Concern about climate change is increasing the demand for vegetable products and leading to a rise in so-called “flexitarianism”, according to Shane Ryan, founder of vegan start-up Fiid.
He says flexitarians, or semi-vegetarians, who reduce their meat intake and eat more vegetable products, are driving much of the growth in the plant-based food product market which he says is predicted to increase by 43% by 2023.
“Figures show 73% of plant-based food products are now being bought by consumers who are neither vegans nor vegetarians,” says Mr Ryan, adding that consumers are being influenced by health concerns and by reports linking animal agriculture to climate change.
The increased demand for vegetable-based products has led to supermarkets adding new vegan and vegetarian ranges and provided a perfect climate for the launch of Fiid’s new range of vegan lunch bowls at the end of last year.
“We launched in December selling three times more than expected in our first month. We have now sold 45,000 units which is massive for a small self-funded company,” says Mr Ryan.
Selling to both SuperValu and Spar, the company now has products in 100 stores.
“In the first week in June we will launch with Tesco in 60 stores,” says Mr Ryan, adding that the company also sells in the UK on the Ocado online supermarket.
Supported by Enterprise Ireland, the company has this month embarked on a €500,000 fundraising round.
For Mr Ryan, who worked in hotel management before becoming an entrepreneur, it’s a third venture.
“I tried a healthy restaurant which was too expensive and a salad box service which wasn’t scalable before I set up Fiid in 2014 to make healthy convenient vegan meals for retail,” he says.
Initially launching with chill food vegan products, he sold to SuperValu and Dunnes and was preparing to supply a third supermarket in January last year when his manufacturer pulled out.
“I tried and failed to get another manufacturer and the business fell apart,” he says.
He persevered and found inspiration in the baby food aisle of a supermarket.
“I saw pouches of baby food and thought why can’t we produce a product which like this can be kept at ambient temperature and which has a long shelf life,” he says.
He discovered sous vide, a vacuum-sealed method of cooking developed in France. This allowed him to create products with a shelf life of a year which didn’t need refrigeration.
In December he began supplying Italian ragu, Moroccan tagine, and Mexican chilli to 15 SuperValu outlets in Dublin. He says sales have gone extremely well despite a lack of investment in marketing.
To date Fiid — pronounced feed — has been self-funded except for €50,000 from Enterprise Ireland.
Now in discussions with investors, Mr Ryan hopes to conclude the €500,000 fundraising round by the end of the year.
Based in Dublin, the company will use the funding to increase its staff from two to five.
Mr Ryan says he is optimistic about Fiid’s future.
“In Ireland there are 5,000 stores we haven’t looked at yet and in the long term we are looking at vegan markets in Germany, Holland, and Scandinavia.”