Renée Mackey Burson has a mission: to bring her unique line of nutritious snacks across Canada and she’s on course to make it happen. This wasn’t the plan Renée started out with, but after a few culinary zigs and zags she’s finally found her purpose.
When Renée joined the Culinary Nutrition Expert Program in 2018, she was interested in learning how to transition from her 25-year career in education to earning an income through her side passion, food blogging. After many years of writing a dessert-themed blog, Renée was ready to take her recipe development in a healthier direction and learn new culinary skills to share with readers.
Within just a few short months, that plan entirely changed as Renée discovered new passions and prospects she didn’t know were possible.
“My interests completely changed during the course and after,” she says. “I went into it thinking it was just going to be about nutrition and I came out with so much more than that. I loved every second of it. The program lit a fire in me and really changed the course of my career.”
A Love of Food Prep
There is a lot of cooking in the Culinary Nutrition Expert Program – it’s the most delicious homework you’ll ever eat. In order to cook, though, there is a certain amount you need to prep first. While some people find meal prep complete drudgery, Renée soon discovered she adored it.
While working a full-time job and preparing her course work, Renée took on a side role of food prep for a local gym, creating healthy meals and snacks for clients to purchase throughout the week. It was a win-win: Renée could have fun in the kitchen making nutritious food she loved while clients reaped the health benefits and convenience.
But it wasn’t just a cool business opportunity that was altering Renée’s life – the Culinary Nutrition Expert Program quickly transformed the way she cooked and ate at home.
“I thought I knew about food, but I learned so much about the therapeutic benefits. My whole philosophy changed,” Renée says. “It really did change my views of food, how I feed my family and how I shop.”
And it was her personal relationships that soon inspired her entire business direction.
Developing a Business Vision
Not long after Renée completed the Culinary Nutrition Expert Program, she tried her hand at teaching cooking classes. She rented a kitchen space above a local grocery store and during her very first class an entire dish shelving unit collapsed. According to Renée, with each class there was a calamity that made her question if teaching classes was for her.
What she noticed is that participants were clamouring for Renée to make food for them, especially the snacks. When the gym she was working for closed, a local café immediately got in touch to ask if she would sell them her recipes.
One of Renée’s most popular snacks for gym clients were whole food energy bars made from ingredients like nuts, seeds, natural sweeteners, chocolate, coconut, sea salt, and nutritious oils. Instead of selling her recipes to the café, she quickly packaged the energy bars as her first product and started selling them herself to local businesses and directly to customers.
“I realized I’ve really got something here,” she says. “People are interested in real food and where it comes from.”
Renée began working with a branding company and didn’t realize what her company vision would be until her father sustained a brain injury during a car accident. They were chatting on the phone, with Renée offering him nutrition advice. Suddenly, her vision was crystal clear.
“I hung up the phone and knew what I needed to do: use my culinary nutrition experience to make food with a purpose,” she says.
Renée named her business Soul Purpose Bars. She creates thoughtful, therapeutic snacks made with nutritious, whole food ingredients. In addition to her original mocha-flavoured energy bar, she soon created an Empower-Mint bar to support brain health, and then an anti-inflammatory Golden Glory bar inspired by her sister who has rheumatoid arthritis.
The Challenges and Rewards of a Food-Based Business
Renée’s bars were immediately a big hit with local and loyal customers – but a bigger challenge was getting them to larger locations. Soul Purpose Bars are refrigerated and have a 90-day shelf life, which is much shorter than the typical convenience bars you’ll find in most grocery stores. Based on what she learned in the Culinary Nutrition Expert Program, Renée wasn’t willing to compromise on ingredients and began introducing herself to health food stores and grocery chains and educating them about whole foods, expiry dates, and health.
Since she launched Soul Purpose Bars in October 2019, her product reach has expanded from small local deliveries to 19 health food stores and grocery stores across Ontario. She has two employees who create each bar by hand and despite a global pandemic, Renée moved to a new, larger kitchen space in June 2020 to accommodate for more business growth.
“I’m so proud when I see the bars in a store or a grocery store,” Renée says. “I love showing people you can have snacks that are good for you.”
Renée also takes pride in the fact that her customers view her as a credible resource of information and ask her questions about food, nutrition, and health. Renée is well-known for her lending library of cookbooks and health resources, too, and she’ll often drop off a few relevant books for customers with their porch deliveries.
She’s also still working full-time in primary special education, where she uses her culinary nutrition knowledge to teach kids – and other educators – about whole food, nutritious choices. (When she’s done school for the day, she’ll head off to her kitchen to work on Soul Purpose Bars.)
In addition to her goal of having Soul Purpose Bars available in stores across the country, Renée is working on increasing her online presence (she ships to anywhere in Canada) and is testing out a new product to add to the Soul Purpose collection.
“It doesn’t feel like work to me,” Renée points out. “I’m so passionate about it, that it’s fun.”
With her enthusiasm and dedication, we have no doubt Renée will meet her goals and then some!