Kate McAleer, 27
Owner/Founder of Bixby & Co., Rockland
When it comes to chocolate bars, young entrepreneur Kate McAleer, owner of Bixby & Co., knows a thing or two about reinventing the wheel. Made with the health-conscious consumer in mind, her organic, handcrafted treats, which contain naturally sweet dried fruit, nuts, spices and brown rice crisps, continue to fly off the shelves.
“We launched into Whole Foods Market very early on,” said McAleer about her business, which started in 2011. “We are in almost all of their stores nationwide, which is very exciting.”
Now operating from the old O’Hara Corp. ice factory in Rockland, Bixby & Co. was first launched in Warwick, N.Y., by McAleer and her mother, Donna McAleer, after McAleer realized in college that the candy-bar industry needed healthier options.
Named after her great-great-grandparents, Lillian and William K. Bixby, McAleer’s business is rooted in her active, health-conscious lifestyle.
“I wanted to honor my family history with the naming of my company,” said McAleer, of Rockport. “It was a culmination of a lot of my interests.”
Bixby & Co. was also inspired by McAleer’s travels. In high school, she studied abroad in France and China, where she learned about the different cuisines and exotic spices, which has helped her to create her seven Bixby Bar recipes. Her newest flavor, “Nutty for You,” which is vegan, contains dark chocolate, crunchy peanut butter and Maine sea salt.
“They are all gluten-free and kosher,” said McAleer of her chocolate bars. “Our dark bars are vegan and dairy-free.”
Her personal favorite is the “Knockout,” with milk chocolate, roasted peanuts, sun-dried bing cherries and red chipotle pepper.
“I like the spicy, sweet component of that bar,” she said. “I’ve always loved chocolate. I was exposed to it when I lived and studied abroad in France. I did a lot of market research on the voids in the marketplace and candy was yet to be reinvented.”
McAleer’s work combines her passion for cultural history with the culinary arts. In addition to earning a bachelor’s degree from New York University in East Asian studies, McAleer attended the Institute of Culinary Education in Manhattan, where she earned degrees in pastry arts and culinary management. She also earned certificates from Ecole Chocolate in Vancouver and is a graduate of the Goldman Sachs 10,000, a small businesses program at Babson College in Wellesley, Mass.
“Food was an interesting medium through which a lot of my interests came together,” said McAleer. “I started prototyping Bixby Bars and found a supportive outlet for them with Whole Foods Market.”
Bixby Bars also can be purchased at Lois’ Natural Marketplace in Scarborough, and Pineland Farms in New Gloucester. As of 2015, Bixby Bars are sold in more than 700 stores across the U.S., mostly in Whole Foods.
McAleer recently spoke with Maine Women about what it takes to be successful in the food industry and what she enjoys most about her work.
Q: What inspired you to start Bixby & Co.? Is there a mentor or individual that was helpful to you?
A: My mother is, and continues to be, a huge source of inspiration and mentoring to me – as a daughter, businesswoman and human being. My mother has been my key mentor and partner guiding me through startup and beyond.
Q: What does it take to be successful?
A: Hard work. “Hard,” meaning at the times when the absolute unimaginably tough or challenging moments and just stopping would be far easier than mushing through and persevering – you find a way to keep on mushing.
Q: What is your favorite recipe, or have you developed your own recipe? What makes it unique?
A: Every Bixby Bar is a unique recipe created with lots of research, trial and error and refinement. My favorite recipes have been my grandmother’s famous chocolate cake, which has been a favorite birthday cake for all of my siblings and me. We actually have a family cookbook that is filled with family history and recipes.
Q: What do you enjoy most about what you do? What would you be doing if you weren’t operating Bixby & Co.?
A: I enjoy several aspects of running Bixby & Co. I have had to develop skills in all sorts of areas in which I had zero or no prior interest or experience. Learning these types of skills or working through these types of challenges has made me become a better thinker and manager. I love this aspect of entrepreneurship in general – how it forces you to get into the nitty-gritty and work your way out. If I were not working for Bixby & Co., I would more than likely be working in some capacity around my interests and studies revolving around China.
Q: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
A: I hope to be making many, many, many Bixby Bars. With the help of many of the resources in Maine, as well as the business education I have tapped into through the Goldman Sachs 10,000 small business program, CEI (Coastal Enterprises Inc.) women’s business center and mentors, we have a plan to continue to grow the company and expand the distribution of Bixby Bars over the next three to five years. Each year we assess the previous year and hone our plan for the next year.
Kate McAleer is the founder of Bixby & Co., an artisan chocolate bar company in Rockland that is certified organic and gluten-free. The bars are available at Whole Foods markets nationwide.Courtesy photosBixby & Co. produces seven Bixby Bar flavors, including three vegan options, made with premium organic chocolate free of genetically modified organisms, preservatives and syrups.