By Bernard Pacyniak
Editor-in-Chief
Candy Industry

getting fresh: Let the sunshine in, at least a little bit

There’s always a sense of anticipation whenever I check my calendar and see I have an opportunity to attend the National Confectioners Association’s (NCA) State of the Industry conference in mid-February or early March.

Mind you, the fact that it is generally held in a warmer clime does have its own appeal for those of us tired of shoveling snow. However, winter’s frozen fingers even caressed Miami Beach this year, preventing most from taking a dip in the pool or ocean.

But hey, there was sunshine, there was salsa (both in music and condiment form), there were palm trees, and there was a strong showing at the State of the Industry conference.

One of the reasons many of the industry’s executives participated this year had to be the slate of speakers the NCA lined up for the event. By visiting www.candyusa.com, you can quickly review the lineup, which included a broad range of pertinent specialists ranging from such folks as Michele Gloeckler, Walmart’s v.p. of confection and impulse, and Tom Peters, business guru extraordinaire, to Tom Ward, co-president and coo of Russell Stover Candies, and James Glassman, managing director and senior economist, JPMorgan Chase & Co.

Let me just share a couple of thoughts with you from a couple of those sessions I attended. And no, it wasn’t the less-than-balmy weather that kept me indoors.

First, the economy. Glassman, who also spoke at last year’s State of the Industry conference, had some encouraging news. Technically, the economy began to grow last summer, officially spelling the end of the recession.

But as he pointed out, it will take “a lotta growth” to get back to full employment (under 5% unemployment). He also explained that the housing market is beginning to normalize after having corrected inflated values.

Speaking of inflation, he went on to say soaring inflation – at least by most economists -- was not a worry as the economy slowly recovered. In short, he predicted that 2010 would be a good year.

Now I know there are some skeptics out there who – quite rightly – are suspicious of anyone associated with the banking community. But having heard Glassman assess the economy last year, I believe he’s right about seeing some sunshine in the forecast.

But just when you started thinking it’s possible to take a deep breath and start searching for those shades, the gentlemen from The Nielsen Co. – Todd Hale, v.p. of consumer & shopper insights, and James Russo, v.p. of marketing, food sector – added some sobering comments.

They reaffirmed Glassman’s view that despite the end of the recession’s death spiral, jobs recovery remains a long way off. The consumer mood: “If you can’t eat it, you don’t need it.” The ray of sunshine in such an environment: grocery – specifically, confectionery. In fact, the fastest dollar growth has been in confectionery.

Perhaps it’s because confectionery advertising hits home with consumers. As the two Nielsen executives pointed out, three out of the top 10 ads in 2009 were confectionery. Their outlook regarding consumer spending for the rest of the year: Expect continuation of a recessionary mindset.

And what does that mean? One should see a rise in savings as consumers continue to hunker down by the hearth. In short, a tepid economy will equal tepid consumption, they assert.

Nevertheless, keep in mind that part of that consumption will be candy. So there, dig up those sunglasses. In these days, even a ray of sunshine does the body good.

Cargill to expand Farmer Field Schools program

Cargill Cocoa & Chocolate, The Netherlands, has committed to doubling the number of Farmer Field Schools it operates in Cote d’Ivoire to 300 by mid-2010. The company will start by launching another 82 schools this month, building on the 150 already established. The overall program will train 10,000 farmers by the end of the year.

The commitment celebrates 10 years of successful farmer training by Cargill in Cote d’Ivoire and underlines the company’s believe that doing so is key to building a sustainable supply chain, helps increase farmers’ incomes and supports the future growth of cocoa farming.

“Providing training and support enables farmers to increase yields, improve quality and, through these – most importantly – to increase their incomes,” says Harold Poelma, Cargill’s managing director. “By raising awareness of the environment, health and social issues, our program is also helping local farming families and communities. In short, the training is directly benefitting farmers today and supports them in becoming successful entrepreneurs for the longer term.”

As a result of training, farmers are benefiting from a 30% increase in their incomes from high yields as well as an improvement in crop quality, according to Cargill, which adds that this quality improvement also leads to an increase in farmers’ earnings as they receive quality-related bonus payments.

During the 10-month Farmer Field School program, farmers are trained in good and safe practices, focusing on farming techniques and post-harvest activities such as pruning, plantation renewal and cocoa fermentation methods. In addition, the program also stressed broader social aspects such as the importance of ensuring children’s education and HIV awareness.

The program also enables co-operatives to become UTZ Certified. The UTZ Certified cocoa program was founded by Cargill, along with Dutch development organization Solidaridad and others in the cocoa sector, to introduce independent certification to improve agricultural, environmental and social practices in cocoa production.

“We are wholeheartedly committed to sustainable farming practices,” Poelma asserts. “Our training has proven to be truly beneficial to cocoa farmers and their communities as well as benefiting our customers. We are continuing to build on the success of the Cote d’Ivoire by expanding our farmer training activities to the cocoa growing regions where we operate in Asia.

For more information, visit www.cargillchocolate.com and www.utzcertified.org.

Spangler candy canes get the gold

Spangler Candy Co., Bryan, Ohio, has won a Gold DLG Award for the taste, appearance and quality of its Natural Orange Sherbet and Natural Cola 1-oz. candy canes. The canes are sold to Original Candy Co. in the United Kingdom and distributed by Christian Schmid, owner of Der Fummibarchenladen (The Gummibear Store) in Southern Germany, to independent retailers and department stores.

DLG (Deutsche Landwirschafts-Gesellschaft – German Agricultural Society) is a private, international test food center in Frankfurt that was founded 151 years ago and leads quality assessment in Europe.

Last year, Spangler received the Bronze DLG Award for the same two products.

For more information about Spangler, visit www.spanglercandy.com.

Western Candy Conference to host annual event in Hawaii

This year’s Western Candy Conference will be held March 24-28 at the Ihilani Resport and Spa on O’ahu in Hawaii. Business sessions at the event will cover topics such as What’s Up with Commodities, Snacking Across America and Legislative Update and Candy Tax Review.

The keynote speaker, Paul Brewbaker of TZ Economics, will deliver a presentation titled “Challenges and Opportunities for the Economic Future.

Suppliers will have the opportunity to showcase their products during the tabletop portion of the meeting. Social and networking events also will be on the schedule.

Attendees also can take a tour of the Dole plantation.

For more information, visit www.westerncandyconference.org.

sweet of the week: Chocolate Lover's Chocolate Covered Cocoa Nibs

New for spring, Bridge Brands’ Chocolate Lover's Dark Chocolate Covered Cocoa Nibs are in keeping with the company’s motto, “There is a chocolate for every occasion and an occasion for every chocolate.” The nibs come in 3.5-oz tins as well as 1-oz. tins that can be customized for weddings, anniversaries and graduation. The suggested retail price per tin is $5.99. For more information about Bridge Brands, also known as The San Francisco Chocolate Factory, visit www.bridgebrandschocolate.com.