Meal replacement startup Huel — which makes snacks and shakes for people too busy to throw together a sandwich — is today announcing a new Series B funding round of $24m. It values the eight-year-old startup at $560m.
Idris Elba — the actor who’s officially not the next James Bond (probably) — and his wife Sabrina invested in the company, alongside UK comedian and TV presenter Jonathan Ross and activewear brand TALA’s CEO Grace Beverley. Some conventional investors are also involved, including growth equity investor Highland Europe, which also led Huel’s previous funding round of £20m in 2018.
Huel, a portmanteau of "human fuel", was founded by Julian Hearn, the former founder of marketing company Mash Up Media which exited in 2011. It wasn’t the first meal replacement startup around — the US’s Soylent got there first — nor was it the last.
From ecommerce to off the shelf
Food replacement powder, shakes and bars are nowadays a common sight in workplace kitchens. Alongside Huel and Soylent, there’s also Felix Capital-backed yFood, based in Munich, and Alven-backed Feed, based in Paris.
And whether you like the trend or not, it's taking off. According to Huel, it’s especially popular among health-conscious millennials who don’t mind meals that come with what some describe as “gritty texture, weaker flavours and fart issues".
Huel says it’s seen annual revenue grow 40% this year, reaching $170m. Its biggest market is still the UK, but when this Sifted reporter mentions she’s Swedish, CEO James McMaster says that’s where Huel has the highest penetration (number of customers in comparison to the size of the country).
Having started off as an ecommerce business, Huel is now selling its product in brick-and-mortar supermarkets as well. The plan for the future is to ramp that channel up, as well as develop new products.
Huel makes plant-based, low-carbon drinks, powders and protein bars. Its branding is designed to appeal to those aiming to lose weight or beef up their muscles, and also those who care about tackling issues like climate change and sustainable farming.
This is where Idris and Sabrina Elba come in. The thespian couple is partnering with Huel on a climate change initiative aligned with a diet that limits global warming to 1.5C.
“I’ve been a Hueligan for several years now, starting my journey while preparing for my role in Thor, so to come on board with Huel was an easy decision,” Idris said in a statement.
Postponed plans for IPO
A year ago Huel asked Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan to advise on a listing on the London Stock Exchange, according to the FT.
Then the 2022 market crunch happened and any plans for IPOs are now more or less history for most startups.
McMaster doesn’t comment on the plans for an IPO but says that right now it's intending to stay private and that Huel is happy with the great investors that it has.