Plant-based ambient brand Fiid's strong growth during coronavirus: ‘There is a silver lining for our category’
Fiid was founded 18 months ago to meet a ‘personal need’ for food that is both convenient and healthy.
The start-up’s founder Shane Ryan recalled: “When I’m tired or busy and starving I just want to feel not-hungry and a full box of biscuits from the cupboard solved that problem for me on too many occasions. The problem was that the box of biscuits, albeit very convenient and pretty tasty, didn’t quite match how I ate in my everyday life. Like most people today I love good food and I’m very conscious of what I eat, so it frustrated me that I compromised on nutrition when I’m desperate. I felt like there was a clear disconnect between how I wanted to eat and how I had time to eat.”
The company’s range of ready meals are based around ‘classic comfort foods’. It includes smoky Mexican black bean chilli, Italian sundried tomato & lentil ragu and a Moroccan chickpea tagine. The line is natural, free from additives or preserves, high in protein and fibre and provides three of your five a day.
Unlike the brand’s fresh counterparts, the ambient line is also shelf-stable. “What sets them apart though is that each meal has a 12 month shelf life and sits on the ambient shelf. This is what we term hyper convenience - real food, real fast. It’s the same attributes that the discerning consumer demands of their food but in a much more convenient format that fits with people’s fast paced and hectic lifestyle,” Ryan revealed.
The company launched in 2018, right before Christmas. Fiid saw ‘explosive growth’ in year one, going from 12 stores in Ireland in January 2019 to listings with Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Ocado and Supervalu across the UK and Ireland.
“The business operates an omni channel strategy across retail and direct to consumer ecommerce. The focus for 2019 was building a strong retail footprint with our retail partners,” Ryan explained.
Fiid’s focus on ‘hyper convenience’ and health quickly struck a chord with consumers, he believes. “People get it quickly and then they’re hooked. It’s a new format for the market so initially we had some work to do around the pouch and the reasons we use it but as soon as someone tries it, they quickly start listing usage occasion applications in their own life. It’s true convenience with the customer experience at the heart of it.”
COVID-19 drives growth in ambient
For many SMEs the coronavirus crisis has been something of a trial by fire. Competition for shelf space has increased as retailers prune down their ranges to focus on core products. At the same time, pressure on cashflow has been a major issue for many small businesses.
For Fiid, the stressors brought by COVID-19 were somewhat different. The brand saw a massive jump in demand for its shelf-stable ambient ready meals. “The initial effect was a dramatic increase in sales in March. Retail grew 100% on the previous month and online grew 430% compared to February. While the initial panic buying has subsided we are still seeing healthy growth across all channels in April compared to forecasts,” Ryan revealed.
In fact, one of the biggest challenges facing the company was actually keeping pace with demand growth.
“This presented a unique challenge for us in terms of supply and cash flow - how do we fund this increase in demand, and quickly? Thankfully we have a great relationship with our manufacturing partners who were able to exercise flexibility around payment terms in order to meet demand, maintain supply and support our retailers.”
A ‘silver lining’ for shelf-stable foods
Moving forward, Ryan is optimistic that these gains will be retained and that strong growth will continue after the country comes out of lockdown.
“Before COVID we were already seeing exponential growth that was outpacing the category so we are confident that we can maintain growth beyond COVID, albeit not as frantic as we are currently experiencing.
“While the long-term effects remain to be seen, we are exercising caution around growth plans for 2020 and into 2021 and have had to revisit our business plan and made necessary adjustments. The COVID-19 situation presented a 430% increase in online revenue so this is a channel we are actively investing in to nurture and grow going forward. Our products have become part of our customers’ daily routine and we want to make sure that continues into the future.”
He believes that this upside could well be seen across centre-store aisles, with ambient coming out of the coronavirus crisis in a strong position. “I think that there’s potentially a silver lining for our particular category with consumers reminded of the versatility and dependability of pantry staple products which we hope will benefit the category as a whole going beyond COVID-19.”