While not every food startup is owned by a chef, the words "hopeless cook" don't come up all that often among culinary entrepreneurs, generally speaking. But it is how fiid founder Shane Ryan describes himself – in fact, he notes that his total inability to cook for himself was actually a significant point of inspiration in his career. His company, fiid – a food startup that offers all-vegan meals in a shelf-stable pouch – was, in some way, an attempt to solve his own problem.
“I’m obsessed with eating the best, tastiest and most nourishing food I can find,” Ryan said, but noted that obsession wasn’t translating into healthy eating.
Though Ryan didn’t know much about cooking, he did know an awful lot about restaurants, as his pre-entrepreneurial life saw him managing restaurants all over the world. By the time he was 24 years old, he had lived in Germany, Malta, the U.S., London, Beijing and Abu Dhabi. Like most restaurant workers, he worked odd schedules and long hours, and didn’t have a lot of time for meal prep. As a self-described “disaster in the kitchen,” he also didn’t have time to learn how to cook.
“The way that I aspired to eat and the way that I had time to eat were always in conflict, so instead of eating the stuff that I knew I should, I turned to quick fixes and alternatives that almost always compromised on nutrition,” Ryan said.
Tired of junk food, he returned to his home nation of Ireland with a germ of an idea for a business: creating fast, reasonably priced, healthy meals and getting them directly to customers.
That idea, however, took a few iterations to get right. With the first concept, Ryan experimented with a salad box delivery service for office workers. The concept worked, but ultimately wasn’t scalable or exportable. Version 2.0 was a pre-made meal product that had to be kept cool, but that created logistical challenges with keeping the food chilled to the right temperature and managing waste.
It wasn’t until years into the effort – last December – that Ryan found the variation that has become fiid: plant-based, ready meals, delivered to customers’ doors in single-serving pouches that don’t need to be chilled. Called Nourishing Lunch Bowls, they are available in three varieties: smoky Mexican black bean chili, Moroccan chickpea tagine and Italian sundried tomato and lentil ragu.
“Each meal is all-natural, vegan and high in protein, and provides three of the five recommended servings of vegetables that almost no one actually eats,” Ryan said. “We went through a number of different incarnations as we tried to get the business model right and to figure out outsourced manufacturing. We kissed a lot of frogs before finding our current producer.”
And they did a lot of research: Ryan insisted that the meals had to be convenient to prepare, something many industry professionals assured him was a bridge too far to cross, requirement wise. But, he noted, the point was to make healthy eating push-button easy, which meant months of research and experiments that led to stability on the shelf while also maintaining flavor and texture.
“I’ve always had demanding jobs where free time was a luxury,” Ryan pointed out. “My problem had always been that I couldn’t find any prepared food that matched my criteria for taste, nourishment, healthy ingredients and convenience."
Ryan’s company uses a sous-vide method to cook its foods and maintain the taste of the ingredients, and the shelf life of the pouches is 12 months long, instead of the 30 days or so that a chilled product would last.
“We describe fiid as ‘hyper-convenient,’ because it doesn’t need refrigeration, making it the ultimate kitchen cupboard or office drawer staple,” Ryan said.
Now, fiid is working to put its food into the hands of more customers. After a year under the current business model, consumers can now buy directly from the brand and have their food delivered, or purchase it from SuperValu stores in the U.K. – and Ryan noted it is on track for additional partnerships and placements in stores later this year.