Lembas for breakfast every day and eat normally the rest of the day, unless it’s late at night when everything’s closed and the only options are convenience stores, instant noodles or roti prata. The convenience of being able to prepare and finish a full meal in 5 minutes is something that has to be experienced to be fully appreciated.
One of the joys in life is eating food. Warm, wholesome, food. Are you concerned that people won’t take towards your product?
I see that you love eating! I’m quite fortunate in that Soylent has mitigated a lot of the risk by being the frontrunner in the industry – they are 4 years old but just closed their Series B led by Google Ventures, giving them a total of US$74 million in funding. There’re also dozens of other similar brands all over the world, and seem to be doing well in their respective countries. That’s the business side.
I’m playing with fire by telling people they shouldn’t eat in a foodie country like Singapore, but no one devotes themselves 100% to every single meal. Lembas provides immense value in convenience, money and good nutrition to potentially every single person. I know we’re hurtling towards a future where artificial intelligence and robotics will greatly alleviate the need for work and labour, and humankind will reach a golden age where we can devote ourselves to the betterment of each other. I hope Lembas will be a big part of that future, where being free enables everyone to pursue their passions and feel fulfillment from a higher purpose.
What’s the best description of how Lembas tastes?
It’s odd – almost everyone who’s tasted Lembas says it reminds them of something from the past. The primary tastes are coconut and vanilla, with some notes of soy and oats. The majority opinion is that it tastes almost exactly like kueh bangkit, or the white Chinese New Year cookie in the shape of a star. So if you fancy those, you’ll love Lembas.
Will there be different flavours coming up?
The idea of Lembas of a functional food is to appeal to as many people as possible, at the lowest cost possible. The main flavour right now is vanilla, and we’ll definitely come out with a couple of more flavours, but I think it’s best to have a few great and dependable flavours than trying to create a massive range. People definitely won’t be going on a Lembas-only diet any time soon!
What do you think is the future of functional food?
I think we’re definitely more open to new ideas and changes to lifestyle now than we were 10 or even five years ago. It’s no question we’re playing catch-up in tech to the rest of the modern world, and we can definitely reach the same level of acceptance as USA and Europe where even the heartlands are drinking Soylent, but we need to catch up fast. We’ll have Lembas in ready-to-drink form where you can hop into the nearest convenience store and chug a Lembas and be out and full in five minutes.
But the ultimate goal is where anywhere there’s clean water there’ll be Lembas, so no one need ever go hungry again. A third of the world are starving, and a third of the world are obese. It’s inhumane that even in this age of modern technology, we refuse to make sure all of humanity is adequately fed and watered. If I can go to sleep knowing I helped put a dent in world hunger, then that’ll be a sweet rest indeed.
Alright, any final words to share about Lembas?
I dream that Lembas and functional food signals the beginning of humanity’s golden age; where hunger and thirst are unheard of, AI and robotics have alleviated the need to work so humankind work for fulfillment and spend their time pursuing their passions. Food waste is vastly reduced, and the negative impact on the environment is reduced and contained since we no longer overfarm. Change can start with us, and if you believe what I believe, then I invite you to stand with me.
Find out more about Lembas here.