Washington DC — Five young professionals from across the industry have been selected for NCA’s 2018 Future Leadership Program. The initiative is part of the Association’s Young Professionals Network (YPN) with support from the NCSA Candy Hall of Fame.
Launched in 2016, the one-year program pairs up-and-coming industry leaders with senior confectionery category stalwarts who serve as formal mentors.
“The Future Leadership Program is a very important strategic initiative that was designed to help build knowledge and leadership skills of young professionals in the confectionery industry,” says NCA President and CEO John Downs. “This program provides a comprehensive experience for our young people to further develop talents and careers within their respective companies.”
In addition to mentorship, the program includes complimentary registration to NCA’s State of the Industry Conference, the Sweets & Snacks Expo, NCA’s Summer Board & Leadership Strategy Meeting, the Washington Forum and the Candy Hall of Fame Inductions.
Arshbir began her confectionery career in 2014 when she joined Mars’ Nashville location as a R&D strategy and operations manager, where she developed a model for the company’s regional labs, increasing productivity 20 percent, realizing a cost savings of $1.5 million in one year. In 2015, she moved to the company’s Hackettstown, NJ, offices as ecommerce brand acceleration manager. In her two years in that role she established Mars’ ecommerce sales strategy, identified gaps and growth levers focused primarily on Amazon.com and other pure play customers. During that time, she helped deliver 137 percent year-on-year growth across the channel. She is currently tasked with leading a team of four Mars Wrigley associates to drive licensing growth 200 percent by 2020.
Serving as a strong voice in the confectionery community is important to Arshbir, as she indicates a desire to “be an ethical individual dedicated to transparency and responsible consumption of confectionery.” She says she is eager to work with students to help them understand career opportunities in the confectionery industry and support the initiatives of the YPN.”
Arshbir is ready to embrace the YPN Future Leadership Program: “I find learning from others as the best way to gain perspective. Understanding how they might handle or approach a situation gives me access to experience and allows me to grow my skills.”
She notes the passion she has for confectionery and the industry is “because of the happiness it brings to consumers and it balances with my desire for responsible consumption.”
Lana’s career in CPG started in 2008 with ECRM as a retail director, where she had the opportunity to work closely with retailers, developing a passion for the confectionery industry. She left ECRM to join Walgreen in 2013 as a purchasing coordinator for the company’s own brands, facilitating the overall product development process of private brand items. In part, she established project timelines while managing vendor relationships and expectations.
She left Walgreen in 2014 and spent two years at Russell Stover Candies Corp. as a brand manager responsible for seasonal and Canadian business. She worked to coordinate the product development process through collaboration with various departments across the company. Lana returned to Walgreen in late 2016 as associate category manager for everyday and seasonal candy and is responsible for financial performance and merchandising activities for everyday bag candy, and Halloween and Valentine seasonal candy. She now serves as brand manager for Haribo of America, Inc.
Noting her experience in retail and at a candy company gives her a broad understanding of manufacturing, product development, brand marketing and merchandising; she says she has been able to build relationships, which she believes are one of the most important elements to success. Lana says the YPN Future Leadership Program gives her the opportunity to “further educate myself on industry challenges and opportunities, ultimately utilizing this information to advocate for a strong confectionery future.”
She adds: “I have a passion for confection and aspire to establish myself as a major contributor to the success of the candy industry. This program allows me the opportunity to build on existing partnerships and collaborate with my peers to influence future trends.”
Originally from a small town, and big family with a farm, Sharon says she learned early on the value of hard work and dedication, and is now blessed with a fun and challenging career in the confectionery industry.
Sharon joined Adams & Brooks in 2009 as a marketing and sales assistant and marketing development manager working in support of the sales and marketing team. She quickly advanced to become a marketing manager, where she took on responsibility for product development timelines, details, approvals, progress and revisions. She also ensured all packaging updates met FDA regulations and established the marketing planning calendar.
Today, as inside sales manager, she assists the vice-president of sales and marketing with go-to-market strategies, manages customer accounts, and works with major accounts on the company’s private label programs. In addition, she manages Adams & Brooks’ social media platforms.
She says she has a drive to become more involved, develop stronger networking skills, motivate other young professionals, and grow into a leader that positively impacts the confectionery industry. “I interface with brokers and customers, develop strategies and products, and enjoy staying abreast on industry issues. I’m thirsty to learn more and take my skills to the next level,” Sharon says.
“I want to learn how to build stronger sales presentations and improve my networking and conversation skills,” she says, adding the education opportunities available to better understand issues affecting the confectionery industry, such as nutrition panel changes, GMOs, clean label and smaller pack sizes are crucial to helping her bridge the gap in educating customers while presenting product solutions.
Jason has spent his entire life immersed in the food business, as his father ran several food companies when Jason was growing up. While earning two business degrees and an MBA, he worked in different areas of the food industry, including hospitality, catering and production. Jason says he learned everything he could from these jobs and in March 2015 he started his own company.
Since starting the company, he has developed many lines including a fourth quarter import candy program under the banner The Big Cane, as well as a 12-item Virginia peanut program that is distributed through farmers’ markets in Illinois.
Looking to foster relationships in the confectionery industry, Jason says as an entrepreneur it is important to share ideas to develop growth in the industry. “It is all about new products and reinventing yourself daily,” he says, adding: “I want to be able to discuss trends and innovation to keep the industry healthy and thriving and to keep the young entrepreneurial spirit in the NCA for future growth.”
Jason sees it as his duty to keep up with trends and adapt to the rapidly changing marketplace. “The confectionery industry in five years will be bigger than it ever was. Brand names are not going anywhere and will remain the leader,” he says. “Newness has become the norm and each company knows they need to be as innovative as ever.”
Melissa has worked for Blommer for seven years, moving into her current position in 2017. She leads a cross-site team of managers that provide technical services support to the company’s North America, Canada and China locations. She led the company’s development and commercialization of the Wonder Line coating brand technology, responsible for risk and feasibility for commercialization of the product on multiple processing lines with capital budget investment.
She also worked on the company’s global business venture initiative, developing Blommer’s technical R&D team in Shanghai, designing the innovation lab and specifying manufacturing equipment and analytical instruments and application resources. Melissa also developed Blommer’s four-year technical services strategic plan for future Asian activities.
“I believe being competitive and focused are wonderful assertive characteristics to have as a professional,” she says, noting this fuels her passion for what she does in the confectionery industry. However, she acknowledges that to this point her career has been focused on the technical side and she sees the Future Leadership Program as an opportunity to broaden her knowledge and perspective.
Melissa earned the PMCA Future Confectionery Leader Award in 2017, and has presented and published articles on confectionery coating and chocolate fat bloom. She is the current chair of the Chicago chapter of the AACT and is an annual speaker at the Illinois Science Council Chemistry of Chocolate program.
When looking at the challenges ahead, Melissa says: “I strive to learn more about the bigger picture and advocate for positive growth and change in an industry that provides ‘sweet,’ happy moments to all. This industry definitely puts a smile on my face every day.”