Bixby & Co

MERC Helped This Local Chocolatier Gain a Presence in Maine’s First Costco


“We largely attribute our outstanding performance for the 2024 audits to the generous grant from MTI and our work with Maine MEP.” – Kate McAleer, Founder and CEO of Bixby & Co

compliance with Costco

additional Costco orders

up to $60,000
in sales through Costco

Bixby & Co is Maine’s first “bean to bar” chocolate factory, using organic cacao beans from various Caribbean countries to make their confectionery delights. They create their chocolate in a historic building in Rockland, ME.   

Premier big box wholesaler Costco was poised to open its first store in Maine in 2023. Bixby & Co founder and CEO Kate McAleer saw an opportunity to showcase her chocolates at Costco – a move that would be sure to increase sales. In discussions with Costco, they decided to showcase two Bixby products – Needhams and the Allagash White Beer Brittle. 

To continue selling Bixby chocolates at Costco, Bixby & Co would have to pass a third-party audit for Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) for food safety. Costco’s audit criteria went beyond the standard GMP audit guidelines of other grocery chains. 

In addition to finding a third-party audit company, Kate McAleer needed to undergo an extensive process of learning Costco’s unique standards, and develop procedures for complying with those standards and maintaining required documentation. At stake would be the discontinuation of Bixby & Co’s relationship with Costco, and with that a potential $60,000 loss in sales annually. 

Bixby & Co had worked with MTI before, having previously received an MTI grant to help them launch their bean to bar production line. They heard about the MERC program from John Karp, the current resident entrepreneur for MTI.

MERC connected Bixby & Co with the Maine MEP (Manufacturing Extension Partnership) to prepare for the audit. They worked with Patricia Hinds, a contractor with Maine MEP. Bixby and Patricia had previously worked together when Bixby was preparing for audits for other retailers. Patricia Hinds is a certified instructor for HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point), the accepted food safety standards for GMP. She has worked with several food producers in Maine and New Hampshire.

Patricia Hinds helped them compile all of the requirements of the Costco audit, as well as conduct a map of potential noncompliance areas. She also helped them develop updated policies, procedures, and templates for documentation. 

This MERC funded project was a tremendous success. Bixby & Co successfully passed their unannounced audit in February of 2024. The audit results were an impressive 99% compliance with Costco’s standards, and 100% compliance with general GMP audit standards. 

Bixby founder Kate McAleer credits her consultant with bringing a wealth of experience and practical advice to the table, as well as always gently encouraging them to do more.

Without MERC investment, Bixby & Co would have struggled to find the resources to devote to meeting Costco’s stringent audit requirements in the time needed to continue their working relationship with Costco. By passing their audit at the top percentages of compliance, Costco and other retailers can trust Bixby & Co as a valuable partner. The combined annual sales from large retailers often exceed $200,000 for Bixby. 

 “We largely attribute our outstanding performance for the 2024 audits to the generous grant from MTI and our work with Maine MEP,” said Kate McAleer.

Kate McAleer is passionate about keeping her business in Maine. She notes that it’s always easy for her to reach state agencies for questions and assistance, and credits the policies of the state government that support small businesses like Bixby & Co. 

Throughout the years, Bixby & Co have applied for and received several grants through MTI and other organizations that have allowed them to scale their operations. 

What’s next for Bixby & Co? They plan on staying in Maine and continuing to grow. They are committed to being a progressive employer for their staff, and a good neighbor in their community. All this in addition to of course continuing to create innovative and tasty confections.