Like many of the most successful businesses in our industry, Funky Monkey Foods started out on a kitchen table in 2016. Today, its products are stocked in retailers across Ireland, including SuperValu, Centra, Mace, Londis, and Aldi. Maev Martin reports
Funky Monkey Foods founder and owner, Debbie Crowley began her journey in retail by selling food on Facebook in 2016.
She wanted to generate extra cash to pay for her daughter to go to college.
“My husband and I worked full time but we were still struggling,” she says.
“However, my food sold really well, so I knew there was a market for what I was producing.
"It was a bit like an addiction – I couldn't stop selling!”
Debbie’s output centred around two key products – the Funky Monkey Salt & Chilli Spice Bag Mix and the Funky Monkey Chinese Curry Sauce Mix.
“I had no idea he had done that and I received a phone call one day to say that I had secured a place on the programme,” she says.
“I still had no idea what was going on.
"When I told my husband I got the call, he explained what it was.
“I completed the Food Academy programme, which was an intense, six-month food business course, and it turned out to be one of the scariest things I had ever done.
"I left school at 15 , so it was a big challenge for me.
"I basically blagged my way through the course, but one thing I did have was street smarts and I was confident in my ability to sell.”
In Retailers Nationwide
When Funky Monkey Foods was starting out, Debbie’s creations came to life at home in her kitchen.
“We didn’t get any funding or investment,” she says.
“Every penny we made went back into the company and we didn’t take a wage for the first three years.
"In 2019, I started taking a wage and I applied to the local Fingal office for help.
"They were great, providing us with some funding, and advice and support from their mentors.”
Debbie also visited SuperValu stores and local butchers to promote her products.
“The Musgrave Group were incredibly supportive of our products and stocked them in their Centra and SuperValu stores,” she says.
“I also met some lovely people from the BWG Group who gave me an amazing opportunity at one of their trade shows and also a doorway into their Mace and Londis stores.”
At this point, Debbie needed to move out of her home kitchen to cope with market demand, so she hired a small kitchen in a sports complex for a year. She quickly outgrew that space and decided to rent the upstairs floor of a warehouse where she built a state-of-the-art industrial kitchen.
“At this point, in 2019, I secured a contract with Aldi Ireland through the Grow With Aldi programme,” she says.
“We now supply Aldi stores nationwide with our products.
"Like Musgrave and BWG Foods, Aldi are also an amazing team to work with.
"Every opportunity I get, I apply to Dunnes Stores, Lidl and Tesco, so hopefully someday I will receive a reply.
"It is hard to get in front of these big companies or to even get a reply.”
Chinese Inspired, Irish Made
The Funky Monkey website features easy to follow recipes showing consumers how its Funky Monkey Salt & Chilli Spice Bag Mix and Funky Monkey Chinese Curry Sauce Mix can be incorporated into quick, convenient, and healthy meals, including Funky Monkey Salt & Chilli Chicken, Funky Monkey Singapore Chow Mein, and Funky Monkey Salt & Chilli Chicken Balls.
“We get a lot of feedback on Facebook and Instagram regarding our recipes, and from people using our products who post pictures and comments on dishes that they have created themselves,” she says.
“At Funky Monkey Foods our passion extends to every aspect of our production, from choosing the correct packaging to hand picking the freshest ingredients.
"All our fruit and vegetables are sourced locally and only the finest are chosen.
"We take sustainability very seriously – all our packaging is recyclable, and all our cooking is carried out on the same day.”
The spice bag is an Irish food phenomenon inspired by Chinese cuisine and popular in most parts of the country.
The dish is most commonly sold in Chinese takeaways, but now, courtesy of Funky Monkey Foods, shoppers can create their own spice bag in the comfort of their own home.
“Our Salt & Chilli Spice Bag Mix makes the perfect seasoning for shredded chicken, chicken wings, goujons, pork chops, meatballs, prawns, roast potatoes, or a barbecue, or you can simply sprinkle it over chips, pizza or pasta,” says Debbie.
“To make a Spice Bag, you simply fry vegetables, add cooked shredded chicken, cooked chips, and sprinkle some Funky Monkey Salt & Chilli Spice Bag Mix.
"Our Chinese Curry Sauce Mix is created using the same technique as your local Chinese takeaway, but we've made ours a little healthier.
"It can be enjoyed with chicken, pork, or beef, or even add some prawns and some onion.
"If you are vegetarian, then the possibilities are endless – just add whatever vegetables you like and pour your creation over a bed of boiled or fried rice, fried noodles or some homemade chips and enjoy delicious Chinese style ‘fake-away’ curry in the comfort of your own home.”
As Debbie puts it, Irish shoppers have “definitely moved on from cabbage and potatoes,” with younger generations more open to spicy and more exotic foods.
“This is obviously a big boost for our business,” she says.
“Our unique selling points would be that our products are very low in fat, they are affordable, and they are very easy to use.”
This year, Funky Monkey Foods will be expanding beyond its two successful products and launching a new Singapore Chow Mein mix.
The company is also planning to ship is products worldwide.
“We currently ship to the UK but we have had some interest from Australia, so we are very excited about the opportunities that overseas markets present for us in 2024 and beyond,” says Debbie.
“Our ultimate ambition is to be a worldwide brand with lots of new products.”
While the Funky Monkey Foods business is new to the Love Irish Food organisation, they are delighted with the level of promotion they have received from the Love Irish Food team.
“I would definitely recommend Love Irish Food to other smaller businesses,” she says.
“They are so easy to speak with and the opportunities they offer small businesses like ourselves is amazing.”