In each edition of Business Leader Magazine, we profile a UK business experiencing exponential growth in a feature called BLM Fast-Track. For the September edition, we investigated the rise of ‘complete food brand’, Huel.
Huel was launched by entrepreneur Julian Hearn and nutritionist James Collier in 2015, and immediately turned the industry upside down, becoming a leading brand in the meal supplement drinks category.
James McMaster, CEO of Huel, talks more about the business: “Huel is described as ‘the future of food’. Our mission is to make nutritionally complete, convenient, affordable food with minimal impact on animals and the environment. Being nutritionally complete means each product contains the recommended balance of protein, carbohydrates, fibre and fats, plus all 26 essential vitamins and minerals.
“This year, we reached a milestone selling over 100 million meals since launch, distributing to customers in 100 countries, making Huel the world’s best-selling complete food brand. Huel also topped the Alantra Food & Beverage Fast 50 list, making Huel the fastest growing food and drink brand in the UK.”
Alantra is a global investment banking, asset management, and portfolio advisory firm, and their statistics revealed that in the last financial year, Huel’s sales soared to £39.8m – a 161.2% increase when compared to two years ago.
Huel’s range of powder-form, ready-to-drink meals and bars have been a hit amongst its loyal fanbase and become synonymous with the modern health-conscious consumer.
McMaster continues: “Huel has been established as the global leader within the category, changing the way people consume food that is better for themselves and for the planet.
“Our run-rate revenue is around $100m (c.£76m), so it’s been a crazy journey for a brand that has just turned five years old.”
A large percentage of the company’s growth in recent years has been down to its expansion abroad. However, there have been other benefits to expanding overseas.
McMaster said: “Huel expanded internationally quite early on. Often that is a higher risk move for traditional retail businesses selling in stores. By being direct to consumer led, we can set ourselves up to sell in 100 markets and that has helped us scale quicker. We also learn from being more international. For example, the customer service expectations are ridiculously high in Japan and we’ve upped our overall bar in other markets because of being exposed to that.”
Why is Huel so popular?
Over the last decade, the health and supplement drinks category has changed beyond recognition. Today’s consumer is more conscious with what they are putting in their body, and where the ingredients come from.
There has also been a marked increase in the rise of movements such as veganism and plant-based alternatives. With more people also attending gyms and participating in sporting activities – Huel is at the crossroads of these two.
McMaster comments: “What our customers want from Huel is healthy and convenient food. A lot of convenience food is low in nutritional value. Nutritious food which you may cook at home is not convenient and can be costly. Huel is quick to make and easy to consume. It’s got all the nutrients you need and costs only £1.22 per meal, providing access to affordable nutrition and good value for money.
“Our flagship product is Huel powder. Each pouch contains approximately 17 nutritionally complete meals – you could look at this as your breakfast and lunch for nearly two weeks, therefore with very minimal packaging and its 12-month shelf life ensures no food waste.
“Huel powder is 100% vegan, made from plant-based sustainable ingredients including oats, pea, rice, flaxseed, coconut, and sunflower, which further supports our mission to make food with minimal environmental impact. We have developed our range further, offering Huel in ready-to-drink and an on-the-go bar for a nutritionally complete snack.”
How to be a ‘Hueligan’
Due to its ever-increasing and loyal fanbase, the Huel founders say the business has risen above the competition by having a relentless pursuit for customer satisfaction. So much so, that the company has a name for its users.
McMaster comments: “We have a list of ‘How to be a Hueligan’ phrases to guide ourselves as a team. A top one is ‘make customers happy’. I think if you are relentless about that, you’ll push yourselves hard to give the best possible experience and be the brand that people want.”
Due to being a disruptor and then the market leader of the industry, Huel has concentrated on developing their products, rather than looking at what their competitors are offering.
McMaster continues: “We don’t look at what competitors do very often. Being a predominantly direct-to-consumer business means we are led by what they tell us. There is quite a special relationship we have on our forum, our social channels and on the phone. A lot of what we do is driven by this feedback and I think that is key to why Huel has grown at such a pace.”
Shaking up the future of food
In just five years, Huel has established itself globally, but what does the future hold for the company, and what trends will they be looking to service?
McMaster explains: “Consumers are becoming increasingly conscious about the environmental impact their food choices are having, not only on their health but on the planet. People are more aware about traceability of food products, how they’re produced and what impact this is having on the environment.
“The way we are eating is putting a massive strain on the environment, and consumers are realising that the way forward is to make more sustainable food choices, such as increasing plant-based food in their diet. This doesn’t necessarily mean removing animal products completely, rather encouraging more people to make more conscious and ethical food choices. Recent sources show that by switching just one meal a day to plant-based, you can cut your food-related carbon emissions by up to 35%, or two meals to reduce it to almost 50%.”
Huel also recently raised £20m in funding from private equity investor Highland Europe to accelerate its growth plans for the next few years.