FEED is a new lunchtime venture that prepares hearty, seasonal lunch-boxes for daily delivery to Dublin’s offices, while also helping to provide meals for some of the world’s poorest children. Founder Shane Ryan talks to us about entrepreneurship and the importance of the triple bottom line at FEED.
Shane, tell us how FEED got started.
When I moved back to Ireland the original idea was to open a small, casual restaurant focusing on healthy, simple food done in a creative way, with the same design and social element that FEED has now. At the time a lot of very talented people were also trying to start restaurants, so it was really difficult to find a space and make the break. As an entrepreneur you often feel like packing it all in and saying ‘forget it’, and on one of the days that happened I applied for a postgraduate course at the Innovation Academy in UCD. I got accepted and it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done. I was able to tap into a great group of people who helped me to ask the right questions to figure out exactly what FEED should be. Over time the business idea developed from being a restaurant to the delivery service it is now, which gives me much more flexibility and allows me to have a bit of fun with it as well.
What can people expect from a FEED experience?
A lot of thought has gone into the FEED lunch-boxes and they aren’t like anything you get from a standard salad counter. I’ve found that people think they like variety but faced with lots of menu choices most of us tend to order the same thing every time. I’m all about simplicity and what I’m trying to do by having one choice available is to let you know you’re going to get something that’s really good quality and delicious. It might not be what you generally order, but you know it’s going to be good, so take a chance! The FEED App has also just launched and we’re going to be linking in with Down The Sofa so people can quickly see if we deliver in their area and then place an order in two taps. At the moment my biggest seller is the Five Day Feed which gives one FEED every day for €25. The menu changes seasonally and the packaging and cutlery are all biodegradable. I’d love to get to a stage where we’d do a new menu every month and then every week, but… baby steps!
Tell us about Lunch with a Conscience and your partnership with the charity Mary’s Meals.
Mary’s Meals do great work running feeding projects in twelve different developing countries and their whole purpose is about education. They provide meals for kids in areas where education isn’t really highly regarded and children are usually sent out to work. Because they’re sent to school to get fed, they get an education, which offers them many more opportunities, including a real chance to break the cycle and move out of poverty. I feel very strongly that businesses, no matter what size they are, should always give back and I’d love to get to the point where it’s standard business practice that everyone looks at the triple bottom line from the very beginning. It’s about giving, your impact on the environment and your social impact. I run a commercial business start-up that has a social ethos at its core and I love talking about how easy this is to do. Why not give a portion of what we make to someone else that needs it? What I give to Mary’s Meals is minuscule – just seven cents per FEED – but that’s the cost of a meal for a child in a country like Malawi. It’s so easy for us to do that and to have a massive impact for these kids. If other people can do that too then I think the potential is amazing.
How challenging has it been getting FEED off the ground on your own?
I’m usually in the commercial kitchen in the Arts and Business campus in Drumcondra at five o’clock in the morning and after that I’m on the bike doing deliveries, so I nearly fall in the door when that’s finished! Thankfully I have a couple of people coming on board now to help me so that’s really exciting. While I’ve enjoyed working on my own, I’ve had a couple of horrible days when motivation has been a real struggle for me. Most of my friends aren’t in the country, my parents are in Limerick and my brother’s in New Zealand, but in terms of support I have to say the food circle in Ireland has been brilliant. When I was starting out first Hannah O’Reilly from Improper Butter met me for a coffee and gave me loads of contacts. I’ve had great mentors in Maurice Knightly from O’Brien’s and James Burke who runs the Supervalu Food Academy, and anyone I’ve asked for help has been really forthcoming.
What else do you have in the pipeline?
Long term, I want to develop the brand further into different lunch boxes for sale in petrol station forecourts and convenience retail stores. Building relationships with independent producers is also very much on my mind and I’ve just started using seaweed from Mungo Murphy’s Seaweed in Connemara. I’d love to feature more Irish producers and eventually get to the point where we use only Irish produce. For the moment though, I want to focus on being very good at providing really fun, creative, lunches on time every time. That’s what I want to be great at.
Words: Martina Murray
Images: Shane Ryan