By Kelly (Kennedy) Brinkmann
RCI Executive Director

This year, chocolate has taken members of Retail Confectioners International (RCI) around the globe. During the European Study Tour of Northern Italy, 50 chocolate makers and suppliers trekked through towns big and small in search of the best stores.




Some members of the European Study Tour gathered for a group dinner at Hotel Villa Pitiana in Donnini, an 1,100-year-old estate in Tuscany.

This year, chocolate has taken members of Retail Confectioners International (RCI) around the globe. During the European Study Tour of Northern Italy, 50 chocolate makers and suppliers trekked through towns big and small in search of the best stores. We saw Europeans adding morsels of toppings to chocolate bars rather than infusing them with ingredients. We filled our stomachs with great food and tested our palates with great chocolate. Members also rejuvenated their creativity to take back to their stores.

The Spring Regional Institute took the form of a New England Chocolate Tour - an ambitious tour of 11 stores in just three days. More than 120 people attended this sold-out trip, stopping at Sweenor’s Chocolate in Wakefield, R.I.; Hauser Chocolates in Westerly, R.I.; Munson’s Candies in Bolton, Conn.; Hebert’s Mansion in Shrewsbury, Mass.; Mrs. Nelson’s Candies in Chelmsford, Mass.; Winfrey’s Fudge in Rowley, Mass.; Nichol’s Candies in Gloucester, Mass.; Green Mountain Chocolate Factory in Franklin, Mass.; Hilliard’s Candies in Easton, Mass.; Hilliard’s Chocolate System in West Bridgewater, Mass.; and Dorothy Cox’s Candies in Fairhaven, Mass. We enjoyed lunch at scenic spots and spent each night at a different New England hotel, sharing what we learned at every visit.

The 90th Annual RCI Convention took place in Lexington, Ky., June 21-25. Attendance was up more than 35% for the convention week, which was packed with educational sessions and Industry Briefings held on the tradeshow floor. (Participation for the tradeshow was up 15%.) The convention week also included more store tours. And for the first time, RCI partnered with The Food Channel to make a “Choc-umentary” video series and daily blog following the event.

Yes, RCI launched an event blog (www.retailconfectionersinternational.blogspot.com) this year to make it easier for more members to participate in the tours and conventions.

“The new blog is great!” says Bonnie Hicklin, an RCI member from Candy House Gourmet Chocolates in Joplin, Mo.  “I wasn’t able to make it (to the Spring Regional) this year because of our production schedule, but I was able to go online and follow the tour blog each day. It was great to see so many stores and so many people I recognized - it made me wish I could be there!”

Future blogs will include the Fall Regional Institute, to be co-located with the Philadelphia National Candy Show. The RCI Conference will be held Sept. 13-16 at The Chelsea Hotel in Atlantic City, N.J.

“This is the first time RCI attendees will be able to tour an expo hall at a regional event,” says Mike Koch, board president, in reference to how the conference will be set up. “They will attend the tail-end of the Philly tradeshow and educational sessions at the (Atlantic City) convention center. RCI members will participate in Candy Clinic and then head out to tours of stores in the area.”

Looking ahead to June 2011, we’re planning to “Steel Some Great Ideas” at the 91st Annual Convention in Pittsburgh.

For more information, visit us online at www.retailconfectioners.org, or call us at 1-800-545-5381.