Julian Hearn, founder of Huel, is a pragmatist. His first health company – a platform that tested every diet to help users choose the right one – was noble but too complicated to survive. So, he followed it with the simplest idea he could think of: powdered food. He called it Huel: just add water and the resulting “human fuel” has what Hearn calls the optimal balance of carbs, fats, protein and micronutrients. Today, Huel has sold 100 million “meals”. But is eating for pleasure really the enemy of good health?
Isn’t replacing food with liquids bad for digestion?
Huel isn’t a liquid. It’s solid food ground down to remove the water. When you do that, you also remove the bacteria, so it has a long shelf life. We have pea, brown rice, flaxseed and oats, mixed with a vitamin-nutrient blend and natural flavourings. So, you add water to consume it, but it’s not a liquid. A vital part of the digestive process is releasing enzymes that help to break down the food in your digestive system. Huel has to be broken down – all we’re doing is getting to that part quicker. We also make bars and granola, for people who want something to chew.
Aren’t you eliminating the joy of eating and cooking?
We focus solely on nutrition, so some people have said that, yes. But we think that the pursuit of pleasure can be a negative: people can develop addictions to things that give them pleasure, but aren’t good for them. Pleasure is a short-term thing, but happiness is a long-term goal. That’s what we prefer to focus on. A healthy mind and a healthy body can lead to that kind of long-term happiness.
But what about the pleasure of eating a meal with other people?
There’s a balancing act. If we say most people have 21 meals a week, how many of those actually fit that mould? Maybe a Sunday lunch, and evening meals. Instead of replacing those, Huel is therefore your most inconvenient meals. By using Huel, you might free up the time to cook for friends and family. I have Huel for breakfast and lunch in the working week, then sit down for a family meal in the evening. I often don’t use Huel at all on the weekends.
That could also mean freeing up the headspace we use for planning and prepping meals.
People have a lot of anxiety about whether or not they’re eating the right food. One week, you can read about protein-heavy diets being good; the next week, the story might be that too much protein is bad for you. First and foremost, Huel is a foodstuff optimised for nutritional benefits. I come to work in the same outfit everyday – it simplifies things. Huel does the same for your meals.
Fair point. Many of use at the same things for breakfast and lunch anyway, sticking to a few convenient options.
Yes, and a lot of those foods are optimised for taste, not nutrition. Nutrition should be the primary purpose of food, not texture and taste.
Huel’s main flavours are vanilla and chocolate. Are those “ice cream” flavours meant to appeal to our childish food desires?
Not really, they’re just the most popular. We’re a direct-to-consumer business, so we get a lot of feedback. We’ve had everything from, “This makes me feel like a kid again,” to, “This has radically changed my life and I feel so much better.” Mind and body are deeply connected. If one suffers, so does the other. If you’re eating a lot of the wrong things and have a bad diet, you can feel, well... shitty.
What do you see in the next five years for Huel?
We have several new products in the pipeline. Following some feedback, we recently launched a Black Edition powder, with half the level of carb and more protein. And we’re not afraid of the competition. We’ve sold millions of meals, but we’ve still reached less than 1% of the population in Europe, America and Japan. So, we see absolutely massive potential.
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