Kettle Recipients Roundtable: Grappling with industry issues
Our second annual roundtable shines insight on Expo, FOP labels and skilled workers shortages
Since 1946, Candy Industry has been bestowing a Kettle Award to individuals working within the confectionery industry. As founder and publisher Don Gussow remarked in creating this unique honor, the Kettle Award was meant as “recognition of the contribution for ‘great or good’ of the industry, not only on the part of the person selected for the distinction, but of every member of the confectionery field who has devoted himself in whatever measure to make the business of candy making and selling a more profitable and happier one.”
Once again this year, Candy Industry has reached out to past Kettle Award recipients, asking if they could respond to four specific topics affecting the confectionery industry. The following individuals responded:
- Herman Rowland (1988) Herman Goelitz Candy Co. now Jelly Belly Candy Co.
- Richard Palmer Jr. (1991), R.M. Palmer Co.
- James Hanlon (1992), Leaf Inc. North America, retired
- Jack Zachary (1996), Zachary Confections, Inc.
- Pat Hurley (2000), Spangler Candy Co.
- Sal Ferrara (2002) Ferrara Pan Candy Co.
- David Hawk (2005) Gertrude Hawk Chocolates
- William Kelley (2006) Jelly Belly Candy Co.
- John Brooks Sr. (2010), Adams & Brooks, Inc.
- Pierson Clair (2011) Brown & Haley, Inc.
- Patrick Huffman, (2013) The Warrell Corp.
Although their answers may have varied in length; the wisdom remained constant, exemplifying the experience and expertise of those who have devoted their lives to their companies and to the industry. Candy Industry is proud to share their responses and “points of light” with our readership and thanks them for their participation.
(Editor’s note: Responses have been edited for length and style.)
1. Despite the most recent Senate vote defeating even modest reforms of sugar policies in the U.S. Farm Bill, do you believe there’s a chance the House of Representatives will enact at least some changes? If not, what needs to be done to make sugar reform a reality?
Bill Kelley: Winston Churchill once said that Russia was a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. If only Congress were that simple! I have worked on reforming the sugar program for more years than I can count, and little has changed. How politicians can justify a Depression-era program that has (finally) been exposed as horribly wasteful, is beyond my comprehension. I guess the answer is that the sugar lobby pours huge dollars into Congress and we sugar users cannot compete with their largess. Government critics, both inside and outside of Congress, rail about "corporate welfare." Here it is staring at us and no one seems capable of changing it. I cannot make any predictions about the Farm Bill, given my record. I am, after all, the guy who predicted a landslide victory for President Mondale!
Jack Zachary: It’s been “uphill” ever since I can remember (and I have been very active in the National Confectioners Association (NCA) since the late ‘60’s. We have to keep trying; by the way, Indiana is a farm state!
Richard Palmer: I don’t expect to see any reforms in my lifetime. The good thing is that sugar prices are down. But I was surprised at how much the reform effort accomplished. Senator Toomey from our home state (Pennsylvania) was actively involved. Nonetheless, I still think it’s too large of a political issue to overcome.
Pierson Clair: For more than 80 years, the American consumer and food manufacturers in the United States have been subject to a government program that transfers consumers' money to sugar companies. As the sugar using industries continue to advance the case of the American consumer, eventually Congress will have to correct this hidden tax on all Americans. It may take another vote or it may take 20 more votes. Ultimately the American consumer will win. Our industry needs to deliver our message directly and consistently regarding the economic and ethical position that Congress should favor the consumer over a handful of sugar producers.
Sal Ferrara: I’m not sure that this will be a reality any time in the foreseeable future. If you measure PAC fund to PAC fund, lobby to lobby, the sugar growers win hands down. It’s not always a matter of what’s right or wrong; sometimes it comes down to strength.
Jim Hanlon:Throughout all my career and on both the NCA and CMA boards, we fought this to no avail. The opposition’s war chest is just too big.
David Hawk:I’d love to see reform, but the political reality in Washington right now goes beyond my ability to comprehend it. There seems no room for compromise, and each side spends all their energy blaming the other. I hope things will change in the coming election.
Pat Hurley:I believe there should be a public notice that mentions the amount of money [from the sugar lobby] that is being given to the various members of Congress. That will go a long way toward passing sugar reform.
Herm Rowland: I think there still is a chance for a slight reform at this time. But in order to knock out sugar policies we would need to change out Congress.
Pat Huffman: I am not encouraged by most recent actions taken by the House of Representatives. Members seem to avoid any effort to find compromise on any topic. Our sugar issues do not seem to be a topic that will improve cooperation.
I further believe that we might consider some new approaches in our struggle on this subject. The position forwarded by sugar producers and often repeated in the press is that the program carries no cost to taxpayers. Regardless of what confectioners say, the media discussion devolves into “He said, she said,” and the audience gets bored.
We need to position ourselves on the side of our customers, consumers. Consumers do not understand that they pay for the sugar support program every time that they purchase a U.S. product made with sugar, or simply buy sugar at their local grocery. If we show our customers that every bag of sugar should cost less, perhaps we can gain their attention.
