Sold online through the company’s website and on Amazon, Huel is a nutritionally complete meal replacement powder containing a blend of oats, pea protein, flaxseed, brown rice protein, MCTs from coconut, sunflower lecithin, and a custom blend of 27 vitamins and minerals.
One serving contains 500 calories and costs roughly $2.35. Earlier this year, the company launched its 'flavor boosts' products in the US for consumers to customize their shake, available in five varieties (strawberry, banana, chocolate, cappuccino, and chocolate mint).
McMaster joined Huel as CEO in September 2017.
"People really care about the fact that Huel is a socially responsible brand and we have a very clear mission about making nutritionally complete food that’s affordable. People really get that."
The company first launched in the UK and now has offices in Germany and the US. Across these three markets, Huel has tapped into a consumer base looking for a nutritionally complete meal replacement option who is also conscious about the environment, CEO James McMaster told FoodNavigator-USA.
“We appeal globally to pretty much the same type of person, and that’s somebody that really cares about their health, they value their time, and they are conscious of price and their impact on the environment,” McMaster said.
One particular difference the company has observed through consumer research conducted within the past few months, is that American Huel users tend to use the product for weight loss and management.
Which isn’t that surprising given than 69% of adults in the US are considered overweight or obese, according to the CDC.
The brand’s goal of making nutritionally superior, convenient, and affordable food, with minimal impact on the environment stems from the issue of food waste in the US where 30% to 40% of the food supply is thrown away (USDA 2015 data).
But how exactly can a meal replacement product help the environment, particularly in minimizing food waste?
According to McMaster, consuming a product like Huel multiple times a week helps cut down on the amount of food and packaging waste because consumers prepare the meal replacement drink in a pre-measured shaker bottle meaning, in theory, they only consume as much Huel as they need.
In addition, if you were to consume Huel shakes for half of your meals during the week for an entire year, the amount of packaging waste generated during that time period would weigh less than 4.5 lbs, McMaster added.
Expiration dates, which are the source of much food waste, are less of an issue since Huel has a shelf life of up to one year.
The company’s production methods also “strive for absolute zero waste” making sure as much of the ingredients make it into the finished product as possible.
“Powdered food is particularly efficient in that way,” McMaster said.
Emergence of ‘complete food’
The brand can’t help but avoid associations with common protein shakes that are consumed from the same type of shaker.
“The link to protein shakes is probably mixed blessings," McMaster said. "I think in a positive way people are used to consuming some type of powder mixed with liquid and then shaking it up and drinking it.”
The benefit is that Huel has less leg work to do in helping the consumer understand what to do with the product (i.e. shaking it up and drinking it), but on the flip-side, Huel has to work a bit harder to explain that they are not a protein shake but a nutritionally complete meal replacement.
“It’s a very distinctive brand with this huge oversized logo with reference to nutritionally-complete food, which most people haven’t heard of yet as a phrase. We believe, over time, people will refer to 'complete food' as a category,” McMaster added.
Unlike some of the ubiquitous jumbo-sized multi-serve tubs with macho lettering and branding, Huel is simplistic, clean, and crisp.
“When you look at it, you feel there’s nothing to hide with the clean space around it. It also helps that we have a short brand name.”
Its branding combined with a direct-to-consumer model allows the company to form a personal connection with the consumer, according to McMaster.
“Being in a direct-to-consumer model is a much more powerful setup for consumers to ‘check us out’,” he said.
The brand is very active on social media and online forums, for example, where it continues to build a community around the topic of nutritionally complete food.
“It’s this very tribal brand where people want to be associated with it and we’re more than food, we’re a force for good.”