Neil Gaiman explains CHOW (MEAL's predecessor) as:
CHOW contained spun, plaited, and woven protein molecules, capped and coded, carefully designed to be ignored by even the most ravenous digestive tract enzymes; no-cal sweeteners; mineral oils replacing vegetable oils; fibrous materials, colorings, and flavorings. The end result was a foodstuff almost indistinguishable from any other except for two things. Firstly, the price, which was slightly higher, and secondly, the nutritional content, which was roughly equivalent to that of a Sony Walkman.
As for MEALS, he says:
MEALS was CHOW with added sugar and fat. The theory was that if you ate enough MEALS you would a) get very fat, and b) die of malnutrition.
Now, I can understand someone buying CHOW because they could eat lots and lots and still not get fat (Gaiman calls it the "ultimate diet food"). But why would they buy MEALS when it provides neither nutrition, nor reduces weight?