John Brooks: Yes, I think there is a chance if the food industry can maintain the pressure. At some point Congress will respond.
2. Were you encouraged by the number of exhibitors and buyers attending the most recent Sweets & Snacks Expo? What changes, if any, would you recommend to improve the show?
Pat Hurley, Spangler Candy Co.: I was very pleased with the attendance of foreign buyers. I had contacts from more than 25 countries. I cannot think of any improvements…the NCA has done a fine job.
Sal Ferrara: Stay ahead of it. Never forget that the success of the Expo over the years can be attributed to focusing on the needs of the buyers first. If we continue this philosophy, the buyers should continue to come, which means the Expo will remain strong.
Rich Palmer, R.M. Palmer Co.:We noticed a few large customers were missing from the show. It’s still a high quality show and the NCA has done a wonderful job. The only advice I’d offer is to increase efforts in contacting buyers to attend the show.
John Brooks:The best change would be a better economy.
Bill Kelley:I thought the Sweets and Snacks Expo was a huge success. I had somewhat of a unique view of the show in that I was both an exhibitor and a tour guide for culinary students who were visiting as part of the education goal of the Candy Foundation. The young people I was with were amazed at the variety of candy at the show and the complexity of our industry. Some expressed interest in looking at the candy industry as a career. The speakers at the booths we visited gave excellent insights into our industry. A number of top executives and other impressive people working in our industry took time to speak to the students; they mentioned how much information was freely given. Sara Clair has done a great job of leading the Candy Foundation. I thought the show looked better than ever. The exhibits were more professional than in the early days of the show. Most booths looked good.
David Hawk:I’m thrilled that the Expo is setting new records. Shows that are relevant are very important to our industry. I think the Expo will continue to grow for years to come.
Herm Rowland: Yes, I was pleased with attendance and the number of exhibitors, which I understand set new records.
Pat Huffman: I thought that the 2013 Sweets & Snacks Expo was extremely well attended and attendee excitement was at a high level. I did not get much of an opportunity to walk the show, but it seemed to me that exhibitors were pleased. If having more exhibitors also means lower booth [fees] and exhibitor fees, I believe that exhibitors will be very pleased. Gaining more buyer attention and increasing buyer participation in our show does not require, in my opinion, big-name speakers. I believe that an effort should be made to focus on lowering the average cost of a booth.
Pierson Clair: With the record breaking number of companies showing and buyers attending, the 2013 Sweets & Snacks Expo was a magnificent venue. The quality of companies showing their products delivers an excellent blend of quality and fun. The addition of a great many snack companies to the Expo demonstrates the ongoing consistency and respect of the show. Thursday, the last day, continues to improve as more serious business is conducted in an increasingly professional final day environment. Brown & Haley had the most successful Expo in our company's history.
Jack Zachary: I was pleasantly surprised with the attendance. Still, Thursday is a “tough day.”
3. Consumers are said to be inspecting labels more closely than ever before. Is your company considering front-of-pack labeling? And are you tweaking formulations to come up with a cleaner label?
Herman Rowland: We are changing to front-of-packaging labeling now. Our jelly beans are gluten-free and fat-free and have only four calories per bean. We also formulate our products with the highest quality ingredients, offering non-GMO items to markets demanding such products. We do not need to change any ingredients because they are all in compliance.
David Hawk: No, we are not considering changing front-of-pack labeling for our branded line of products. Nor do any of the companies we manufacture for seem to be going in that direction. Regarding adjusting formulations for a cleaner label, we have not done anything along those lines with our branded products, but we definitely see more and more interest in it from companies we manufacture for. Some want no hydrogenated oils, while some are concerned with trans fat. Others look for organic, all-natural, and GMO-free products. And there is definitely more interest in allergen statements. The interesting thing is that each of us seems to have a different idea of what a cleaner label looks like.
Pat Huffman: I have never been a fan of using ingredient panels as marketing tools. Confections can be made with simple-to-pronounce ingredients and most are naturally “natural.” Having candy consumers read our labels should not concern us. We are considering front-of-pack labels, but have not yet completed our planning or scheduled implementation.
John Brooks: Yes, we are considering front-of-pack labeling, but are not doing any reformulating.
Sal Ferrara: Ferrara is moving toward front-of-pack labeling as quickly as possible. We are also recognizing the trend for better-for-you products, especially in our category. As competitive as this category is, to be successful, you need to be a leader/front runner, and not lag behind.
Bill Kelley: It is worth observing how the attitude of business people in general, and candy manufacturers in particular, has changed. Years ago, an idea such as front-of-the-bag labeling, would have met strong opposition from industry leaders. I think today's candy makers are more aware of the public perception of our products than in the past. The cost of changing one's labels is cheaper than being publicly pilloried on some blog! That cynical comment aside, I think most candy executives are highly aware of the pressures from today's society. Obesity is an issue that will not go away by ignoring it. Everyone is better off if we acknowledge the problem and address it. Jelly Belly Candy Co. will add a front-of-the-bag calorie declaration to all bags in the near future. I am not aware that we are changing any formulas because we are adding front-of-the-bag labels.
