Its called Huel, a human fuel designed to replace natures version in a hi-tech, fuss-free, nutritionally balanced powder form. We tried it out
I have a friend around for lunch when I mix my first batch of Huel. I have laid out gzleme Turkish flatbreads stuffed with spinach and feta made fresh, minutes earlier at my local Turkish bakery, and prepared a Greek salad, bursting with tomatoes, cucumbers and parsley. Then I mix the Huel: one part powder (sorry, nutritionally complete powdered food) to five parts water. I put it into the beaker theyve provided, shake it until its mixed and then serve it in a glass.
Whats that? says the friend. That, I say, is the future of food. She sips it and makes a face. Is it supposed to taste like that? Its a good question. It claims to be vanilla flavour but its like no vanilla Ive ever tasted cloying, artificial, incredibly sweet. The texture is of a thin suspension of powdered grit in water. And then theres the aftertaste, which manages to be both sweet and bitter and lingers unpleasantly on the roof of the mouth for several minutes.
What do you think? It reminds me of the medicine I had as a child for bottom worms, she says.
Its fair to say that Im not the target market for Huel. You can perhaps divide the world into two groups of people: those who drink protein shakes for breakfast and those who dont. And I am pretty firmly in the latter. But Huel, a contraction of human fuel, is the latest in a long line of products that are tapping into the idea that food is old fashioned, inconvenient and boring, and theres a more hi-tech, whizz-bang way of delivering the same nutrients more efficiently.
The best known of these is Soylent, an American product launched in 2013, the brainchild of a 27-year-old American techie, Rob Rhinehart. He wrote a blogpost entitled How I Stopped Eating Food and kicked off what has become a multimillion-pound business.
Rhineharts idea was to strip food back to its basics. I hypothesised that the body doesnt need food itself, merely the chemicals and elements it contains, he wrote. And then he began to experiment. He bought jars of protein powders and vitamins and mixed his own nutritional brew. The result, he claimed, was that he became healthier and more energised while saving both time and money.
It was a nerdy, science-based, experimental approach to food and nutrition that found a natural home among west coast techies and its now a darling of the Silicon Valley startup scene and valued at more than $100m. According to the leading venture capitalist firm Andreessen Horowitz, which invested in Soylent, its a technology that is disrupting food; a hi-tech solution to the age-old problem: what to have for dinner.
And now theres Huel, a British version, launched last year, which claims to take a more natural approach, though the co-founder, Julian Hearn, tells me he had the idea long before Soylent burst on to the scene.
We started developing it back in 2012, which was long before Id even heard about Soylent.
Was it a bit annoying that they had beaten you to the punch? Annoying and interesting at the same time. It validated the idea that this does work. They had got a lot of interest and traction so we knew it was a goer. The downside was that it took us longer to get to market.