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Hot Ideas, Even Hotter Sauces

Retail

Chilion is a Hungarian brand manufacturing chili sauces, and is already earning accolades internationally. The Budapest Business Journal sat down with co-founder Róbert Gergics to talk about the project.

Róbert Gergics

BBJ: How did the idea for Chilion come about?

Róbert Gergics: The idea comes from my friend István Hornyák, who started cultivating and processing hot peppers in the garden of his home in 2012. The backbone of his products was habanero, ghost pepper, and Hungarian sweet-noble kapia pepper… During a barbecue, he gave me a toothpick and a bottle, asking me to dip... It took me five or six minutes until I could say anything. Besides the hellish hotness, the taste impressed me as well… A full paprika flavor, no seeds, no vinegary tinge. Afterwards, we brainstormed about making a business that could turn a profit. I had some capital and experience in management, so I joined the venture. We created a new brand, Chilion in 2014.

BBJ: How does Chilion stand out from its competitors?

RG: At Chilion, chili is more than the dry fact that it is hot, very hot, or brutally hot... Of course, we have these categories as well, but we approach every product from the gastronomical point of view, posing questions such as “What does a mango-chili sauce go well with?”. Then comes experimentation. Hotness, flavor depth, color, and food pairings. If it sells well and the feedback is positive, it stays; if not, we take it off our palette. With our innovative thinking, we show the way to smaller companies on the market in processing, packaging, and marketing. Examples include keyring chili and the chili syringe, unique ideas “borrowed” by others.

BBJ: How many people make up the startup’s team?

RG: There are not many people in our company, except during processing, when we employ 15-20 people, but we only operate with a handful of people otherwise. We are trying to optimize and outsource most processes, leaving us as much time for product development and retail as possible. We are present online (Chilion.hu) and exhibit at events and fairs across the country. Every day we send packages to multiple locations in Hungary, and orders from EU member states are also quite frequent.

BBJ: What successes has Chilion achieved so far?

RG: In 2015, we won Telekom’s yearly website competition by a margin of two likes, receiving HUF 5 million in marketing support. By 2016, we had the largest chili Facebook community with more than 21,000 members. We never had a campaign aimed at gaining likes, and we will not have one in the future. In 2017 we became world champions with our Jolokia 4x product at the World Hot Sauce Awards in the Pepper Blend category. The emphasis here is not on the hotness, but the flavor, with the product having at least two or more peppers being mandatory. According to the jury, we received the award as, “Besides the power of ghost pepper the product has a unique, Hungarian flavor profile due to the sweet-noble kapia pepper.” In 2018 we managed to seal contracts with two multinational companies, Auchan and Metro, in Hungary, uniquely in the industry. Now, one can try products in a new category: limited edition white label bottles, with features like seasonal fruits and South American recipes.

BBJ: What are Chilion’s plans for the future?

RG: In 2020 we want to expand our wholesaler network in a franchise system, using our knowledge and experience to cover an even larger area domestically and worldwide, besides coming up with new products and flavors. We also want to raise the Chilion brand into public awareness, aiming at chili-loving youth with a variety of different clothing products. We believe that we can be present in the consciousness of the next consumer generation at the same level of the already popular Erős Pista.

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