Friday, December 14, 2012

Kate McAleer's (CAS '09) Chocolate Bar Creations

ykg-Ag4wHLtFR__-qrlIEB_myxJOLY-ayxyEg3ldNSU.jpg 'Tis the season for parties with friends and family and gifts of delectable sweets. We first tried Bixby Bars at the Chile Pepper Fiesta in Brooklyn and found out that NYU alumna Kate McAleer was behind these delicious bars. We recently had a chance to interview Kate and learn about her company, Bixby & Co.

NYU Arts and Science Alumni Relations: As kids, many of us often dreamt of starting our own chocolate company. What inspired you to do it? Was this something you had always wanted to do? Tell us about Bixby & Co. and how it began.

Kate McAleer: Actually the idea came to me when I was on the inaugural women’s golf team for NYU. When competing I looked for a healthy snack to keep the energy up for the back nine holes. The highly sugared and compounded snack bars that were the only available options on the course were not appetizing or satisfying. I thought wouldn’t it be nice to have a scrumptious, sophisticated, healthy and satisfying alternative for the health conscious and active adult. The light bulb went on that perhaps I could create that snack. During graduate school I decided to change course and go to culinary school to learn more about the commercial side of not only crafting food but also how to take a product to market and manage a business. This initiative was followed by attending a fabulous coaching program offered by the State University of New York (SUNY) program called Fasttrack for Start-up Businesses. Fasttrack also provided the practical tools to develop a business plan. After a year of business planning, I partnered with my mother, an executive who recently had retired, and we launched Bixby & Co., LLC in December 2011. The name of the company came from the surname of my great-great grandparents, Lillian and W. K. Bixby who lived the American dream during the turn of the 20th Century. I have been always been inspired by their fortitude and perseverance, and their commitment to giving back to society by improving the communities in which they lived.

How do you come up with your flavor combinations and are you currently working on any new bars? The flavors evolve from all of my years of travel to other lands and living in and experiencing their cultures. Extensive research--tools I learned while at NYU--is also much of the process. My Chinese host mother from my year abroad in high school introduced me to goji berries (used in To the Nines). She would encourage me to eat them as they encourage eye health in Chinese medicine.

Do you have a favorite bar or one that you have been thinking of making? Each bar is its own unique flavor combination and I really love them all. KnockOut is one of my favorites--the delayed fireworks is its saying goes: This bar packs a punch. More than likely, the next Bixby Bar creation will be an interesting spicy dark chocolate combination........

What are some of the challenges you face being in the chocolate marketplace? The average chocolate consumer typically has been slower to appreciate a gourmet artisan product such as the Bixby Bar. Education is a large part of introducing Bixby Bar to the chocolate consumer. Consumers have been raised on mass-produced inexpensive chocolate. Bixby creates an artisan, carefully hand-crafted and hand wrapped chocolate bar that offers a different experience that should be savored.

The packaging and design of the labels are clever and eye-catching. Can you talk about the design process? As a student of Art History, the packaging process was a lot of fun and I was very involved, researching all of the images used on each package. The name Bixby was a grounding point for the design of our company and brand. Named after my great-great grandmother Lillian Bixby, on whose birthday I was born, Bixby & Co. was rooted in turn of the twentieth century--the time period in which Lillian Bixby lived. Harkening back to this moment in time, when food was unadulterated and purer, corresponded with my philosophy for real food inclusions and no preservatives or additives. The golf themed packaging was an homage to my inspiration to create these chocolate snack bars while playing golf for NYU.

What skills and/or experiences did you learn at NYU that have helped you start and grow the company? My academic experience taught me how to think, reason, communicate and research. I also honed my writing and oral skills. Living in New York City was a stimulating environment that offered so much in terms of excitement, learning and culture. Studying abroad at NYU in Paris was a fantastic experience. Playing on the first women's varsity golf team was a blast and I learned much about balancing school work, classes and tournaments that I can relate to with wearing so many hats with my business.

Are there any plans to eventually make other products? Yes!

What advice would you give to alumni who are thinking of starting their own company? Take the time as I did with my mother and partner to conduct your research, plan, attend programs and tradeshows and seek out people with experience to learn about the business you would like to start. Developing a solid business plan that is realistic is a must. Do not be afraid to cold call or mystery shop extensively. Always ask the important questions that cover the pros and the cons; the ups and the downs; the good and the bad.

If you'd like to purchase Bixby Bars, here's where you can find them:, Whole Foods Market, Bedford Cheese Shop, Manhattan and Brooklyn, Greene Grape Provisions, Gastronomie 491, Sahadi's Importing Co., Gourmet Guild Brooklyn.

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