Start Up Of The Week: fiid
“I set about creating something that was as convenient, delicious and filling as my favourite box of biscuits but was genuinely wholesome, comforting and healthy. ”
As part of our efforts to support plant-based start-ups as much as we possibly can, we are going to be shouting out a business each week and promoting them on our blog, social media, and business newsletter!
The start-up of the week is the new quick and nourishing vegan meal delivery business, fiid, founded by Shane Ryan.
Can you share with us the story behind fiid?
Fiid began life originally in 2016 at a time when I was flirting with more of a plant based approach to eating and struggled to find convenient solutions. Living a fast paced life and passionate about healthy living, I found that there was always a huge conflict between how I wanted to eat and how I had time to eat. After going through a number of different iterations from a vegan lunchbox delivery service to a chilled chilli pot, in 2018 I decided that I wanted to create the ultimate in convenience without the need to compromise and so fiid as we know it today was born. The idea originated from the fact that I was often looking for something to simply make me un-hungry. For me a box of biscuits did just that - it was quick, delicious and I was full after eating the whole box. Yes, it satisfied my initial need of filling me up but it didn’t sit too well with how I wanted to eat so I set about creating something that was as convenient, delicious and filling as my favourite box of biscuits but was genuinely wholesome, comforting and healthy.
What development process did you undertake to develop your product and flavours and what differentiates fiid from other brands on the market?
It was a long and challenging process from idea to initial commercialisation. In the end it took just over 12 months to get things started between developing recipes, packaging, sourcing and getting set up with a manufacturing partner.
Our main focus has always been on convenience for the consumer and this is where people really find value in fiid. Usually with convenience there’s always a compromise and as a critical thinker I felt that that shouldn’t be the case. To make sure we truly address this, and after lots of research, trial and error, we chose to cook our meals using the sous vide method. This locks in all the flavour and freshness while also giving our dishes a 12 month shelf life without the need for additives or preservatives. Store fiid in the cupboard / pantry and have it on hand whenever you need it!
How do you monitor and reduce your impact on the environment as a business?
Sustainability played a huge part in the decision to create an ambient product in a plastic pouch. Previously I worked on a line of chilled vegan meals which were sold in recyclable plastic pots with a compostable cardboard sleeve. The issue here is shelf life as is inherent with anything fresh. We had 30 days shelf life without the use of preservatives and additives but it wasn't enough to prevent the dumping of around 10% of our stock each week. This is normal for big companies and small, so it wasn't a case of size. Going in and out of the back of supermarkets every day doing deliveries meant that I could see first hand the scale of things being dumped and it made me extremely uncomfortable - imagine commercial sized wheelie bins filled with uneaten food every day and you have an idea of what I saw. Add to this the fact that as a company we are committed to providing a meal to a chronically hungry child for every product sold and you have a pretty heart breaking situation. It didn't sit well with me that we were helping work towards ending food poverty in some of the world's poorest countries when so much of the stuff was going to waste in our back gardens and people were choosing to ignore it
I did a bit of digging and found that in the UK 6.6 million tonnes of food is thrown away every year, 70% of which could have been eaten. Think about that for a second - all the energy and resources used to produce, package and transport that food is also wasted and the packaging, whether recyclable, compostable or not, all ends up in landfill.
So clearly food waste is a huge issue but it’s often overlooked in favour of ‘easier’ (but definitely no less valid) sustainability solutions. But even beyond food waste, there are other ways that our choice of packaging is preferable to hard plastics and these are openly listed on the back of pack - 70% less plastic is used in the production of the pouch and 9 times less trucks are required for transportation when compared to an equivalent volume plastic pot.
Sustainability is definitely not black and white so it’s important to look at things from a broader context, in my opinion.
“In the UK 6.6 million tonnes of food is thrown away every year, 70% of which could have been eaten. Think about that for a second - all the energy and resources used to produce, package and transport that food is also wasted and the packaging, whether recyclable, compostable or not, all ends up in landfill.”
What is the toughest part about running a food business?
I think juggling the role of 5 or 6 people every day is the biggest challenge. A food business demands so much out of each member of the team and I find that over the course of the day I have to approach problems and tasks with a number of different hats on. Like all businesses there is no point where everything runs smoothly, your problems just change so I’ve started to become comfortable with the chaos because it’s par for the course rather than getting frustrated. The challenges we had 12 months ago are very different to the challenges we have now but we still tackle them head on - every single problem we’ve faced we’ve overcome so it’s important to remember that in the moment. Also looking back on all that we’ve achieved, delivering 400,000 meals as a team of two and the impact we’ve had on so many people makes everything worthwhile.
How do you challenge the business to innovate and keep on top of the ever growing demand and competition in the UK?
Competition is always good and we welcome it. The more brands that enter the space, the more variety is on offer, the more new consumers are invited into the category so we all win. The space has changed dramatically, even over the last 12-18 months with plant-based food holding its own as a category rather than a trend and we’re seeing increasing levels of innovation across the board which I love to see. It keeps us all on our toes and proves the appetite for plant-based solutions is there.
Fiid is a relative baby-brand and still fresh on the scene. Despite our initial success, we definitely can’t rest on our laurels with NPD a core focus for us from the outset. We’re extremely consumer focused, thinking about the consumer problem above all else and out of that comes some really cool things - more to come soon!
Do you have any tips for other vegan businesses?
I think as vegan matures, it’s important to soften the distinction in order to broaden the appeal. The best advice I ever got was that ‘The next step is always the best one’ so just do it, make a move!
“With an ever increasing awareness of the climate crisis and how what we eat can impact that in a positive way, plant based is definitely here to stay as we start to see it establish itself as part of the mainstream.“
Has Covid-19 altered your business model and how has the pandemic impacted the business?
As a young business, we have been incredibly fortunate since the crisis began; something we never take for granted. The nature of fiid having a 12 month shelf life and given the initial uncertainty around lockdown restrictions saw lots of people stockpile fiid. In March (at the beginning of the pandemic) our retail sales grew by 100% and our website (which until that point had only been a small part of the business) jumped 412% on the previous month. So it was certainly a whirlwind for us, one which saw us struggle to maintain supply. Our forecasts could never have anticipated what happened during those weeks. Sales continue apace, although not at the same frenetic rate. It looks like things have stabilised thankfully.
Where do you see the vegan scene moving into in the next 5 years?
There has been much discussion around how the COVID crisis will impact the category with most categories seeing an uplift. Personally, I think there has been a renewed focus on health on the back of the pandemic and plant based foods play an integral part in that for many people. As we start to adjust to our new reality, I believe people will prioritise their health even more so I predict even more growth in the space. With an ever increasing awareness of the climate crisis and how what we eat can impact that in a positive way, plant based is definitely here to stay as we start to see it establish itself as part of the mainstream.
I think what we might see is a fragmentation of the category though - healthy vegan versus vegan junk food etc. and how one distinguishes itself from the other. That will be interesting to watch.
What are the future plans for fiid?
We’re just about coming up for air after an insane first 18 months but I’m so incredibly excited for the future of fiid. We are just finalising our first round of investment and are about to assemble a kickass team to help bring fiid to life. We started and finished fundraising during this pandemic which was fun and I couldn’t be happier with the calibre of people we’ve brought on board to help us execute our grand vision and know the impact that they’ll have will be enormous. Our NPD pipeline is something we can't wait to share more about as, for the last year, we’ve been working on a number of innovations within the ambient meal space that will definitely change the game and making eating delicious good-for-you vegan food even easier. Overall we’re extremely optimistic about what’s to come but not blind to the challenges facing the food community as a whole over the next while.