Enterprising Reuben creates a delicious food venture to watch

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Reuben McFeeters traces his fascination with business back to when he began selling sweets to fellow students in the playground of his primary school in Comber!

Now just 25, Reuben, who is still based in the Co Down market town, once a linen weaving and whiskey distilling hub, set up his first small enterprise at the age of 17.

He’s now the owner of Hotties Chocolates, a small artisan company, and admits to having been “obsessed with business my whole life”. “I started my first online company, Waynorth, handcrafting wristwatches in 2014. I was intrigued about how watches worked and wanted to see if I could make my own,” he explains. “I’ve been obsessed with business ever since.”

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Crafting watches brought Reuben into contact with manufacturers and component makers in Asia. “I loved going to Hong Kong to meet manufacturers for Waynorth. As a kid, I always dreamt about going on a business trip to China. I had realised my dream in my late teens. It proved an amazing and inspirational week. 

The richly flavoured hot chocolate drink developed by Hotties Hot Chocolate in ComberThe richly flavoured hot chocolate drink developed by Hotties Hot Chocolate in Comber
The richly flavoured hot chocolate drink developed by Hotties Hot Chocolate in Comber

“I was really quite something and very exciting to be flying to Hong Kong for a series of meetings with seasoned Chinese businessmen,” adds Reuben. He subsequently designed and made his own wristwatches with components imported from Hong Kong and sold them on the internet.

“The real working world used to intimidate me, but I soon learned after working for a few years that everyone is just on a journey and learning, everyone makes mistakes and is constantly trying things for the first time. Once I understood that everyone in business doesn’t have it all figured out this gave me the freedom to make mistakes and to learn from them.”

His enterprising and inspirational business journey led to the artisan food industry and Hotties, his second craft business, via a stint in the marketing department of Mash Direct, now Comber’s biggest food manufacturer and a successful global player in the production of vegetable dishes and convenience dishes.

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He joined Mash Direct straight from college at 18 with A levels and is quick acknowledge the widely respected family food processing business as “a tremendous learning experience that stimulated a longstanding interest in food and drink”.

Reuben McFeeters set up the artisan enterprise Hotties Hot Chocolate in Comber to create a range of luxury chocolate drinksReuben McFeeters set up the artisan enterprise Hotties Hot Chocolate in Comber to create a range of luxury chocolate drinks
Reuben McFeeters set up the artisan enterprise Hotties Hot Chocolate in Comber to create a range of luxury chocolate drinks

“It was a marvellous place to work. I made a lot of good friends at the company and learned a great deal about food processing, marketing and digital communications. It’s a real family business and a highly professional outfit committed to premium quality and outstandingly tasty products with exceptional customer service for markets everywhere,” he adds.

He enjoyed taking part, in particular, with Mash Direct in the company’s extensive programme of trade shows in Britain. “I loved meeting existing and potential business customers as well as consumers at the shows. They provided tremendous opportunities to sharpen my marketing knowledge and skills,” he continues.

Why did he decide to set up Hotties? “It’s was a long held aspiration to run my own business, a desire stimulated further by my stint at Mash Direct. I began thinking seriously exploring market opportunities for a food product that I liked and could produce here in Comber. I’d always been interested in hot chocolate because this is my drink. I’ve never been a coffee or tea drinker,” he explains.

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So, Reuben began to explore that local market to see if there was scope for an artisan small company specialising in hot chocolate there. His research indicated an opportunity for the type of hot chocolate he planned in cafes, other outlets and at home. This led him to start the product development process that involved sourcing a reliable supplier of quality chocolate from ethically sourced cocoa beans that he could shape into a product to meet his exacting taste requirement. It also meant creating the packaging and merchandising required for a new product. A friend helped him source a supply of premium and richly flavoured chocolate.

Hotties was launched last November in time for the Christmas season. His objective was “to develop products with a sharp community focus and an integral part of the artisan food infrastructure here”.

“We also set up a system called Hotties for One, where people are able to post a friend a small hot chocolate sachet with a note as a gift or a message of goodwill for a birthday or other event,” he says.

He’s since extended the product range to include flavours such as salted caramel, orange vegan, white chocolate, and S’mores, an enticing blend of milk and dark chocolate with toasted marshmallows.

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The challenge he’s now busy addressing is growing sales across Northern Ireland.

As well as developing his online shop, Reuben is doing the rounds of delis and other specialist outlets and has racked up sales in a number of them.

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