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Huel takes a holistic approach to addressing evolving nutritional needs [Interview]

Article-Huel takes a holistic approach to addressing evolving nutritional needs [Interview]

© Vitafoods Insights Huel takes a holistic approach to addressing evolving nutritional needs [Interview]
Consumers want nutritional products that are ethical and have a minimal environmental impact – but they also expect convenience and taste. At the Vitafoods Europe Future of Nutrition Summit, James Collier from Huel will examine how companies in the fast-changing innovation space can meet these demands.

Huel is a leading innovator in the no-prep meal space, delivering products including powders, protein shakes and bars designed to meet the complete nutritional needs of consumers. The company’s products are made from ingredients such as oats, rice protein, pea protein, and flaxseed.

We have a really good R&D department,” says James Collier, co-founder and nutritionist at Huel. “This covers several different disciplines, including the technical team, NPD team and procurement team buying the ingredients, to a small blue-sky team looking at innovation. We try to keep ahead of the science in terms of continually improving the quality, texture, and flavour of our products.

Collier also highlights exciting new ingredient innovations such as the cellular agriculture space, and notes the importance of keeping on top of such developments. “The challenge here is cost,” he says. “We want to support the amazing stuff that is going on, but of course we still need to be price competitive.

Huel aims to use ‘wholesome, nutritious’ ingredients

The Huel concept originated from founder Julian Hearn, who, after a series of successful ventures, wanted to create something that had a positive impact on the world. “At the time, Julian was experimenting with diet plans,” explains Collier. “He was finding the food prep side of things a pain except for one thing – protein shakes. This gave him the inspiration to try to put all nutrient needs in one shake.

Collier came on board as the nutritionist and, for one year, worked on developing the original recipe. “I’m sometimes slightly uncomfortable with being seen as being in the tech space,” he says. “We are primarily about delivering wholesome, nutritious food. Our ingredients are either ground oats or flax seed, or extracted from whole foods, with naturally occurring or added vitamins.

Food trends come and go; the fundamentals of optimal nutrition remain

Since its launch in 2015, the company has grown quickly, overcoming the usual startup headaches and successfully securing seed funding. “We are still a relatively small company, with about 280 employees, or ‘Hueligans’ as we call them,” says Collier. “As technology advances, and as consumer preferences change, the key thing is just to stay ahead.

Another important thing for companies in this innovation space to remember, says Collier, is the importance of prioritising good nutrition. Food trends come and go, but the fundamentals of delivering optimal nutrition remain.

Food should be food, and we always want to make sure that we are providing optimal products for optimal health,” he says. “A paper was recently published in Frontiers of Nutrition in 2022, which looked at key blood markers in subjects who consumed only Huel for four weeks. In addition, an independent research team is looking at the satiety effects of Huel products. And we are addressing some of the concerns about ultra-processed foods.

Viewing food in a realistic way

At the Vitafoods Europe Future of Nutrition Summit, Collier plans to encourage a different view of food. “People shouldn’t be looking at food from a utopian perspective, but rather addressing all issues simultaneously in a realistic way,” he says. “This means looking after their physical health, their performance if they are exercising, mental health issues and sustainable nutrition.

Other key issues include animal ethics and human rights. Huel is working with Tony’s Chocolonely open supply chain, which aims to end modern slavery and the use of child labour in the cocoa industry.

This is a form of innovation that shows want can be done to improve the conditions of others,” says Collier. “At the Future of Nutrition Summit, I’ll also be addressing the way that nutrition is communicated to the public, because there is a lot of misinformation out there. It can be hard for people to discern what is useful and what is not.