TRISH DROMEY: Cork firm Rebel Chilli heats up condiment aisle

Having lit the fire for a taste revolution in Ireland, Cork start-up Rebel Chilli is now exporting fresh hot chilli sauces to both Dubai and the UK.

While Rebel sauce may not have quite the same meaning in the Emirates as it does in Cork, company founder Paul Moore believes the brand name will work well for export precisely because it can have different meanings in different places.

He chose it partly because his company is located in the Rebel county but mainly because chilli is a rebellious flavour for an Irish company.

Two years after becoming one of only a tiny number of Irish companies dedicated to producing hot chilli sauce, he now has five sauces and is selling to 300 stores in Ireland, including 50 Dunnes Stores outlets.

Named, at the end of 2016, as Best Start-Up by Cork City Local Enterprise Board, Rebel Chilli has just won €15,000 in prize money and secured a place in the national finals of the Best Young Entrepreneur Awards being held in February.

Back in 2010, chilli sauce-making started out as a way for Mr Moore to make pocket money while studying for a Business Information Systems degree in UCC.

“My brother and I made a fresh natural chilli sauce – with no additives or preservatives – for marinating and dipping and sold it at festivals, farmers markets and some shops,’’ he said.

When he finished his degree in 2014 he decided to give chilli-making a try for a year. “Chilli was becoming popular - we were doing well at festivals and I thought I could make it work.” Making sweet hot red chilli sauce in his mother’s (HSE-approved) kitchen in Bishopstown, he started selling to independent stores around Cork and also a few restaurants.

A gold Blas na hEireann award for Best Sauce, at the end of the year, boosted sales and also brought an investor on board. In 2015, Mr Moore moved Rebel Chilli to a kitchen unit in Farranferris and also secured an employment grant from Cork City Local Enterprise Office.

“In February, Rebel Chilli got into its first SuperValu store in Clonakilty and by the end of the year I had moved outside Cork and was selling in Dublin, Waterford, Kilkenny and Galway.”

By the start of 2016, he had increased his range of products to five which, following requests from customers, included an extremely hot, five chilli-rated, sauce called Chillionare.

“In January, on the day I turned 24, I shipped out my first export order to Dubai containing 700 bottles . During the summer I attended a food and drink expo in Birmingham which resulted in orders from some independent stores. A few months later I got an order from a restaurant in Bradford for 700 litres of sauce.”

While attending the Bloom garden festival in Dublin during the summer Rebel Chilli secured an order from Dunnes which has now become the largest stockist of its sauces. Operating on a shoestring budget Mr Moore has used events such as Bloom as well as social media to publicise Rebel Chilli.

“We now have 4,000 followers on Facebook, 1,300 on Twitter and have recently launched on Instagram.”

Welcoming his win in the Cork City LEO Start-Up awards, he has immediate plans for the prize money which will enable him to take on a part-time employee to help with the workload.

His goal is to maintain last year’s growth rate of 30% and his plan is to target the multiples here and in the UK. Hoping to enlist the aid of Bord Bia, he wants to do more marketing in the UK with a view to getting a listing from Waitrose.

In Ireland, he wants to see Rebel Chilli selling in 100 Dunnes Stores outlets by the end of 2017 and also to get it into more than the 25 SuperValu stores it currently sells to. Top priorities for 2017 include the launch of a new chilli sauce which will be “hot and different”.

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