Our new member, Mara Mennicken, is a big chocolate lover, health enthusiast and full of entrepreneurial energy. In 2017 she founded the GOOD Chocolatier – a social enterprise creating inclusive employment opportunities by handcrafting healthy, ethical chocolates.
Raised into an ethical life way, Mara Mennicken was always concerned with the story behind a product. In 2017 she decided to create a fairly-traded, 100% organic, and plant-based chocolate to contribute to a sustainable future. The GOOD Chocolatier was born offering dark chocolate that is loaded with minerals, vitamins, antioxidants and flavonoids and stays away from artificial fillers and emulsifiers so that the good in the chocolate remains good in one’s body. Instead of conventional cane sugar, Mara uses coconut sugar, maple syrup, honey, blueberries and dates to give the chocolate the desired sweetness.
The chocolate is produced locally in Vancouver and even though cacao does not grow close, most of other ingredients source from British Columbia. The beans are from Ecuador where they work exclusively with small-scale fair trade farms, and are constantly building new relationships with the growers.
Besides producing fair trade and organic chocolate, the GOOD Chocolatier also creates inclusive employment opportunities for people with autism by partnering with the PALS Autism Society and educates the community by offering chocolate making workshops where participants create their own chocolate bars and learn more about the supply chain and production of good chocolate.
We had the chance to talk to Mara and get to know more about her vegan chocolate business.
In 2013 you moved from Germany to Vancouver. Why did you decide to establish a life in Canada?
Because the lifestyle suits me better that what I’ve had known from Germany – I love the outdoors, being exposed to so many different cultures without having to travel, and just general open-mindedness and opportunity to start something with the support you would wish for if you do. I was here many years ago for both high school and work experience. That was for no more than a year each but it gave me great insight about the country and whether I fit here or not.
What inspired you to start your own company?
Chocolate! And the concept of social enterprises, which can be so powerful in societies I think. And for saying this, I needed to try myself – Vancouver is a hub for start ups and small businesses and like many other cities, also has many socially marginalized citizens. Combining the two in the form of social enterprising only makes sense to me.
How did you build your network in the industry?
I generally enjoy meeting new people and charting about the things that matter to me, in whichever settings. So my network builds quite naturally. At university I was working in the campus sustainability team and got to know likeminded students, on the weekends I worked as a server and got stuck with the ones that had similar values to me. When I started the chocolate business however, my network started to really filter and develop depth with the social impact community and other small businesses. I love Vancouverites for creating so many opportunities to connect – there is something going on every evening, sometimes multiple things all with topics that interest me.
What are the biggest challenges for your business?
Sometimes I am not sure whether my end goal is to stop growing when every unemployed person at PALS finds employment though the Good Chocolatier, or whether my goal should be bigger – to build something that is accessible for other people with Autism outside from PALS. Let’s see where the journey takes me but I do like the idea of building as much inclusivity as possible.
Besides being a business owner, you are also the Community Manager at World of Walas’ Innovation Centre, Dudoc Vancouver. Tell us about your role there.
Dudoc is a very impactful company addressing so many crucial challenges we are facing in our cities today. My role is to build the sustainability community around us by creating events and going out to hear how others might address those challenges. I build relationships with people in the industry and see how our innovation center could support their growth and success. It is a very organic approach and often leads to more collaboration, bringing awareness to the many new tools and innovations that are already on the market in urban development – may it be building materials, smart windows, solutions to reduce food waste, smarter, energy efficient transportation, indoor farming, environmentally friendly office or home solutions. There are so many themes that fall under ‘sustainable development’ but basically, everything that improves our urban systems and the lives of the people using and living it.
Being so engaged and involved, how do you manage to still keep a healthy work-life-balance?
Nice question! I sometimes ask myself that too. I have many ways and tools but the best would be to listen to myself. I mostly schedule myself back to back for job, business and other projects but I have also learned to take a break when I need it. Break for me usually means yoga, running in the park, snowboarding or standing upside down for some time. I meditate, journal, and have a thing for personal development besides the society/business life going on. I am thankful for the 2 years I took to learn about myself, values, and ways to process, handle stress and all that will keep me healthy while doing the things I care about. Now it seems to come quite naturally.
What would be your advice to young entrepreneurs?
Probably a different one for each entrepreneur I meet! Depending on the industry they are in, their character and challenges they have. Generally, I love meeting entrepreneurs and learning about their unique skills and vision. If someone wants advice, I am happy to share my full-of-ideas-brain with them in whichever ways I can.
Here some personal notes but I’m sure they are obvious for many:
- Make sure that what you do has a positive impact in society – there are too many problems to be solved and waiting for you to get your hand on. Don’t waste your time with things that down the road, people won’t remember, throw out or never had a need for in the first place
- Always make time for your friends, your family and yourself. I think a close support network is crucial to long term success
- KEEP HAVING FUN with your business. I see it as a form of creative expression and yes there are tasks that are not fun but since it’s your own business, you can find ways to make them fun and keep healthy. Co-work with entrepreneur – buddies, meet in a brewery, reward yourself with a gift or down-time
Thank you Mara for taking the time, we appreciate your insights very much!
If you want to learn more about the GOOD Chocolatier, order delicious vegan chocolate or sign up for a workshop please visit:
Media credits: all the GOOD Chocolatier