Innovation firm outlines ice cream, ready meal projects

By Ellie Woolven

- Last updated on GMT

FIS delivered some ‘innovative and eye-catching’ ice cream dishes for Unilever
FIS delivered some ‘innovative and eye-catching’ ice cream dishes for Unilever
Seven years ago, Mike Faers left the corporate food industry behind to embark on what he terms his “third career” – and Food Innovation Solutions (FIS) was born. Here, he talks to Food Manufacture about two projects the company he set up has worked on.

Wall’s Soft Scoop ice cream: ditch the wafer

Last year, Food Innovation Solutions (FIS) undertook a project for Unilever brand Wall’s Soft Scoop ice cream.

The concept moved away from the traditional idea of ice cream in a wafer – “so very 1977”​ according to the company – to serving it in a choux pastry burger or hot dog, for example, with toppings ranging from the classic (sprinkles, chocolate sauces) to the unexpected (Crunchy Nut Cornflakes).

The end-product was not only “innovative and eye-catching”​ but offered customers a whole new product, more like an ice cream dessert.

In Soft Republick, the Spitalfields Market pop-up used to promote the ice cream, FIS worked with both the brand and interior design specialists to create a store with a “fun, inclusive” environment.

Retro-blue Soft Scoop machines sat amid a background featuring distinctive wall art by east London illustrator Rich Fairhead and chalkboards. Customers were encouraged to share their own take on ice cream hot dogs and burgers on social media, with a Time Out video on Soft Republick going viral and generating 450,000 views.

This, says the firm, brought an iconic product, which may have been overlooked by a younger audience and recaptured a place in the public’s imagination. “It was a great result, which we are very proud of,”​ says Faers.

The FIS team hit the “sweet spot”​ between food expertise, fresh ideas and consumer insight, claims Ian Maskell, vice-president of global brand development at Unilever. “I like the FIS set-up, which feels ‘lean and mean’ and has generated some breakthrough ideas. Now it’s our job to make them fly!”

Emirati evolution for Arabic ready meals

In 2016, the company launched a 2,787m2​ sous-vide factory in the UAE to develop a range of authentic Arabic ready meals in association with MAM Food Co in Dubai. “It was a three-year project to get the subtleties of the product taste right, determine the right cooking methodology to replicate the traditional methods and then train and commercialise the concepts into the facility we designed,”​ says Faers.

Once the recipes were developed, the challenge was to scale up the operation and train the manufacturing and production teams. The project was revolutionary in that prior to this there was no local Emirati cookery available to buy in retail. But Emirati cooking is very traditional, producing a particular flavour emphasis.

The difficulty, explains Faers, was that although the company had spent two months in Dubai and Saudi Arabia learning the local cuisine, they couldn’t initially get the tastes right for the local palate. “In the end, we figured out that that, in fact, all the meat they cook with is slightly ‘off’,”​ he says, adding quickly, “Now let me qualify that straight away:​ [over there] it’s 50°C in the summer and the meat sweats ... so the fat oxidises slightly, creating the unique taste of their cuisine. So we had to replicate this in the factory by steaming at a low temperature and all of a sudden, eureka, we achieved the taste.”

Now, the facility is deemed the most advanced of its kind in the Emirates region, supplying more than 300 supermarkets and outlets with a range of authentic Emirati dishes. “From start to finish, this project was a real journey from a vision right through to a commercial reality,”​ says the company.

  • For a full profile of Faers and the business, look out for the Ingredients and NPD feature in the April issue of Food Manufacture (p32-33), which comes out on April 16.

Related topics: NPD

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