According to a filing initially reported by the BBC, Highland Europe portfolio company Huel has had an advertisement run on Facebook in August and September 2022 banned due to being misleading.
The paid Facebook ad, seen on 29 August 2022 and 6 September 2022 centered around the cost of living crisis, with the ad copy stating “Huel helps keep money in your pockets. An entire month’s worth of Huel works out at less than £50. Huel isn’t just the healthy option with perfectly balanced protein, carbs, fats and fibres, it’s the smart option too”.
According to the ASA filing, below the above copy, the ad “featured an image of a smoothie in a glass with a backdrop of vegetables and pulses, next to the large text “WANT TO SAVE MONEY ON FOOD?”
Underneath that text, information was provided about the amount of protein, vitamins, minerals and calories in the product, and that it was “vegan”. Further text then stated “34 MEALS FOR £1.51 PER MEAL”. Below the image, text stated “All The Nutrients You Need. 1 Meal” with a link titled “Shop now”.”
Where things get tricky for Huel is in that the watchdog organisation deemed that the company didn’t make it quite clear enough to consumers that the £50 per month claim was based on one meal replacement per day.
As noted by the ASA, "one portion of Huel contained 400 calories, and therefore, in order for consumers to meet the average daily recommended calorie intakes, an adult woman would need to consume five portions per day and an adult male would need to consume slightly over six portions per day.
For women, 150 portions of Huel across an average month of 30 days would cost around £350 (with more portions, at a greater cost, for men). "
In response to the complaint, Huel said it had not been a response to the financial crisis, although they understood that it was a significant consideration to consumers at the time the ad was published, and that they would be taking steps to remove or amend the ads without delay.
This isn’t the first time that Huel has been called out on what some might perceive as misleading advertising. In a March 2022 episode of Steven Bartlett’s The Diary Of A CEO podcast, at approximately 31 minutes in, a sponsored ad for Huel appeared signaled by the sound of the page of a book turning.
At the conclusion of the ad, Bartlett states, “... Let me know what you think on social media. I see all of your tags, tweets and Instagram posts on Huel. Back to the podcast.” and the sound of a book page turning is heard again.
The complaint centres around whether or not the ad was, “obviously identifiable as a marketing communication.”
In this case, Huel responded by saying believed the podcast did not include an ad because they had no editorial control over its content. They confirmed that while there was a financial arrangement in place with Steven Bartlett, the terms were not prescriptive, and any reference to Huel was decided by the Diary of a CEO team rather than Huel.
In addition, they said there was no “affiliate” relationship in place because Steven Bartlett did not receive any direct benefit from any products purchased by a consumer when they clicked on the link, i.e. Huel did not pay Mr. Bartlett a fee for each product which was purchased through the link.
Likewise, Huel argues that the audible turning of a page, Bartlett’s “Quick one” and most prominently, “back to the podcast” and change in tone clearly signposted the endorsement.
In December of 2022, Tech.eu covered Huel’s $24 million Series B round that was led by Highland Europe, with SAG-winning actor, musician, filmmaker, philanthropist, and UN Goodwill Ambassador Idris Elba OBE, his wife Sabrina Dhowre Elba, also a UN Goodwill Ambassador, award-winning TV presenter, Jonathan Ross, and sustainable activewear brand TALA’s CEO, Grace Beverley participating.