“Sustainability is the biggest challenge facing the industry and has risen through the ranks to become a top concern for consumers too”–CEO Q&A: Shane Ryan, CEO, Fiid

By Business & Finance
17 December 2019
Pictured: Shane Ryan, CEO, Fiid.

In this week’s CEO Q&A, Shane Ryan, CEO, Fiid, manufacturer of healthy plant-based convenience foods, tells Business and Finance about early success, scaling internationally and discerning consumers.

Q. What are your main priorities and goals in your role?

My priority right now is all about putting a solid foundation in place from which the brand can sky rocket over the next 5 years. We’ve grown phenomenally over the last 12 months–2500% since January 2019 and have huge ambitions to scale internationally in 2020. We’ve put a lot of hard work in to make the industry sit up and take notice of us and we’re starting to really reap the rewards of that with some big wins in late 2019. But with early success and fast growth often companies start to make silly mistakes and cut corners so my main focus at the moment is putting the systems, processes, resources and most importantly people in place– it’s not the sexy stuff but to me, at the stage that we’re at, it’s vitally important to make sure we grow the right way.

Q. What are your biggest challenges as CEO?

The biggest challenge for me is juggling so many roles within the business as we are so young. Being strategic and thinking about the big picture is important but operationally there’s still so much that needs to get done day to day for which I’m also responsible. Finding the time, and the headspace, to think beyond next week or next month is a big challenge that I’m currently dealing with. 

Q. How do you keep your team/staff motivated?

We’re a small team and we absolutely believe in the mission of the business. We’re young and energetic and are deeply passionate about what we are trying to achieve. That helps, even on days when it seems like things are falling down around us. In terms of motivating the team, I try to take a moment to sit back and take stock of all that we’ve achieved in a very short amount of time and make sure that each of us knows how important our contribution has been in that. 

 Q. What are the challenges facing the industry?

Sustainability is the biggest challenge facing the industry and has risen through the ranks to become a top concern for consumers too, particularly over the last 18 months. We have a clear issue with greenwashing – when a brand spends more time and money claiming to be “green” through advertising and marketing than actually implementing business practices that minimize environmental impact. The challenge is actually two fold: educating consumers and encouraging them to ask real questions about where their products are coming from, how they are being made and why as well as getting the industry to sit up and take notice of the role they are playing in the climate crisis. Sustainability isn’t a fad and it isn’t a marketing trend to jump on to boost sales – it’s something we all need to prioritise at each step of our supply chain.

Q. What new trends are emerging in your industry?

People are changing their eating habits and this is having a big impact on what they’re buying and who they are buying from. Plant based has seen huge growth over the last year and the value of the plant based food sector is set to grow by 50% again in Ireland over the next 5 years (Passport). However that’s not to say that meat, dairy and animal products are out. I think what we are seeing is people becoming more discerning in their choice of meat and dairy – how sustainable is it? Is it local? How was it produced? This is an interesting shift in an industry that was characterised for so long by a race to the bottom. 

Q. How will Brexit affect you, or have you started to feel the effects already?

Brexit is definitely a challenge but also presents some opportunities for creative thinking companies to win in both a UK and a European context. Gaps on shelves left by UK companies in Europe means an opportunity for other brands but obviously any downturn in the economy as a result would very much be felt. The UK is a sizeable part of our growth strategy and so ignoring Brexit would be unwise but at the same time we need to push on.

Q. How do you define success and what drives you to succeed?

I love my job and I love what we’re doing. Success to me is being able to do something I’m deeply passionate about while surrounded by a group of people who are happy and fulfilled – that’s the name of the game for me. Seeing the impact we are having and how we help people day in day out is what really drives me on.

Q. What have been your highlights in business over the past year?

It’s been extremely important to me personally that we, as a business, have an impact beyond the pursuit of making a profit. Since day one of fiid we’ve partnered with charity Mary’s Meals to donate one school meal to a child in the developing world for every product we sell. My absolute highlight over everything that we have achieved this year is donating 200,000 meals to help feed some of the worlds’ poorest children and help them to break out of the cycle of poverty. Nothing compares to how that feels and just drives us all on to do more. 

Q. What’s the best advice you’ve been given, or would give, in business?

The best advice I’ve ever been given was by a lecturer of mine, Troy McConnell at UCD’s Innovation Academy. “The best step is the next one” is something I repeat to myself almost daily as it’s so easy to get bogged down, intimidated or paralysed by the scale of a task or problem instead of just doing something. Action beats inaction every time. 

Q. Where do you want your business/brand to be this time next year?

In a lot more kitchen cupboards!

Q. What’s next for the company?

We have a huge year ahead of us launching in to two international markets as well as growing our presence in Ireland. We’re working hard on innovating in a big way and have a very exciting launch planned for mid 2020 that we think will transform the space that we play in.