By Bernie Pacyniak
Candy Industry

getting fresh: Life lessons from the road

The cities of Donetsk and Dnepropetrovsk weren’t exactly household names to me. Thus, making travel arrangements to visit AVK’s confectionery facilities in the eastern Ukraine forced me to consult a map.
AVK isn’t a household name in the West either, but the Kiev-based company is the third largest confectionery company in the Ukraine. The company was scheduled to receive the European Candy Kettle Club award this year, and I was going to cover the story. But more on that later.
During the past nine years as editor of Candy Industry, I’ve done my fair share of traveling to Europe. Nevertheless, I’ve never had to arrange flights that far east. Fortunately, the Ukraine doesn’t require visas for visitors from certain countries – including the United States – who plan to stay fewer than 90 days. And – thanks to the Internet – you can pretty well find any destination on the globe and ways to get there.
Expecting the worst, I was happy to find a fairly reasonable flight involving only one connection. Thus, it was Chicago, Munich, Donetsk – a total of nearly 12 hours flight time and a one-and-a-half-hour layover for a total of 5,700-plus miles.
As you can imagine, I was dragging a bit when I landed. Thankfully, I expected to have Valeriy Novikov, head of innovation and production technology at AVK, meet me at the airport. Following the typical passport control wait, I picked up my luggage and headed out to meet Valeriy. Having met at a past Upakovka show several years ago, we greeted each other warmly and then proceeded to his car.
It was a mild day, which I found reassuring, but I had no clue of the surprises in store for me. That’s when Valeriy’s phone rang. Our European marketing manager, Dee Wakefield, was on the line.
As he passed the phone to me – now I remember why I don’t have a cell phone – Dee informed me that the European Candy Kettle Club ceremonies had been cancelled by the managing director and major stockholder, Volodymyr Avramenko.
Well, a long trip had just gotten longer. Being a bit jet-lagged, I didn’t quite grasp the enormity of the situation. Always a bit of an optimist, I thought there might be a way of salvaging the situation, which I tried to convey to my colleague, Dee.
Having orchestrated the entire ceremonies over the course of several months and then seeing those efforts collapse at the last minute, Dee wasn’t open to any rose-colored suggestions. Moreover, she was frantically trying to connect with European Candy Kettle Club members to tell them of the cancellation. Still, we did determine it was critical on our end (Candy Industry’s) to visit the facilities.
Valeriy, who was as distraught over the decision as Dee was, nodded his head. He felt a personal obligation to take me around and showcase why the company had been chosen to receive the award in the first place.
So off we went, driving toward Donetsk’s city center and my hotel. Located about 368 miles southeast of Kiev, Ukraine’s capitol, Donetsk houses slightly more than a million inhabitants, many of which are Russian. What’s surprising about Donetsk is that the city was founded by a Welsh businessman, John Hughes, back in 1869, who was hired to construct a steel mill and open up several coal mines in the area. Hey, that’s what I do, gather information. Besides, that’s a bar question you can use to get a free drink!
After a quick shower, I dashed off with Valeriy to get a glimpse of AVK’s facility in the city as well as a short tour of its R&D plant. The following day we traveled by car – that’s another story – to Dnepropetrovsk to see another plant. I don’t want to give away the story here -- you’ll eventually read about it in Candy Industry – but I was quite impressed by the cleanliness, sanitation and high level of automation in both facilities. They also produce some great confections, ranging from chocolate bars and pralines to gummies and jellies.
In the end, I made a quicker than expected exit from the Ukraine to continue the second half of my European trip, which involved visits to key confectionery processing suppliers.
Along the way, the retina in my left eye became detached. Since I wear contact lenses, I thought the problem might be something connected. No need for lots of detail on this, but it just appeared out of nowhere, a brown cloud covering up half my eye. I finally opted to go to the eye clinic in Germany and was informed of my condition. Although they wanted to do surgery the next day, I thought it best to come home to the States and have the support of my family.
After consulting with an eye surgeon here, all signs point to most of my vision being restored after surgery. That will take place this Friday. I’ll be out of the box for a week, but look forward to being back in the saddle shortly afterwards.
So where is this all leading? Simply this: Calamities – large and small – sometimes occur. The decision by AVK’s Arvamenko (we’re still piecing together why he called off the event) disappointed and angered many people. In the end, everyone had to just deal with it, with varying degrees of difficulty attached.
My detached retina certainly disappointed and angered me. Why me? Could I have avoided this? Who could I blame? What if I left sooner? As my eye surgeon explained, detached retinas are spontaneous events. There’s no need to beat myself over the head. Yes, if I was here in the States, I may have caught it earlier, but there are no guarantees it would have made a difference. Some kind of surgery still would have been required.
Again, it’s a matter of facing the situation and dealing with it. So that’s what I’m doing, with both issues. Just thought you should know.

