A recent advertisement from food supplement giant Huel claiming its meal replacement shakes could be used to save people money on their food shopping bill was misleading, according to the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA).
Although the ASA stopped short of fining the British company for misleading customers, the agency did warn Huel not to run similar advertisements in the future.
The ASA is a self-regulatory organisation that covers all aspects of advertising in the United Kingdom. Its primary purpose is to ensure advertisements run in print media, broadcast media, direct marketing, internet and social media, and sales promotions are fair, not misleading, or do not cause harm or offence to anyone seeing those advertisements. The ASA recently lambasted insurance company DeadHappy for causing widespread offence to viewers of an ad promoting the company’s life insurance cover. DeadHappy used the slogan “Because you never know who your doctor might be” with an image of the disgraced serial killer doctor Harold Shipman.
It does not matter if someone is advertising the best online betting sites, an insurance product, or in Huel’s case, a food supplement; the ASA vets adverts and responds to complaints to keep advertisers in line, an added layer of protection for consumers.
Huel Misled Customers About the Cost of Its Products
Huel’s offending advertisements ran on Facebook and the firm’s website during August and September 2022. One advert claimed “Huel helps keep money in your pockets” and that “An entire month’s worth of Huel works out at less than £50.” Furthermore, there was prominent text asking people, “WANT TO SAVE MONEY ON FOOD?” Although the ASA acknowledged that the advertisement included information showing 34 Huel meals cost the equivalent of £1.15 per meal, the ASA ruled that the ad could be interpreted that people could use Huel for every means of every day for less than £50 per month.
A second advertisement titled “Five Ways to Save Money on Food” also drew criticism from the ASA. The ad told people to embrace processed foods and meal replacements, comparing their cost to fresh food equivalents. The ASA ruled Huel’s advertisements suggested their product could replace all meals and save money on food. However, the ASA delved deeper into the actual cost of Huel and determined its claims were misleading. Each portion of Huel contains approximately 400 calories. In order to meet the average daily recommended calorie intake for an adult woman, women would have to consume five Huel portions per day, and men even more. That would equate to around £350 per month for a woman, seven times more than the £50 per month Huel’s advertisement claimed.
ASA Upholds Complaints
Part of a statement from the ASA reads, “The ads were seen at a time of worsening financial crisis, during which increasing energy and food costs, as well as rising inflation, were having a significant impact on people in the UK. The ASA considered consumers would view the ads in the context of that financial backdrop.
“The ads must not appear in the form complained about. We told Huel Ltd to ensure that their ads did not state or imply that eating Huel for all meals instead of a ‘traditional’ diet was cheaper unless they held adequate substantiation. We also told them to ensure their ads did not imply that three portions of Huel per day contained sufficient calories. We told them not to make general health claims unless a specific authorised health claim accompanied them.”
Huel accepted the ruling and apologised for the misleading advertisements. The company said it did not believe the adverts were misleading and regretted any confusion that may have been perceived by their ads. In addition, Huel said they were taking steps to remove or amend the adverts immediately.
Julian Hearn founded Huel in 2014, with its first product sold in June 2015. James Collier, a registered nutritionist and founder of the bodybuilding website MuscleTalk, formulated the original recipe. By 2016, Huel was selling across Europe in addition to the United Kingdom before expanding into the United States by 2017.
The business saw a 43% increase in revenue for the 12 months that ended July 2021, with revenue weighing in at £102.7 million. Gross profit increased to £64 million, meaning a 62% profit margin. Profit for the year, after taxation, tipped the scales at £85,000 following a £4.17 million loss during the previous reporting period. Huel has net assets of £19.748 million and cash or cash equivalents of more than £10 million.
Several prominent celebrities are known Huel investors. Social media influence and founder of fitness brands Tala and Shreddy, Grace Beverely, and presenter Jonathan Ross have share equity in Huel, as does Hollywood actor Idris Elba, who came on board in December 2022.