Kettle Winner 2014

Kettle Award Winner Mike Bianco, Senior V.P. of Global Operations & Distribution, Jelly Belly Candy Co., stands in the center of nominee Steve Hegedus, President, CEO & Owner, Abdallah Candies Corp., (left) and Joseph Dutra, President/CEO Kimmie Candy Co. Photo by Vito Paimisano.

As I strolled into McCormick Place West Wednesday morning, home to the 2014 Sweets & Snacks Expo, I knew that my first punch list task was to head over to the Jelly Belly Candy Co.’s booth and hand Mike Bianco, former senior v.p. of global operations, his Kettle Recipient pin.

As our lead news story details, Bianco became Candy Industry’s 69th Kettle Award recipient last night, the shining copper kettle  awarded to him at a glorious reception held at the Union League Club. As is our tradition — and there are many involved with the Kettle Award and Kettle Committee — each recipient receives a special pin, which denotes that person as a member of a very select confectionery club. 

Editor-in-chief Bernie Pacyniak
Bernie Pacyniak

In addition to presenting Bianco with the pin, I wanted to sit down with him to get his reaction about receiving the award, the affair itself, future plans, etc, all those things that typical reporters ask of people recognized in the industry.

As expected, Bianco was all smiles when I approached him. Let’s face it; it had been a good night. Hey, as he told me later, “I was overjoyed to get such a prestigious award. It’s No. 1 in the industry.”

After giving him his pins, I asked if he had some time to spend with me for a brief interview. Even though I had sat at his table and had his bio, there’s nothing like a one-on-one to get to know someone better.

We walked over to our both, Bianco holding his Starbucks cup of coffee, and settled into Candy Industry’s booth. Well, one of the first things I confirmed was that Bianco is officially retired. March 31, 2014, he told me and then a passing Larry Graham when the outgoing president of the NCA asked him that very question upon passing by.

As Bianco told me, the process had been four years in the making, a long-term understanding between him and Herm Rowland, chairman of the Jelly Belly Candy Co.

“But there never was a closing date,” he told me. Well, until two months ago.

That doesn’t mean Bianco is “retired.” He’s working as a consultant for Jelly Belly Candy Co., doing what he loves to do must, looking at “opportunities” related to automation and product development. Having returned from the most recent interpack show, which was held earlier this month in Dusseldorf, German, Bianco said he had plenty of material and information to review from the triennial event.

So, although he’s retired, and works as a consultant, Bianco has only one client, Jelly Belly Candy Co. The arrangement means he doesn’t have to be in the office every day. It also means he can focus on what he loves doing best, “talking to machines.”

Naturally, the man has his own machine and wood shop at home for tinkering whenever there’s actually free time. And he enjoys going to dog shows with his wife, Linda, who’s a trainer and takes their two Shelties to competitions. Then there are the cruises. As Bianco put it, cruises define relaxation. So he and Linda have been on nearly 60 of them.

So when asked what prompted him to retire this year, he simply replied that “it felt right.”

And I’m sure most of us agree that it “felt right” last night for Bianco to be Candy Industry’s 69th Kettle recipient.