As a sweet and delicious treat, that also punctuates many of our favorite holidays — candy — as Willy Wonka pointed out, ‘is dandy.’ But it’s also a $35 billion industry in the United States, with a particular appeal to the Millennial generation where snacking is fast replacing the idea of regular mealtimes. The interests of the confectionary industry are represented by the National Confectioners Association (NCA) who have lately become concerned with not only the promotion and protection of their membership, but also with encouraging new growth, new ideas and new members. Hence, the Young Professionals Network Ambassador Program, which convened at the NCA’s State of the Industry Conference in Miami recently, and who invited Lisa Shaprio, Director of Barnes & Noble College Café & Convenience, to be a part of their conference panel discussion.
“It’s a thriving and very forward-thinking industry,” Shapiro says, “but, like any business, we really want to encourage fresh ideas and to get more young people coming into the profession.” One way the NCA is doing that is through the organization’s Young Professionals Network (YPN), designed as an entry point for new talent. Now in its second year at the Conference, the Young Professionals Mentor Panel is a key part of the YPN overall program, and is designed to give new and young industry members (40 and under) an all-access pass to hear from some of the industry’s most influential leaders as they shared their professional experiences and expertise within the confectionery business. “Lisa has been a tremendous asset to NCA’s Young Professionals Network,” stated NCA’s Emily Dreskin. “As a member of the YPN Committee, she has given her time and energy into the development of several programs that allow young professionals the opportunity to grow and advance within the confectionery industry,” she added.
Moderated by Brian Rinker, Category Manager of Confections at Walgreen Company, the panel represented the diverse experience and views of suppliers, manufacturers, brokers and retailers and, for Shapiro, it was an opportunity to parlay her nearly 30 years in the retail industry into advice and observations for the attendees.
Through moderated questions, and those submitted via Twitter, Shapiro and her peers fielded questions ranging from where to seek advice and mentorship in your career to how to set yourself up for success and how to better pilot the direction of your career. “They wanted to hear from our hearts and from our experiences,” Shapiro said, and encouraged the young professionals to use their careers as an opportunity to get out of their comfort zones. “In this industry in particular, we’re always learning and challenging ourselves with opportunities not always covered in your formal job description,” she explained.
This year’s NCA Conference, fittingly titled ‘Collaboration for Growth,’ provided plenty of other opportunities for members of the Young Professionals Network to meet with confectionery manufacturers and retailers, learn more about volunteering opportunities within the industry, and attend forums providing a deeper understanding of the issues impacting the business. The particular focus of the NCA tapping into the youth culture is timely. With Millennials being the greatest consumers of snacks, it’s crucially important for them to be represented in the industry. There are other issues too, as Shapiro points out, “The confectionery industry probably isn’t on the radar of many culinary students for example, yet we absolutely need those students to ensure innovation and the future of the industry.”
Despite the positive messaging of the NCA Conference, the confectionery business is not without its challenges. Tackling issues as diverse as accurate labeling, value to consumers and the spiraling costs of raw materials, particularly sugar, the mission of the NCA remains a vital one. For Shapiro, the big take away from the event was NCA’s Future Leadership Program, which awarded five deserving young professionals with an exclusive opportunity for networking, professional development and more engagement within the industry. “Lisa’s commitment to the industry and dedication to giving back is further demonstrated by her serving as a formal mentor to one of NCA’s Future Leaders,” remarked Dreskin.
It was an opportunity not lost on Elizabeth Clair, a National Confectionery Sales Manager for the world’s leading supplier of chocolate and cocoa products, Barry Callebaut. “To be mentored by one of our industry’s trailblazers and to, in turn, help represent and advocate for the values shared by our 131-year-old NCA, and the 70,000 people employed in our industry businesses, would be an honor,” she said.
For one year, the Future Leaders will be able to learn from and seek guidance from a chosen industry professional and for Clair, it will be Barnes & Noble College’s Shapiro. “It is an honor and a privilege to be chosen as a mentor to one of these brilliant young people,” Shapiro says, “and it’s inspiring to see how, as an industry, we’re thinking about an exciting next chapter in our future, and the policies and the people that will help take us there.”