Huel Is Targeting Cash-Strapped Students With Ads to Help Them ‘Afford to Eat’

The brand recently had similar ads banned by the ASA.

by Moya Lothian-McLean

28 March 2023

Huel adverts on TikTok
Huel adverts on TikTok

Huel is still running TikTok adverts aimed at university students that claim its products allow them to “afford to eat”, a month after similar adverts were banned by the Advertising Standards Authority.

Activists slammed Huel for trying to “profit from the mass suffering of desperate students”.

The sponsored advert, seen by Novara Media, promotes vegan convenience product “Huel Hot & Savoury” – a mixture of freeze-dried foods and grains – under the title “How I can afford to eat as a University student”.

In the 20 second clip, a young man is seen preparing a Huel shake while a voiceover repeats the title and claims that: “Huel Hot and Savoury is quick, easy and affordable. I can make delicious meals with all the nutrients that I need”.

Viewers are also told that the shakes “only cost £2.66 […] honestly, being a uni student, it’s the most perfect thing”.

Text running along the bottom of the video calls Huel, “The ultimate student hack”.

Last year, the company – valued at over £200 million – celebrated a multi-million pound fundraising drive, attracting celebrity investors such as Idris Elba, Jonathan Ross and influencer turned activewear mogul, Grace Beverly.

Meanwhile, 2022 analysis found over 300,000 UK students were likely to be in “financial peril”, thanks to the cost of living crisis. In 2022 an NUS survey found that a third of students are living on £50 a month after paying rent and bills, while some students are turning to food banks,

The claims the advert makes are strikingly similar to ones that were found to have breached UK advertising regulations just last month.

In February, the ASA ruled that two Huel adverts had flouted rules by implying consumers could save money in the cost of living crisis by drinking their meal replacement shakes.

The organisation upheld two separate complaints against the company, deciding that Huel had broken rules around misleading advertising and “social responsibility”.

One of the now-banned ads, which ran on Facebook, claimed that “an entire month’s worth of Huel helps keep money in your pockets […] Huel isn’t just the healthy option with perfectly balanced protein, carbs, fats and fibres, it’s the smart option too”.

The second featured on Huel’s website, under the headline “FIVE WAYS TO SAVE MONEY ON FOOD”. The top suggestion was, “Embrace Processed Food and Meal Replacements”.

Defending their case to the ASA, Huel argued that their products saved money in comparison to “other expensive convenience food”. However, the agency concluded that the offending ads didn’t make it clear and instead implied savings when held up against “traditional” meals – which wasn’t accurate.

The ASA also judged the ads had contravened regulations thanks to their claims about Huel’s nutritional benefits. Such assertions are only acceptable if “accompanied by a specific authorised health claim”, which Huel failed to provide.

After the ruling, Huel were instructed to ensure their ads did not “state or imply” – whether directly, or through omission – that eating Huel instead of a “traditional” diet of three meals a day was a cheaper option, or that three portions of Huel a day contained sufficient calories for an adult diet.

The brand was also instructed not to make general health claims unless they were accompanied by specific, authorised ones.

In a comment to Novara Media, the ASA said they were “unclear” whether the latest ad would “definitively” breach the directives previously given to Huel but couldn’t make a formal judgement without going through their official process.

“We judge each case on its merits and given the distinct differences between the ads we would encourage anyone with concerns about this TikTok post to get in touch so we can assess the matter further,” the statement concluded.

Rule-breaking or not, student groups condemned the angle used in the promotion.

“It is absolutely disgusting to see companies trying to profit off student poverty during a cost of living crisis,” a representative from the University of Manchester Rent Strike campaign told Novara Media.

“Students are badly affected, receiving no support from the government. It is horrific to see that Huel is trying to profit from the mass suffering of desperate students. Students need affordable food and housing, not food replacements with dubious health effects.”

Novara Media has reached out to both Huel for comment but had received no reply at the time of publication.

Moya Lothian-McLean is a contributing editor at Novara Media.


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