How Did a Startup Making “Nutritionally Complete” Powdered Food Take Over The World?

The powdered food market has a new king, and its name is Huel. Founded just four years ago, the startup has become one of the fastest growing food companies in the UK. Not content to sit idly back and rest on its laurels, world domination is very much on its agenda, and the brand has recently expanded into several overseas territories with great success.

Huel—a portmanteau of “human fuel”—only started shipping its “nutritionally complete” powdered food product in June 2015, but has since shifted over 17 million meals worldwide, making revenues of £14 million a year. From a partnership with Amazon to celebrity endorsements from figures like One Direction’s Niall Horan and professional skateboarder Matthew Pritchard, Huel have well and truly thrust themselves into the limelight.

Huel products

But just how did the powdered food company go from their humble beginnings in Aylesbury to a venture on the brink of world domination?

Convenience, sustainability and customer engagement have set Huel apart

Huel was founded by entrepreneur Julian Hearn, after receiving a windfall from selling his previous company, a discount codes website. Hearn was determined to capitalise on the popular market of protein shakes and create a product that was just as convenient, but more nutritionally-minded and, ultimately, more healthy.

After deciding to launch Huel, Hearn enlisted sports nutritionist James Collier to formulate its original recipe, designing a “nutritionally complete” powdered food product. The Huel powder has since gone through a number of different iterations, and is currently available as vanilla or “unflavoured and unsweetened”. However, in recent months, they have begun to sell a variety of Flavour Boosts, including strawberry, chocolate and pineapple & coconut.

Julian Hearn - Huel Founder
Julian Hearn, Founder of Huel

Through the product’s mixture of oats, rice, pea protein and a micronutrient blend, Huel contains all of the 26 essential vitamins and minerals that you need​ from a meal. This is the product’s unique selling point and the primary reason for its stunning success. All Huel users have to do is mix the powder with water, and voila: they have a nutritionally complete meal that completely negates the need to cook. This is perfect for those on the go, and as Hearn himself explained to Wired earlier this year: “It’s not about replacing your lovely meals with your family. It’s when you end up spending eight quid on a Pret panini and coffee purely out of necessity.”

As well as creating a food product that was convenient and healthy, Hearn was also intent on making Huel environmentally-friendly and vegan, recognising that the impact of intensive farming for meat production as “inefficient and inhumane”. Hearn recently told The Telegraph that: “Most of us want to cut down on our meat consumption, so we knew making our food environmentally friendly was the right path to go down.”

As well as being vegan, Huel’s long shelf life and minimal packaging also contributes towards the brand’s impressive sustainable credentials. The long shelf life is down to the drying of the powder, as this removes all of the water from it so no bacteria can survive and thrive, meaning Huel will not go off. The powder is also contained in a fit for purpose pouch weighing only 34g, so there is very little waste created from its packaging. These forward-thinking moves are another reason for the company’s ongoing success.

Huel has also endeared itself to the public through its efforts to engage with customers, so much so that they have a legion of dedicated followers named Huelers. The brand make sure to keep up with the Huelers via their forum, with Hearn and other Huel members answering any questions and queries customers may have. Huel are also extremely active on Instagram, using the platform to engage with their nearly 40,000 followers. For instance, the company run a weekly competition to see who can post most creative picture of themselves with their products, with free Huel as a prize. They also regularly post pictures offering advice on the different ways you can consume their products.

Huel ad
photo credit: Huel Facebook page

The sky’s the limit as the brand’s stock continues to rise

Huel may be experiencing incredible success at the moment, the company is always looking to evolve their range of products. Since launching their original powdered product they have branched out into producing nutritionally complete granola and snack bars, as well as Huel Professional, a powder that has been batch-tested and screened by Informed-Sport for banned substances. Ideas for further offerings are perpetually in the pipeline, and Hearn has previously talked about launching savoury flavoured Huel foods, a ready-to-drink bottled product and an orange flavoured Huel bar.

The company is always seeking to expand its influence overseas, and launched into three new territories in 2017: the United States, Sweden and France. In order to facilitate his lofty ambitions, Hearn recently appointed former Gü and Ella’s Kitchen executive James McMaster as the company’s CEO, a role that Hearn was previously undertaking himself. The appointment was made with Huel’s global ambitions in mind, with McMaster stating that: “Huel has a huge opportunity to grow and lead the complete food category space, so I am looking forward to working with the team and contribute to the continued expansion of the company.”

Through its convenient, healthy and sustainable product, as well as by ensuring they forge a close connection with their customers, Huel have become one of the most innovative and prosperous food companies on these shores. With the company targeting various other countries across the globe, and more products in the pipeline, don’t expect the Huel train to halt any time soon.