James McMaster: CEO, Huel

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Huel CEO James McMaster joined the fast-growing brand to apply his expertise in food startups and help grow the nutritionally complete food’s reach in the United Kingdom, Germany, and the United States. He remains grounded in Huel’s multi-faceted mission of delivering quick and convenient complete nutrition, eliminating food waste, and taking a vegan route to avoid negative environmental impacts, while also moving away from gluten. “Huel is convenient and tasty, yet it respects the environment and supports a flexitarian lifestyle, eliminating food waste and animal products in support of a healthy body and a healthy Earth,” McMaster says. “It allows people to see food in a new way.” McMaster enjoyed growing up in London with one brother and one sister, filling his time with sports, which helped shape his hard-working, team-focused mentality. With budding interests in food, health, and wellness, McMaster became COO of Ella’s Kitchen in 2010. Helping the organic baby food brand achieve impressive growth, he led the launch of 60 new products and the brand’s introduction into 10 new global markets. Additionally, McMaster bolstered his expertise in 2012 by graduating from an accelerated development program at London Business School. In 2013, the Hain Celestial Group bought Ella’s Kitchen, and installed McMaster as co-managing director; by 2014, Ella’s became the number 1 baby food brand in the U.K. In his time with Ella’s Kitchen, McMaster earned recognition from The Grocer in its 2013 “Top New Talent” feature of “35 Under 35

How did you get into the industry?

I started out in Strategy Consulting, where we supported businesses with their company strategy as well as mergers and acquisitions. Whilst the knowledge I gained was significant, I learned two things about myself. Firstly, I loved tangible consumer brands. Secondly, I was always gutted when our projects were over and I had to move onto the next one. As a result, I ended up joining a UK dessert startup called GÜ. And then over the last 10 years I’ve worked for various food and drink brands, as well as in fashion supporting my wife with her business (The Fold, thefoldlondon.com).

Any emerging industry trends?

Huel is a global e-commerce food brand, which is actually a very new area to be involved in and represents the shift that is happening in the growth of online shopping.

Huel’s mission is to make nutritionally complete, convenient, affordable food, with minimal impact on animals and the environment. It is a brand that has responded to customer trends. We are far more aware of the impact food and drink has on the world around us so we seek out products with less food waste and dairy-free products like Huel. And we are increasingly aware of the impact it has on our own health and wellness, which drives people to make more responsible nutritional choices.

Any industry opportunities or challenges?

Traditionally, newer consumer product brands faced a very steep hill to gain awareness, which could make it very hard to breakthrough. Social media platforms have increased the ease of finding out about ‘the next big thing’. Huel has grown into a presence in the US, UK and Germany with a lot of word of mouth, as well as social media sharing. We couldn’t afford big advertising campaigns via traditional media.

Inspiration for the business idea, and your vision for the Business?

We had a very successful two year launch phase. And now we are gearing up for bigger growth and want to be a brand that is recognized as having a positive society benefit. We are pioneering a new category of food called ‘Complete Food’. It contains all the proteins, carbohydrates and fats that you need, and the daily recommended amounts of all 27 essential vitamins and minerals. We are motivated by how we can help others reduce food waste, have better nutrition, and all via a very cost-effective and convenient method.

What's next for the Business in the near future?

A major piece of the puzzle for fast growth businesses is the team. We currently have 30 people spread across Los Angeles (US), Berlin (Germany) and Aylesbury (England) and will be finding amazing people to join us on the journey. Discovering those people and making sure Huel is a great place to work is a responsibility I feel privileged to have.

Your key initiatives for the success of the Business?

Our founder, Julian Hearn, had a vision for a minimalist, modern brand that people trusted. The clean, monochrome packaging with over-sized logo stands out. And all of our products are formulated by renowned nutritionist, James Collier. Together, Huel is a food choice that people are talking about and we are proud to create it for them.

Your most difficult moment at the Business? (and what did you learn?)

We actually ran out of stock several months after Huel launched in the U.S. market. Sales were much greater than forecast and we needed time to catch up with production. Whilst in many ways that’s a positive, letting some of our customers down isn’t the first experience we wanted to provide.

Ideal experience for a customer/client?

I think our customers know that by drinking Huel they are being good to their body, they are saving money, and they are making an environmental choice as there is no waste and impact on animals. And it’s one less thing to think about planning in a busy day.

How do you motivate others?

I like meeting people, listening and supporting their ideas. I’m a big fan of communication. Too often in businesses, people don’t know what’s going on or how they fit in. That’s just not motivating. So creating an environment with excellent communication is always a priority, especially as a fast-growth business since things are changing all the time.

Career advice to those in your industry?

Just do it. Too many people ponder about what might have been.