Jack Zachary: Our labels are constantly being reviewed. And yes, there have been discussion about front-of-pack labeling.
Pat Hurley: We are doing front-of-pack labeling and have been for some time. However, we are not doing any reformulating to develop a “cleaner” ingredient label.
Pierson Clair: In the fall of 2012, Brown & Haley introduced a complete package redesign featuring our signature Roca pink with the new color panel indicating our seven flavors. Brown & Haley fully supports the industry initiative for front-of-package labeling so that we remain transparent to the consumer. I anticipate we will phase in — over time — the appropriate front-of-pack information in a manner consistent with Roca’s buttercrunch’s appeal as a premium gift.
Rich Palmer: We’re in the seasonal novelty business and many of our items are given as gifts. Hence, we’re not keen on front-of-pack labeling, since it would definitely be perceived as a negative. And yes, we’ve looked at tweaking formulations, but haven’t come up with any acceptable alternatives.
4. Are you experiencing a shortage of technically trained employees capable of working in sophisticated manufacturing environments, such as a candy facility? Is an apprenticeship program akin to what’s in Germany the way to go? Does your company offer an internship program?
Jack Zachary: We have been actively involved with Purdue University and Ball State University to encourage internships. However, we want to do the training in our “house” with our management.
Rich Palmer: Yes, technical competency is a real issue, particularly in the area of electro-mechanical maintenance. We’re considering working with local trade schools and colleges to ensure people have the right skills. And I understand many of our confectionery colleagues are considering the same kind of action.
The lack of properly trained personnel is a threat to our industry. We have moulding and packaging lines that have sophisticated electronics. Moreover, the electronics are constantly changing, so it’s critical to have people who can keep up with those changes.
Sal Ferrara: We have great talent, and continue to recruit additional talent, especially in the R&D arena. We have offered internships in the past, and will in the future. Product development and innovation lead to impulse. The industry cannot continue this philosophy unless we drive the development of the creators.
Herman Rowland: No, we’ve prided ourselves on hiring the best possible individuals for the jobs needed. If training and skill enhancements were required, we have provided the necessary instruction and courses for them.
David Hawk: We train our people to do their job. Sometimes that means sending them to industry seminars or short courses, or bringing in specialists in a particular area. That seems to work out very well for us. Frankly, I can’t imagine people in this country enrolling in apprentice programs like those found at ZDS in Germany. We just don’t see skilled trades the same way as Germans do, or Europeans in general, for that matter.
Patrick Huffman: We are neither the most sophisticated plant in our industry, nor are we the least automated. We have current high-speed packaging lines and relatively modern processing. The nature of our business has not yet included robotics. We have been able to locate and attract the talents we need so far at prices we can afford, but we are in an area of fairly dense confectionery and snack processing. We have limited internship programs and have no active apprenticeship programs. We do support local vocational tech programs. All of these, however, bring us only mechanical skills, not confectionery technology. We still need to teach our own via our associations and through collaborative efforts.
Pat Hurley: No, we attend the AACT and the PMCA, both of which offer many educational opportunities. The PMCA has an internship program in which this year 39 students participated. As far as apprenticeship program, it’s an option. But with the educational programs that the PMCA, NCA and AACT put on and the internship programs available, I wonder if that this is the way to go. And our company does have an internship program this year that has three interns participating this summer.
John Brooks: If you mean trained in candy technology, yes, we are experiencing a shortage of experienced candy makers. Nonetheless, I’m not sure whether apprenticeships are the way to go to address this issue.
Bill Kelley: Jelly Belly Candy Co. has had problems recently filling scheduler, mechanic, information technology specialist and safety specialist jobs. This week the Chicago Tribune ran an article about young college graduates who could not find work and returned to school to learn technical skills in order to get a job. The story said there is a void in the market for "middleskill” jobs in health care, information technology and manufacturing, which require special training or certification.
Middle-skill jobs might be HVAC specialist, paralegal or a telecommunications equipment repair person. I do not believe we need an apprenticeship program like the one that exists in Germany. Our junior college system is robust, flexible and capable of training for the skills we need. I worked with our local community college (College of Lake County) on a job skills program. College of Lake County offered to create classes in order to train for specific jobs requested by area manufacturers.
Pierson Clair: The confectionery and snack industry demands highly professional employees at all levels. While Brown & Haley has no internship program in place, it has been remarkable to watch the evolution of NCA's Confectionery Foundation as it engages and promotes the mutual goals of education, philanthropy and research to benefit our industry. At this Expo Brown & Haley was visited by more than 40 students, all of whom were interested in opportunities in the confectionery and snack industry for their careers. The Foundation invited bright, engaged students to step into our industry and this program is an exciting answer to recruiting skilled employees into our companies. Through time, energy and financial resources Brown & Haley is firmly committed to The Confectionery Foundation; we invite others in the industry to do the same.
Candy Industry sincerely thanks all the past recipients for taking the time to share their wisdom with the industry.