Often the best business ideas come out of someone spotting a gap in the market - because they've noticed it in their own life. Which is what happened to entrepreneur Shane Ryan when he realised his busy life often left him too tired to cook.
Unhappy with the quick meal options available, he decided to do something about it and set up his vegan food bowl business Fiid. We chatted to him about the brand and the growing interest in plant-based food.
Can you give us a little bit of background on your career?
My early career was in hospitality, which gave me the opportunity to travel the world. Before I turned 23 I had worked in seven different countries with some of the world's most luxurious hotel companies. I learned a lot about myself, food, culture and different ways of working but I quickly realised that a traditional hospitality career wasn't the route I wanted to take which led me to begin exploring ideas around starting my own business.
Where did the idea for fiid come from?
Fiid was born out of a very personal need. I lived a very busy life, often not having time to sit down and enjoy full meals and I definitely wasn't preparing my own food. When I’m tired or busy and starving I just want to feel not-hungry and a box of biscuits from the cupboard solved that problem for me on too many occasions. Like most people, I love good food and I’m very conscious of what I eat so it frustrated me that I compromised on nutrition when I was desperate. I felt like there was a clear disconnect between how I wanted to eat and how I had time to eat so I created fiid to make sure I never had to make that sacrifice again.
Was it difficult to merge quality ingredients with the convenience aspect?
It definitely presented a challenge. Natural and convenience were two diametrically opposed ideas for so long in food. In fact it took me three attempts (this being the third!) to get it right. When the business began, we had a chilled product and that ended up being a big barrier for us. I had my 'eureka' moment in the supermarket when I randomly ended up in the baby food aisle and realised that we could use the same methods of sous vide (sealing food in an airtight bags or containers then cooking it in temperature-controlled water) to achieve our goal of convenience and quality. That day I bought €80 worth of baby food to test, and it completely transformed the business.
Do you think there has been an increase in the interest in plant-based food?
Absolutely! I think, and particularly of late, there has been a renewed focus on health in general, and plant-based foods play a huge part in that. We have seen it ourselves, with repeat custom, but also a significant increase in new customers which is great. It is not necessarily that everyone is moving to strict vegan diets, but many of us are seeing the benefits of modifying the way we eat.
Are consumers demanding more clarity and information before they make food choices?
They are for sure. We've seen this for a long time. Consumers want to know exactly what they are buying and eating and are scrutinising labels as a result. Clarity on packaging has been an issue for a long time, although I do feel that is improving too.
Have you seen any interesting developments in the industry?
I think plant-based has definitely moved beyond a niche and into the mainstream. There are lots of factors that played a part in that - sustainability and a focus on health being two key elements. What we see at fiid is that the vast majority of our customers wouldn't classify themselves as vegan or strictly plant-based. People are generally trying to make more informed choices at certain meal times and choosing plant-based helps.
How do you think things will look for the industry as we start to come out of COVID-19 restrictions?
As for how this experience will impact fiid, I think it will spark a renewed interest in long-life, ambient products. The versatility, durability, and dependability of the product category are well proven. Much of the innovation and growth in grocery has come from fresh and chilled products. Ambient has been stagnant, but there has been a renewed interest in the category and we have lots of innovation in the pipeline to support that.