If you look back on your university days with nothing more fondness then it’s very likely you have successfully blocked from your mind certain memories, the ones which have continued to haunt the rest of us.
The exam hall panic after entire days spent in the library doing little more than procrastinating, the stress of living with randomly assigned roommates, and the constant worry about your mounting debt and the fact that you have no idea what to do with the rest of your life. Perhaps, on consideration, college may not actually have been the best years of your life after all.
Imagine added to this the pressure of running your own business. That’s exactly what Paul Moore, founder of Cork based hot sauce company Rebel Chilli, had to contend with, dealing with accountants, marketing budgets and product stock levels while completing his degree in Business Information Systems at UCC.
With help from his brother Ken, Paul’s ambition, and time management skills, paid off and on his 24th birthday he sent his first order for export to Dubai.
We chatted to the twenty-five year old about how he juggled it all, what makes Rebel Chilli stand out from the crowd and his future plans for the business.
In the true spirit of the Rebel County, this is a company built on bold flavours with the bold ambition to match.
Where did the inspiration for Rebel Chilli come from?
The inspiration for Rebel Chilli came from myself and my brother Ken’s love of hot and spicy foods. We noticed that there was no one making good quality chilli sauce so we decided to give it a go. We started making sauce in our mother’s kitchen and selling it at our local farmer’s market in Mahon Point.
When did you launch the brand?
The name has been around since 2009/2010 but this was on a very part-time, inconsistent basis. I launched it properly in 2014 after I decided to go full-time following my graduation.
How did you make the leap from bright idea to shop shelf?
It was very much through trial and error by testing batch after batch in our kitchen. We began selling at the markets and festivals, and then started supplying a few local stores like O’Mahony’s Butchers in the English Market and Bradley’s on North Main Street. We got great feedback from the markets and festivals and this allowed us to hone the products.
How juggle completing your college degree and the business?
It was very difficult, especially in final year when I knew I was going to go full-time, as there was so much to do with college. It was hard to dedicate enough time to both without the other suffering, but I think I managed it okay! It forced me to learn how to manage my time well.
Was it a difficult decision to go full-time after graduating?
It was difficult in the sense that it was a risk and I had grad program offers from my degree, but it wasn’t difficult in another sense.
I could see the potential in the brand, and knew I had to give it a go. The fear of having regrets far outweighed the fear of failure.
I was young too, so if it didn’t work out, I could do something else.
How has the business developed since you made that jump?
It has developed quite nicely since then. It wasn’t ever the intention to sell to stores or to export, but that is what has happened thankfully. The products are available nationwide in retail stores, restaurants and salad bars, and we are also exporting to the UK and UAE. Lots of work still to do though!
The hot sauce market is a competitive one, what is unique about your range?
It is very competitive! Our range is made using natural ingredients meaning every bottle is bursting with real heat and flavour. They are also low in sugar, salt and fat and free from any additives or preservatives. Our products are very versatile too, so they are so much more than the normal chilli sauces.
What products are in the range?
We have a Red Sweet Chilli, Green Sweet Chilli, Jalapeno & Raspberry, Habanero Relish, Chillionaire and our new products, the Mango, Peach & Habanero Chutney.
What are your favourite ways to enjoy Rebel Chilli?
My favourite way to enjoy the Habanero Relish is on some poached eggs with sourdough toast, and I would have to say the Jalapeno & Raspberry on a burger with some melted brie is fantastic.
Where is the range now stocked?
The range is stocked in Dunnes Stores, Supervalu, independent retailers like Fallon & Byrne, and is available in Chopped outlets nationwide.Can you name some of the awards have you won?
We won Gold at the Blas na hEireann Irish Food Awards in 2014 for our Red Chilli. We won Gold, Silver and Bronze at the Free From Food Awards Ireland in 2016, and Gold in 2017. Rebel Chilli was awarded Best Startup in Cork City in the Ireland’s Best Young Entrepreneur Awards last December.
What has been the highlight of the Rebel Chilli story for you so far?
The highlight for me has seeing the products go from a white label made in a very small pot to being available all over the country and beyond.
Also, when someone recognises the name or says that they have tasted it, it’s always a nice boost.
What has been the most challenging part of starting your own business?
Definitely managing the amount of work that needs to be done, and also managing how isolating it can be.
You only hear the good aspects of entrepreneurship, but working alone and having lots of worried nights is a big part of it for anyone running their own business.
It is worth it though for the high points.
Are there other products you would like to introduce to the range?
We are looking at two other products for our range. One is another sauce but one is a completely different product that people might be surprised by…
Do you have any plans or projects in the pipeline?
I would love to open my own restaurant or café at some point down the line. In the shorter term, we are very much turning our attention to the UK and US markets, so we hope to be sending a lot more product in those directions in the coming months.
Erica grew up with a baker and confectioner for a father and a mother with an instinct and love for good food. It is little wonder then that, after completing a law degree, she went on to do a Masters in Food Business at UCC. With a consuming passion for all things food, nutrition and wellness, working with TheTaste is a perfect fit for Erica; allowing her to learn and experience every aspect of the food world meeting its characters and influencers along the way.