Tiziana Ienna & Tara Gilbert of Zazubean Organic Chocolate: “Doing your research and putting yourself out there”

Women are not taken quite as seriously as men and perhaps have had historically less access to funding. In the beginning, I think if we were men, people in the industry would have been more receptive to our innovation. However, today there are so many really successful female owned companies in the food industry. While […]

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Women are not taken quite as seriously as men and perhaps have had historically less access to funding. In the beginning, I think if we were men, people in the industry would have been more receptive to our innovation. However, today there are so many really successful female owned companies in the food industry. While the food industry has a lot of retail owners and buyers that are still mostly men, this too is slowly changing.


As a part of our series about women who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Tiziana Ienna & Tara Gilbert, creators of Zazubean Organic Chocolate. Tiz & Tara had a passion for chocolate, healthy living & and doing business in a better way. They could not help but wonder “Why isn’t there chocolate for overall wellness?” After researching herbs and antioxidants, the two paired with pharmaceutical professionals and fine chocolatiers- and Zazubean was born. Zazubean bars are infused with high-quality superfoods such as coconut sugar, making it a healthier alternative to sugary chocolate bars.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you both a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to the launch of Zazubean?

We were on an all-female pedal powered excursion on Galiano Island (Island off of the mainland of BC). Despite the fact that space was limited in our packs, most of us brought our favourite chocolate bars. We found it interesting how many women gravitate towards chocolate at their time of the month, yet interestingly, there wasn’t a chocolate bar designed for this. So, after researching the market and herbs, the Lunatic bar was born.

Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

We are always trying to create the Unicorn. The ultimate better for you indulgence. It satisfies the cravings, it’s good for you, the planet and the growers

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first creating Zazubean? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

We were one of the first to put botanical ingredients into a chocolate. People thought we were crazy, but we were just 10 years earlier. Once we put too much of a herb called Dong quai into our Lunatic chocolate bar. We didn’t realize that Organic ingredients change so much from batch to batch. Had to throw the whole run out, so we learned to expect the unexpected with natural organic ingredients (& to always test them first). Another early story was a week before our first production run, we received a trademark rejection for our registered company name. We were desperate to come up with another name and when I watched my business partner get off her scooter with a rather large helmet on her head it reminded me of the great GAZOO. That’s where the name Zazubean was born. We learned to be more original and do our research before moving forward with investments.

We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?

We had a conversation with the owner of a National food distribution company that took the time to give us business tips on the ins and outs of the food industry. He gave us a lot of information on who would be a good fit as a distributor. He made such an impact, because he schooled us on how the industry works and armed us with the knowledge to help meet the expectations of our future supply chain partners (retailers and wholesalers). We were also connected to a community of like- minded business through Hollyhock ( Social Venture Institute), and a number of mission- based companies that was inspiring for us in shaping the way we moved forward with our values based business model.

In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?

There is no innovation without some failure! In the beginning we launched a functional product that was ahead of the curve in the food industry. While we had a great idea of having functional botanicals in chocolate, we also needed to be able to convince the market it was a better way. Being ahead of the trend takes a lot of money for a small start-up. We recognized this & had to pivot quickly to superfoods in chocolate that was readily accepted in the market vs. our original functional chocolate with efficacy.

Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.

When you are a small company, you do have to make a better product. Being small makes you more nimble and able to take more risks that other larger companies may not be able to take. So, you can be more innovative. An example of this is with the names of our chocolate bars, we were the first chocolate company to give a personality to each bar. We were more creative with our flavours and ingredients and we were one of the first to come out with alternative & lower glycemic sugars in chocolate.

Doing your research and putting yourself out there. You need to identify trends and know your competition. What makes you different? It is the most common question you will get from a retail partner — you need to know your entire competitive landscape. We have been working on no added sugar chocolates for over 4 years and it’s just exploding now. We were aware of this trend and have worked on getting the best tasting low sugar chocolate on the market.

There is something to persistence, but it’s important to be reflective on whether your product is the right fit for the market. If your sales are all of a sudden going down, you need to make a change. It’s telling you something. After the first 2 years in business, because our bars were smaller and too expensive, we realized that people were not willing to pay (at that time) for functional chocolate. We quickly changed manufacturers, increased our format size of our bars and switched to Superfood ingredients and our company has grown each year ever since.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by ‘women disruptors’ that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?

Women are not taken quite as seriously as men and perhaps have had historically less access to funding. In the beginning, I think if we were men, people in the industry would have been more receptive to our innovation. However, today there are so many really successful female owned companies in the food industry. While the food industry has a lot of retail owners and buyers that are still mostly men, this too is slowly changing.

If you both could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

To inspire conscious purchasing. People vote everyday with their dollars & we believe one of the best ways to change the world is to support only companies that align with your values. For us that means being demonstrably ethical, environmentally friendly & supporting healthy lifestyles while respecting all the people in our supply chain that bring our products to market.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you both in your lives?

We try to live by Brené Brown’s advice to step into the arena, have the courage to take risks, if you fall down, pick yourself up and keep trying.

How can our readers follow you online?

https://www.instagram.com/zazubean/
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