For the past 14 years, Candy Industry has organized the European Suppliers Roundtable in London. Naturally, 2012 was no exception. The conclave draws a who’s who from the confectionery equipment and ingredient suppliers.

Cafosa's Montse Ceira and Candy Industry's Bernie Pacyniak listen intently to the discussion during the magazine's 14th European Suppliers Roundtable in London.

It’s no mean task keeping high-powered executives engaged in conversation morning and afternoon, although the p.m. seems a bit more relaxed following a champagne aperitif and a lovely lunch.

By nature, I try to mix in a bit of humor during the question-and-answer sessions. Having had the opportunity to get to know several of the attendees personally over the years, I admit to having a rapport with most, which allows me to get away with a few one-liners and quips.

What amazes me most once we’ve concluded the session — and after I’ve had the opportunity to review the pages and pages of transcripts on my desk and on my computer screen — is the wealth of information our participants provide.

I recognize that going through 10 pages of conversation may seem daunting, particularly in this texting/SMSing world we live in, but I assure you it’s worth your time. Amidst the nuggets of information you glean from reading our European Suppliers Roundtable excerpts this month are two precious finds: 1) optimism about confectionery; and 2) a serious shortage of engineers.

It’s easy today to be overwhelmed by listening to the news; there are enough concerns about the Euro Zone’s economic stability; the escalation of crude oil prices, worries about Iran, Afghanistan; implications involving coming elections, both here and abroad; commodity prices; industry consolidation… do I need to go on?

But as you read through the comments from the suppliers in attendance, it’s evident that the interpack 2011 show, as well as the recently held ProSweets event, provide a solid basis for optimism about the future.

Surely, challenges abound. Yet, nearly all participants stressed the real uptick in business they experienced following interpack, with many commenting on the strong start to 2012. The most recent ProSweets show reinforced that mood.

Some of you cynics out there might say these were all self-serving promotions. Let me remind you that many of the suppliers gathered at this roundtable are competitors. Hence, everyone’s pretty aware when an individual steps beyond what’s considered acceptable image burnishing. He or she would not go unchallenged.

Another point I wanted to single out was the discussion about the shortage of engineers, specifically in Germany. Although I had to edit some of the lengthy comments associated with that topic, it’s clear that the nation once associated with engineering prowess finds itself short of youngsters willing to continue that heritage.

It’s also an issue in the United States, as jobs in high-end or skill manufacturing are hard-pressed to find skill applicants to fill critical vacancies. Unlike the glamour associated with chocolatiers and pastry chefs, a career involving process engineering just doesn’t seem to hold sway with today’s youth.

It’s an issue I believe will continue to gain gravitas in the weeks ahead and I look forward to exchanging thoughts and comments on the subject.

 In the interim, I’m looking forward to a strong and sweet 2012.