“Huel keeps money in your pockets.” So the ‘future food’ brand claimed last year on a paid-for Facebook ad. The ASA was having none of it. This week, the ads regulator castigated Huel for its “irresponsible and misleading” cost-cutting claims.

People who viewed the ad “would likely compare the cost of a month’s supply of Huel, eaten for every meal, to the cost of a month’s supply of traditional meals”, the watchdog ruled. It did not make clear the cost saving “was only based on consuming one Huel product a day”, and “was not the equivalent to a month’s worth of food covering all meals”.

The ASA also investigated a page of the brand’s website. Headed ‘Five ways to save money on food’, it invited visitors to “embrace processed food and meal replacements” – meaning Huel’s portfolio of ‘nutritionally complete’ shakes, bars, powders and instant meals. 

That earned the brand a second slap on the wrist – this time for not making clear “a traditional diet of three meals per day could not be directly replaced with three portions of Huel per day”. The ASA ruled to ban the ads in their original form.

Huel, whose 500ml shake costs £3.50 in Tesco, responded with a vow “to remove or amend the ads”. The brand “regretted any confusion that may have been perceived”, a spokeswoman told The Grocer.

For Huel, it’s probably a small bump in the road. But the case highlights a wider issue about marketing in a cost of living crisis.

As consumers become ever more cost-conscious, a growing number of brands are marketing themselves on pricing claims. Here, they’d be wise to be just as careful as they are about making environmental claims. In fact, Huel’s encounter with the ASA is curiously reminiscent of brands accused of greenwashing

Take Alpro. It was censured by the ASA in Ocober 2021 for claiming in an OOH advert that its products, including its almond drink, were “good for the planet”.

Three months later, rival Oatly had an “overstated” and at times “unsubstantiated” TV ad banned for claiming its drinks generated fewer carbon emissions than regular milk.

Innocent also received a rollocking last year for its ‘Little Drinks, Big Dreams’ push – ruled misleading by the ASA for implying that “buying the brand’s drinks “would have a positive environmental impact”.

None of these claims were specific enough to stand the ASA test. And as Huel demonstrates, claims around cost need to be just as specific. 

Otherwise Huel may just be the first of many ‘cost-washing’ cases to come.