Mare de Sabores founders with Mare chefs

Harnessing the power of food to empower women in Brazil

Every year on 8 March, the world observes International Women’s Day. This March, IKEA Social Entrepreneurship recognises the work of the female entrepreneurs we support. Join us every Friday this month as we celebrate some of these remarkable women and how they’re contributing to a more sustainable and inclusive world.

Today, we feature Mariana Aleixo and Helena Edir, co-founders of Maré de Sabores in Brazil. Maré de Sabores (Portuguese for Flavour of Maré) supports women to build financial independence by providing them with training, work experience, and job opportunities in the food industry.  

Maré de Sabores is supported by our South America Accelerator programme, co-created by IKEA Social Entrepreneurship and NESsT.

Harnessing the potential of food 

Maré is a housing complex and favela (low-income informal neighbourhood) in northern Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and with approximately 140,000 residents, it’s one of the largest in the city.  

For Mariana, who grew up in the area, food plays an essential role in the social and cultural identity of Maré. In addition to the importance of having access to food and nutrition, she recognises that “the gastronomic sector is one of the most powerful economic activities in Maré, both in terms of offering goods and services for local consumption and for generating work and income for residents.”   

Her earliest memories are of family gatherings with food. “My parents were entrepreneurs in Maré, so my brothers and I were always together with them at their store or at our grandparents’ house, which was seasoned with food from northeastern Brazil,” she shared.  

Building on these memories and beliefs, Mariana gained gastronomy and production engineering degrees from the Public University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ). She worked in top-tier hotels and restaurants in the city and has channelled her knowledge and experience into improving the livelihoods of the women of Maré. 

Empowering women in Maré

Mariana co-founded Maré de Sabores alongside Helena Edir over a decade ago to support women living in the Maré complex. The enterprise is at its core a catering service, making and delivering delicious food to homes and businesses in Maré and the surrounding areas. The business trains and employs women, providing an income and supporting them in building financial security.

They also provide women, especially low-income single mothers, with work experience, and other job opportunities in the food industry. Maré de Sabores has trained thousands of women who previously lacked access to their own income and placed over 160 women into employment in the gastronomy sector.

Sharing the IKEA approach to food

From 2020 – 2023, Mariana and Helena participated in our South America accelerator programme, co-created with NESsT. Through the programme, we supported them with expert mentoring, financing and business support to scale their impact.   

In early 2022, as Maré de Sabores prepared to expand its business lines to sustain jobs and support the business operations, we connected Mariana with Raúl Jiménez, Development Manager at Inter IKEA.  

With Raúl based in Sweden and Mariana in Brazil, the two met virtually every week to identify market demand, develop packaging and labelling for the new canned products, and establish pricing and marketing strategies. Raúl also introduced Mariana to other IKEA co-workers to support the enterprise in the search for new partners and to develop new distribution networks.  

“Every IKEA co-worker we engaged with showed a true commitment to sharing knowledge in the most generous way. These interactions have allowed us to reflect on the investments needed to secure a larger space to automate our production processes and scale up our operations. We also learnt the importance of setting sharper, more concrete financial and social impact goals over fixed periods to pave the way for our product expansion and to establish a new customer base,” said Mariana Aleixo. 
Raul from IKEA and Mariana from Mare de Sabores
 Mariana Aleixo, founder of Maré de Sabores with Raúl Jiménez, IKEA co-worker and mentor to Mariana.

In September 2022, taking advantage of Mariana’s trip to Copenhagen on a culinary scholarship at the MAD Academy, IKEA Raúl organised in-person meetings and workshops with the IKEA Food Business Area and Category. Focusing on developing Maré de Sabores’ new line of canned products, we shared insights from IKEA on product range development and supply chain management. Mariana also had the opportunity to visit and learn from Yalla Trappan – a social enterprise with restaurants and a community-based catering service in Älmhult that has successfully replicated its social impact model across various locations and scaled its social impact.   

“Ultimately, this programme has allowed us to immerse ourselves in an ecosystem Maré de Sabores wishes to replicate with other social stakeholders and entrepreneurs located in Maré and its surrounding areas,” shared Mariana.  

Mariana’s work at Maré de Sabores has gained various awards and recognition, including being named as a finalist for the Basque Culinary World Prize 2020 and being listed on the 50 Next 2021 list of people shaping the future of gastronomy.  

Highlighting more stories

Keep an eye out next Friday as we celebrate the work of Ika Juliana and her organisation Greenie in Indonesia who’re empowering local farmers by transforming agroforestry waste into sustainable material for the home furnishing industry.