NCA Chief Reveals Four Lessons From Listening And Learning Tour


Washington — Leading up to the Always A Treat initiative launch, NCA President and CEO John Downs embarked on an industry-wide, 18-month listening and learning tour to discover candymakers’ concerns while laying the groundwork for the Association’s nutritional and dietary commitment program. 

“It’s very challenging and very difficult to bring an entire industry together under a very bold change agenda,” Downs said in an Associations Now article. “You have to go and meet members where they are. Really, the job of any association is at the intersection of business, policy, politics and diplomacy.”

While touring factories and candymakers’ headquarters, Downs not only had the chance to get to know NCA members and the industry better, but he also found the face-to-face meetings to be valuable for strategic purposes. Following are four takeaways from Downs’ tour:

Use Data To Find Common Ground: While on the road, Downs carried aggregated member data that he could compare and contextualize with individual NCA members. This allowed him to build a “platform of understanding” that became the basis for discussions around the Always A Treat initiative.

Leverage All Communication Tools: As NCA manufacturer members are located in nearly every state, Downs recorded many miles during his tour. With up to 70 percent of his time dedicated to travel, he learned that virtual meetings — such as video conferences or 360-degree video tools — can accomplish the same goals and feel nearly as personal as onsite visits.

Charting Progress: To ensure Always A Treat is meeting its goals, NCA partnered with third-party organizations, including Partnership for a Healthier America and research company Hudson Institute, to track progress and measure success. The partners helped survey members and will eventually provide progress reports.

“It challenges us to hit on specific metrics that we set out,” Downs said of the partnerships.

Share Findings: Turning the insights gleaned on the listening tour into shareable resources is critical, Downs reports. To this end, NCA established, a digital hub of publicly available resources and information such as data on nutrition, packaging and ingredient details.

While many of the leading global candy and chocolate manufacturers have signed on to the Always A Treat commitment, the Association is still working to bring small- and mid-sized members on board with the initiative.

“You have to continue to repeat, reinforce, and bring [members] along with an understanding of bold change,” he said. “We’re on this journey together, and we’re going to continue working to recruit additional companies in the years to come.”