How Huel grew a global D2C brand focusing on one channel: referrals

The plant-based food brand turned to its customer fanbase to convert 60% of recommendations into new customers, despite an unfamiliar product in an overcrowded market.

The health and wellness market is extremely overcrowded, and new brands are guilty until proven innocent due to the amount of snake oil saturating the market. 

So how did Huel become so well-known and grow a loyal community of ‘Hueligans’ in under 10 years?

After developing a great product they built their marketing strategy on brand advocacy, knowing that wellness brands rely on the oldest marketing channel in the book: word of mouth.

Huel’s Founder, Julian Hearn, knew that the product and its fanatic consumers would be the key to success so began with the Kevin Kelly concept of 1000 true fans, knowing that if 100 people buy £45 worth of product a month, he would survive.

And from there, the ‘Hueligans’ began.


When Huel launched their “nutritionally complete” products, they needed a way to cut through a crowded market without a big budget. To solve this, they turned to  brand advocacy platform Mention Me in 2017, and their community of ‘Hueligans’ soon began exploding across 12 global markets. 


Huel began their advocacy journey six years ago after partnering with Mention Me. They have made themselves a cult brand in the wellness industry, and have done so through identifying and maximising the value from their biggest channel: referral.

By tracking word-of-mouth recommendations through the Mention Me platform, Huel knows that up to 22% of customers refer friends – and that 60% of these recommendations convert into new customers. 

Mention Me's Customer Advocacy Intelligence platform helps e-commerce brands harness word-of-mouth marketing by acquiring, nurturing and motivating fans to promote their brand through word of mouth, reviews, social sharing and email-based referrals, often offering discounts and other rewards in return.

Better yet, Huel’s referred customers introduce 2x more new shoppers compared to non-referred customers, helping grow their community even faster. Mention Me’s brand advocacy platform also helps Huel drum up hype for new products and build brand awareness among their target market. 


Experimentation and testing revealed that product imagery tends to capture the attention of shoppers in the UK and US better than lifestyle shots. In the US, 72% of referral offers featuring product imagery convert into new customers. 

The team’s experimentation and optimisation with advocacy-first thinking is making an impact: referral revenue has increased by 12% year-on-year. 

Huel’s marketing strategy is primarily digital. After referrals and word of mouth, PR and Facebook drive the main success. 

But while Huel’s customers may be loyally convinced by the product, the founder Hearn is less an advocate of offline channels: “Performance marketing is head and shoulders above offline. I hate offline,” he explained in a 2020 interview. “We have tried it all, but no one has convinced me it works.” 

The meal alternative brand was valued at over $560m by the end of 2022.