Kettle Award recipent sees the candy industry as 'a community'
Editor Bernie Pacyniak takes a deeper look at this year's Kettle Award recipient, Mike Bianco.
One of my mentors in writing once told me that you can tell when an article’s good by how much you’ve left out. My cover story on this year’s Kettle Award recipient, Mike Bianco of Jelly Belly Candy Co., is missing plenty of material.
Now, I’ll let you be the judge whether it’s a good article or not. Nonetheless, this editorial provides me some space whereby I can include some of those quotes and comments I left out. Let me start with Bob Simpson, president and coo of the Jelly Belly Candy Co.
When asked about Bianco, and when he first met him upon joining the company (June 2000), Simpson didn’t hesitate.
“Upon being hired, Herm [Rowland] told me that Mike’s the expert in manufacturing,” he says. “As Herm put it, ‘All you need to know is that if you sell too much, how are we going to keep up? That’s all you need to know.’”
As it turned out, that proved to be a rather explicit division of duties, one that worked out well for both parties. Fourteen years later, Simpson can only appreciate Bianco’s experience and talents even more. And as he later added, becoming a Kettle Award recipient really capped off Bianco’s career.
“I love the whole ceremony, the seriousness, the magnitude of the award what it represents, the tradition, the white jackets. This is special,” he says.
“Actually, it was quite a coup for Jelly Belly for Mike to be nominated the first time,” Simpson continues. “There was a lot of pride in him getting that nomination. And even though he wasn’t the recipient then, I knew in my heart that he would eventually receive it. Mike is so deserving and he has a great reputation in our industry.”
That reputation stems from not only being an extremely talented “nuts-and-bolts guy,” and someone who “talks to machines,” but also from someone who’s been willing to help fellow confectionery manufacturers out. As fellow comrade-in-arms and boss Herm Rowland points out, Bianco has always been there to help fellow confectioners out if they had a problem, even competitors.
Rowland also cites Bianco’s extensive involvement with such organizations as the Western Candy Conference, the AACT and the PMCA. In short, Bianco “has given his life to the candy industry, devoting time and energy,” he asserts.
For Bianco, the Kettle Award is the culmination of a life’s work as a candy maker. During the interview, one of his most poignant statements involved his assessment of what candy making and running a candy business is like today compared to several decades ago.
“Everything is more sophisticated today than it was 25 years ago,” Bianco says. “It’s a different world, more laws and regulations, new pieces of equipment that have removed certain elements of the candy making process from the operator.
“And while we’ve progressed to a point where candy making is a combination of art and science, I still maintain that at the end of the day it’s art at work,” he asserts. “There’s a human need to understand the candy you’re making; you just can’t read it off the screen.”
And then there’s the industry itself, which Bianco says is still a sweet place to work.
“Having worked in other industries early in my career, I really believe that the confectionery industry is still ahead of everybody when it comes to people being helpful,” Bianco says. “People go out of their way to help. This is, after all, a community.”