So how many times can we get away with using Tony Sweet’s name in a punny headline? Well, because it’s so much fun, as often as we want. In case you hadn’t heard, Tony, chairman of the Sweet Candy Co. in Salt Lake City, became Candy Industry’s 67th Kettle Award recipient at a reception held during the Sweets & Snack Expo earlier this May.

Last month, I had the opportunity to visit Tony and the Sweet Candy Co. in preparation for this month’s cover story. Hard to believe, but the last time I had the opportunity to see Tony and his management team were back in 2003, nearly nine years ago. (Geez, how time flies!)

What amazed me was how much things had changed and how much they hadn’t. Speaking in riddles, you say. Well, this heat wave that’s been burning up the Midwest has taken its toll — I’m more than ready for football weather — but let me just explain.

First, the facility, which was built in 1999, remains a state-of-the-art operation, enhanced most recently with a $2-million upgrade in the kitchen area and a new bulk sugar handling system. In addition, everywhere there are examples of lean manufacturing, from placards atop cooling tunnels explaining what the optimum temperature should be to information boards in departments communicating quality standards and daily output totals.

Those changes reflect the growing demands of the marketplace, one where world-class manufacturing has become the norm in order to remain competitive in today’s global confectionery industry.

Another change involves the small museum the company had carved out on the first floor of the office area. Well, it’s gotten smaller, giving way to a media room associated with tours given at the plant. Tour guide participants get to view a brief video about the company, its history and what they’ll see during the tour.

Each day, the company handles about seven daily tours for locals and out-of-towners. They’re free and actually involve taking tour participants onto the plant floor, walking along designated areas. Upon completing the tour, visitors have an opportunity to sample taffy within the company store.

In setting up a photo shoot for Tony’s management team, my photographer and I were simply amazed at the amount of candy people from the tour as well as those simply wanting candy purchased. Obviously, that statistic about Utahans consuming more candy than other state is true. It’s also true that most nearly everyone loves taffy, especially Sweet’s.

What’s even more amazing is that all profits from the retail store in the plant go toward charity. Last year, profits totaled $50,000.

What hasn’t changed is Tony’s approach toward life, his family, the company, his employees and the industry. In reading this issue’s cover story, you’ll discover that Tony’s a “shy guy.” Of course, anyone who knows Tony is aware of that.

But he’s not shy when caring about the company, its employees, our industry and what the future holds for all of the above.  The avid pilot and even more avid historian recalls life lessons passed down by his grandfather and father.

At the same time, Tony’s savvy enough to understand that one needs to adjust to the times, be it investing in automation, quality manufacturing standards, personnel, training, customer relations or producing GMO-free gummies.

Like the three other nominees for this year’s Kettle Award — Jim Buffardi, cfo from the Ferrara Candy Co.; Mitchell Goetze, president and ceo from Goetze’s Candy Co.; and Charles Lavelle, chairman of Purdy’s Co. — Tony represents what’s best about this industry: leadership.

 What’s even more amazing is that it’s been passed on. Rachel Sweet and Rick Kay are good examples of that as our cover story reveals. Of course, one doesn’t have far to go to see other examples throughout the industry. And that’s a good feeling.