HERStory | Rachel McKinley
Meet Rachel – Master Chocolatier at Purdys
Prior to joining Purdys Chocolatier in July of 2015, Rachel worked as an artisan Chocolatier in her own shop. As Purdys Master Chocolatier, Rachel’s main focus is creating exciting new products (seasonal and year-round) for all of Purdys’ customers, including vegan and No Sugar Added options.
Rachel’s other responsibilities include working very closely with the production team on the manufacturing side to help them troubleshoot challenges they might be having, and answering questions like “Is there a problem with the formulation?” or “What can we do to improve the product itself?”
Communication is vital to Rachel’s role. She is the technical educator for the kitchen and works to make sure that the communication about Purdys’ products, specifically anything related to the chocolates themselves is communicated clearly to their shops so that they can carry that information forward to their customers.
Making the move to work for Purdys:
“Before I got into the chocolate world, I studied Biochemistry and Microbiology, and I have a deep understanding and interest in ingredients and how they work together. That led to my desire to be a Research and Development Chocolatier and to focus on the creation of new things.
Owning my own business didn’t allow me to focus on that as much as I’d like. And truthfully, I didn’t love owning my own business. It wasn’t the right fit for me, but I’m so glad I had that experience because it gave me the background that I need today.
My move to manufacturing kind of happened unintentionally. When I was in the process of selling my business and starting up a consulting practice to build new products, Purdys approached me to see if I was interested in joining their team.
I’m so glad I made that decision. I feel fortunate to work for such a great family-owned company. Purdys is so established and almost all the time when I meet a new person and I tell them what I do, they have a ‘Purdys moment’ – a story connected with our chocolate and something very meaningful in their lives.”
Blending science and art:
“My favourite part of my job is creating new things and the creativity that comes with that. Making chocolate is the perfect blend of science and art. That whole combination is really satisfying.
I love, love, love going into our shops and seeing people get excited about products that I’ve created. I became a Chocolatier because I realized how much I like it from like a science and creative perspective, but I also realized how much joy it brought people. Seeing that happen time and time again is the pinnacle of my job.”
Most significant project in my career:
“Just about two years ago, I was playing around in my kitchen, and I created a plant-based caramel. It didn’t taste like coconut, which is a big deal because coconut milk is the closest plant-based alternative to dairy. I was really excited about it, and I shared it with my team who also got very excited about it. We knew we had the opportunity to create innovation in the industry. They asked me, if they gave me everything I needed, would I be able to launch the product within a year?
That meant building and installing a dedicated space in our Factory Kitchen to make something fully vegan. And we did it! We did it in just over a year. I first pitched it in January of 2021, and we launched the product in March of 2022.
The line was installed one year after the initial pitch, and then we had a couple months to get it up and running. It was very exciting. Our customers love it, the product has won awards and it really outsold what we expected it to do. It was a huge accomplishment because it involved everything from the ground up, including manufacturing and setting up a new production line.”
Opportunities for women entering manufacturing:
“Some people may be surprised to learn this but at Purdys, we are a highly women-based organization. There’s at least two women to every man in this building. It’s a unique space where women can go anywhere in the organization and that’s so exciting to me.
I didn’t realize that food manufacturing was a career path when I was in university. There are so many opportunities in food and beverage in general. It doesn’t matter what gender you are – manufacturing in the food and beverage space offers so many different opportunities.”
Advice to my younger self:
“I speak at high schools a lot, and I tour groups for CME’s open doors activities, and I always tell them to say yes to things, keep an open mind and try new things even if you’re not sure if you’ll like it or not – you never know what will hit you.
Don’t just automatically settle for conventional career opportunities. That’s the attitude I had as a younger person and it served me well. I’m not sure that I would change much.”
My favourite chocolate creation to date:
“The one I’m most sentimentally attached to is a Saskatoon Berry Truffle. I grew up in the Prairies eating Saskatoon berries and it was very closely connected to my family’s food culture. I made it in honour of my paternal grandmother who would make things with these berries all the time.
When I came to Purdys, I wanted to expand what we thought of as Canadian flavours. The fact that this product is so close to my heart and home makes it truly special to me. Plus, it’s delicious!”