Kate McAleer was a student at New York University when her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer.
“It led me to become very interested in healthy eating,” she recalls. “These things all came together: I was in college, my mom had cancer, I was becoming educated about the world and there was a Whole Foods right there in my NYU dorm.” Plus, she was an athlete (she played golf at NYU), so she thought a lot about the foods she put into her body.
Although these biographic details sound unrelated, it was the culmination of these factors that led her to create Bixby & Co., her line of organic, fair-trade craft chocolate bars made in Rockland.
As she approached graduation, she knew she wanted to do something a little different from her peers, and she knew she wanted to go into food. So she went downstairs to the Whole Foods in her dorm and did a little research.
“I noticed that there was a void in the marketplace for candy. There was organic milk and cheese and produce. But candy hadn’t been reinvented in the same sense,” she says. “I wanted to be a pioneer in a new product category. I wanted to create a recipe with 35 percent less sugar and three to five times more protein and fiber than a regular candy bar. I wanted to bring a new approach for candy, not just make a sugar-ridden, organic candy bar.”
Over the next few years, Kate pursued the idea. She attended the Institute of Culinary Education in New York City, where she studied pastry-making and culinary management. She learned about the chemical composition of chocolate and the nutritional benefits of cocoa butter. And in 2011, her sweet idea became reality and she founded her award-winning line of chocolate candy bars.
Five years later, Bixby & Co. is a bustling company, and Kate is excited about all the growth she’s seen. She’s added new flavors and tweaked old recipes.
“There’s been an interesting evolution,” she says. “I’m coming out with more Americana-inspired flavor profiles, like peanut butter bars. I want to be progressive in the market, but I also realized people like familiar flavors.” (She personally adores adding a bit of spice to her chocolate to “kick it up a notch.”)
Nowadays, Kate doesn’t spend nearly as much time hanging out at Whole Foods. But she does still golf. “I won the Ladies Club Championship in Rockland a couple weekends ago,” she says with a note of pride. And did she eat a Bixby’s bar while on the green? “Of course!”
Katy Kelleher is a writer and editor who lives in Buxton with two dogs and one husband.