Monday, January 14, 2013

Interview with Kate McAleer Owner and Founder of Bixby Chocolate

Interview with Kate McAleer
Owner and Founder of Bixby Chocolate

By Kathryn Gordon and Jeff Yoskowitz

Kathryn:  Hi Kate!  You've been busy since you finished your program at ICE (Institute of Culinary Education). Jeff and I both had you as a student.  At what point did you decide to work with chocolate?

Kate:  I came to ICE already very interested in candy and chocolate.

I am a golfer, and as such, I had experienced a complete lack of healthy candy options available and I came to ICE eager to learn how candy is made and how to improve upon it.

That’s why I wanted to create a healthier candy bar line with pure chocolate, with no GMO ingredients, preservatives or added sugars.  The Bixby bars are all natural or organic, and incorporate exotic spices, healthy nuts and fruits. 

Kathryn:   After school, you completed a chocolate externship at Chocolat Moderne with Chef Joan Coukos.  What would you think Joan makes of you now?

Kate: I think Joan is proud of me.  She was a great mentor and she makes the most amazing chocolate.

Editor’s Note:  Food Start Up Help has previously interviewed Chef Joan at Chocolat Moderne: FoodStartUpHelp Chocolat Moderne

Jeff:   What have been your biggest challenges, hurdles and unexpected pleasures founding the business, to date?

Kate:  The biggest challenge has been just learning the trade and coming up to steam quickly on areas in the field that were foreign to me and not something you learn in school.

The largest hurdle is being a small company, yet having to compete among the more seasoned players.

All of the professionals in the field have been the unexpected pleasures.  Many have taken the time to help and lead me in the correct direction.  It has been amazing as a young entrepreneur to have mentors to look up to. 

Kathryn:  You have said that you left an early career path in academia to found your company and you returned to live at home while you built your business.  Is it ok, living again at home?  Do you ever miss the more academic life, or are you just keeping too busy?

Kate:   It's always a big adjustment, moving out of academia and out into the real world.  In order to start my business, I needed to move home--thank goodness my parents welcomed me and have been supportive.

I am always learning in this industry and make it a point to take seminars or classes to further my knowledge.  Busy has a new definition when it comes to running a start-up business--I have worked more hours than ever before and will continue to do so.

Many had warned me that a start-up is an all consuming endeavor....

Kathryn:   What's it like, to work (and live) with your mother?  Who names the bars -- both of you?  I think the names are great!!

Kate:   I feel privileged to being living and working with my mother.  I see more of her now than all of my years growing up as she fulfilled her own professional career.  I have two built in mentors--my parents are two seasoned professionals and I am so fortunate to have them available to me.

Naming is a process and lots of research goes underway when we are creating a new flavor.

Jeff:  Do you do all of your own press kits, website and other marketing?

Kate:   As a start-up we do a lot on our own.  We outsource areas where we feel we need professional guidance.  We write our own press kits.  I handle all of the social media.  We did engage assistance for our website.

Jeff: Was it difficult to source your organic ingredient sources?  Have you found minimum orders to be an issue?

Kate:   Sourcing is an integral part of this business and requires a great deal of research at all times.

We have found that the larger you are the better the pricing.  Therefore, as a small business you pay a higher price until you can grow your business.   This is one of the biggest challenges we face as a small business competing against larger companies with more purchasing power.

Kathryn:  You've only been in business for a short while, but I know you are in several regions of Whole Foods already, and recently got into more.  

Would you recommend the Whole Foods route to another entrepreneur, even if there's such a mark-up by the time it goes through a distributor to them?  

Kate:   I am privileged to be a YouthTrade certified entrepreneur--this means my company is owned and operated by a young entrepreneur under the age of 35 with a sustainable and conscious business.  

Whole Foods was the first retailer of YouthTrade products and it has been an amazing relationship.  Growing your business with distribution is a model any entrepreneur should research and understand before they delve into it--it may not be ideal for every business.

Kathryn:  You have developed one of the most clear visions I've seen for a website and packaging.  I know you talked about labeling, and a proof reading issue you had for one of the new chocolate barsï¾…

Kate:  Lesson learned:  always ask multiple people to proof your packaging before you say it’s ok to print.  It’s a costly and avoidable error.

Jeff: Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?

Kate:   I suggest lots of research, planning and a good business plan is essential. Conviction is also another element that is key.

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