Barry Callebaut joins Utz Certified cocoa program

Barry Callebaut has joined a number of companies and NGOs in the Utz Certified Cocoa Program, whose aim is to ensure professional practicies in cocoa production with respect for people and environment. The program will help small-scale farmers to improve their farming practices, thereby producing a higher-quality crop with increased productivity. Farmers will benefit from a higher income based on the principle “a better price for a better product,” and participants throughout the supply chain can demonstrate their commitment to sustainable cocoa farming.

“Barry Callebaut has been operating in West Africa, the source of 70% of the world’s cocoa, for more than 50 years and is the largest cocoa processor in the region,” says Steven Retzlaff, president of global sourcing & cocoa for Barry Callebaut. “We work closely with our customers to deliver the cocoa and chocolate solutions they demand.

Many customers are asking about certified cocoa produced in a sustainable way according to sound standards, such as Utz Certified,” Rezlaff continues. “By participating in the Steering Group for Utz Certified Cocoa Program, we aim to make a meaningful contribution to the collective efforts underway to help farmers in some of the poorest countries in the world. Our shared aim is to help farmers to grow cocoa in a manner that is sustainable and that safeguards the environments while at the same time enabling farmers to increase their incomes and improve their livelihoods.”

Utz Certified’s Code of Conduct for Cocoa, launched earlier this year, sets out a number of economic, environmental and social criteria, and requires intense farmer training to bring producers to the required level. It also works closes with the Dutch development organization Solidaridad, which organizes training and support to cocoa farmers. The program is further backed by Oxfam Novib and WWF International, and receives support from the Dutch Sustainable Trade Initiative (IDH).

For more information,

Sconza appoints Flook president, coo

Glen Flook has been named president and coo of Sconza Candy Co., Oakdale, Calif. Flook brings with him extensive experience in sales, operations, product innovation and brand development.

Most recently, Flook served as coo of Dale and Thomas Popcorn, where he was responsible for the Popcorn Indiana brand. Prior to that, he was vice president of the Inventure Group, a $100 million food marketer and manufacturer, where he directed the company’s strategic grow of food products, including licensed brands such as Cinnabon, Panda Express and TGIFriday’s. He also held long-time operations management positions at Frito Lay and Dial Corp.

For more information about Sconza Candy, visit

Roquette creates SweetPearl site

The Roquette Group in France has launched a new Web site dedicated toSweetPearl, a healthful sweetener that is naturally sweet and produced from renewable agricultural raw material: wheat and maize.

The URL,, is aimed at food professionals in the fields of chocolate, bakery, chewing gum and sugar confectioner, and will be of special interest to marketing, R&D, purchasing and sales departments of the food sector, especially the gourmet market. Visitors also can subscribe to a monthly newsletter for regular updates on the latest news and developments. also provides information for general consumer seeking new products that combine gourmet taste and healthy balance.

sweet of the week: Milkita

Milkita lollipops come in four flavors – chocolate milk, strawberry milk, melon milk and original milk – all made with 38% milk and containing 6% of the recommended daily allowance of calcium. In fact, three lollipops are the equivalent of one 8-oz. glass of whole milk. These low-fat, 12-calorie pops also contain one-third less sugar (1.2 g. per serving) than competitors. And they’re HACCP- and Halal-certified. The suggested retail price per 15-count bag is $2.49. Retailers interested in carrying the product can call Ricardo Vanegas at 1-626-802-5575, x. 302. For more information,