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At 23, Vanessa started her own company, without funding or experience. Now 26, she passes down her tips for starting a business:
What started off as a home experiment—the simple blending of raw cocoa beans, figs and almonds—turned into a full-scale, pioneering operation headed entirely by Vanessa Barg, who at the time was 23. “I never expected to make a product, much less start a chocolate business, but I always loved to cook. My mom is Italian and she taught me that when you feed someone, you nourish them with your love.”
Through Gnosis Chocolate, Vanessa, a certified holistic health counselor, spreads her knowledge about wellbeing and environmental consciousness by producing raw chocolate bars that are organic, vegan, kosher, and free of refined sugar, dairy, soy, and gluten. Gnosis, which literally means knowledge of the heart and knowledge of truth, represents her passion for creating healthy foods that have the potential to prevent illness.
Though she first planned to study medicine, Vanessa underwent a personal health revolution—starting to research and cook with superfoods (herbs and plants) to help her wellbeing. “As young women we’re faced with stressors—school, relationships and self-esteem issues. I felt like I was not only nurturing my body by cooking healthy foods for myself but also feeding my soul.”
While enrolled at the Institute of Integrative Nutrition in New York City, Vanessa heard a speech by a raw cacao authority that inspired her to experiment with chocolate. She went home that night and made raw chocolate bars to give away in class the next day—they were a big hit! She began making them for some of her clients, offering them as a healthier snack alternative to processed candy. After a year of answering requests to make gift boxes, she decided to set up shop.
Now four years later, Gnosis produces hundreds of chocolate bars daily, with 100% of its products made by hand—from mixing and pouring chocolate to sticking on the labels. Team Gnosis also steers clear of using styrofoam, dried ice, bubble wrap—anything harmful to the environment—and donates 10 percent of its profits to the Fruit Tree Planting Foundation.
Vanessa’s raw chocolates are carried in almost 100 stores, including Whole Foods, who approached her with a request to distribute them. “My philosophy is that instead of focusing on marketing, sales calls, and other self-promotion, I can focus my energy into making an amazing product, and providing education and customer service. That way, the product will deserve its spot on the shelf rather than me having to buy its placement.”
Vanessa started THE RAW INTEGRITY PROJECT as an initiative to create certification regulations. Through the campaign she’s rubbed elbows with industry leaders to assure that foods that are labeled raw really are; that is, not heated over 118 degrees Fahrenheit. She regularly visits her suppliers at their farms and factories. In fact when we first called her for an interview, she was in Guadalajara visiting her main source for agave nectar. “I really believe you have to have integrity, especially when it comes to producing a food product because you are what you eat. There’s no way around it for me—I’d rather close my company than make a product that isn’t based on honesty and trust.”
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