NCA Future Leadership Program Class of 2019 Shares Insights

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Washington, DC — The five young professionals, chosen from across the industry as the NCA Future Leadership Program Class of 2019, are revealing insights into the industry and how they hope to impact the future. The program  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 valuable initiative for NCA as it advances the knowledge and leadership skills of the industry’s next generation of executives,” John Downs, NCA president and CEO, tells Candy & Snack TODAY. “I look forward to working with the future leaders as they will play a vital role in shaping the Association’s next strategic plan.”

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.

Stephen Casey (33)
National Sales Manager, Melville Candy Co.

After attending Boston College, Steve moved to Los Angeles to become a talent agent representing celebrities and brand endorsements before joining an experiential marketing agency. He then co-founded a marketing agency representing high profile brands such as Beats by Dre, GoPro and Sonos.

In 2014, he moved back east where he met his now wife and joined Melville Candy as national director of sales and marketing and has helped the company achieve gross sales growth of more than 75 percent during that time.

Steve says he has always considered himself a leader. “This program sets up candidates for future success within the industry via proper networking and mentorship. The program will give me an opportunity give back to those that were in my seat not too long ago.”

He adds that his role moving forward in the industry as it continues to change will not just be sales but creative ways of marketing and selling product on platforms outside of traditional retail, both at Melville Candy and within the industry. “I have talked to the buyers and their margins won’t change, so it is imperative manufacturers think outside the box. Those who are willing to adapt to technology and new ways of thinking are the most successful.

“With retailers shrinking their store counts and the recent tariffs placed on products from China, many businesses have had to pivot their strategies. There are always going to be obstacles but businesses still grow.”

Natalie Herr (29)
Team Leader, Russell Stover Chocolates LLC

Natalie began her career in the confectionery industry in 2014 when she joined Russell Stover Chocolates. During that time, she has taken on many new roles and challenges within the company’s wholesale department, moving from 10 small regional grocery accounts to managing larger grocery and mass business within five months of joining the company.

Setting herself apart, she has consistently outperformed sales quotas and was selected for a Team Captain Award in 2016. While she excelled in sales, Natalie says her recent promotion to a team leader is allowing her to explore her passion for mentoring and team management.

In her new role, she says it is more important than ever to seek out opportunities where she can further develop her leadership skills. She adds: “I am eager to learn more about the inner workings of this industry, not only to better my professional skill sets, but also to establish myself as an advocate for a strong confectionery future.”

Pointing to shifts in consumer preferences toward “better for you” options and an increased threat of sugar regulation as two platforms that will continue to impact the confectionery industry in the next five years. “Although consumers continue to evaluate other options one thing is for certain: the need for a ‘sweet treat’ will always remain a priority,” Natalie states, adding she is proud of the position Russell Stover has taken as a member of the NCA Always A Treat Initiative.

Michele Polito (38)
Senior Buyer, Dylan’s Candy Bar

Michele launched her professional career in 2002 as an assistant buyer for specialty retailer Dylan’s Candy Bar. In 2006, she transferred her buying skills to Saks Fifth Avenue, developing categories including intimate apparel and designer men’s shoes, but her passion for the confectionery category brought her back to Dylan’s in 2013 as the everyday candy and collaborative partnerships buyer.

Not long after her return, she was promoted to senior buyer, where she drives the retailer’s branded and licensed products. She has worked closely with partners including Warner Bros., Paramount Pictures, Sanrio and Nickelodeon.

Michele is currently spearheading all product assortments as they pertain to the company’s global expansion, launching Dylan’s Candy Bar in Canada and the Middle East.

Away from the business, Michele gives back to her community supporting the New York Chapter of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and Habitat for Humanity, serving both for more than 13 years.

Michelle says through her participation and the knowledge she gains as part of the YPN Future Leadership Program she hopes to “help guide the industry toward a new perspective on how to take candy to the next level.”

She explains: “I will act as an advocate for a partnership ecosystem through conversations with my manufacturers to bring awareness to how important sustainable packaging will be for the future of our businesses. The switch in packaging will maximize the use of recycled materials and low-impact production processes, thus conserving raw materials. The end goal is to help make the candy industry a leader in sustainable business practices — one candy (or package) at a time.”

Tessa Porter (30)
R&D Director, Ferrara Candy Co., Inc.

Tessa is a food science graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, with a master’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, studying sucrose crystallization under Candy Hall of Fame member Dr. Rich Hartel. Tessa has been involved in the confectionery industry since 2007 through her work at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Food Processing Center, The Hershey Co. and Ferrara Candy Co., Inc.

She joined Glanbia Performance Nutrition in 2016 to combine her passion of confectionery science with her health and wellness interests but came back to confectionery in 2018. She is active with PMCA, AACT and NCA, focusing on student involvement.

Tessa says the Future Leadership Program gives her the opportunity to connect directly with the candy community both inside and outside of R&D.

“I look forward to sharing my experiences and discovering and discussing best practices for innovation-related business growth,” she points out, adding the opportunity to act as a voice for the industry is also important. “In a time when the food industry overall is being scrutinized, often with misguided or false information, sometimes the world just needs the simple joy of a chocolate bar.”

Looking to the future, Tessa says: “I foresee the confectionery industry becoming more simplified, incorporating more natural and organic ingredients.” However, she cautions: “This creates substantial challenges across all functions as the supply chain becomes stressed, ingredient prices rise, and ingredient consistency and quality become more variable, not to mention the technical challenges of using more native, less stable natural materials.”

With this understanding, she adds: “I am excited to be part of the industry during this time to help problem solve, take on the challenge of developing more clean and natural treats, and collaborate with members from all areas of the industry.”

Mike Terroni (34)
Vice-President of Grocery, HWY Partners

A second-generation industry member, Mike attended industry events as a child with aspirations of one day joining its ranks. He achieved that goal more than 10 years ago and now leads the broker sales team in the New York metro market for HWY as vice-president of grocery. He is a recent recipient of Ghirardelli Chocolate Co.’s top broker award.

Prior to joining HWY Partners, Mike held various positions at Mars Wrigley Confectionery U.S., LLC, including national sales responsibility for a top 10 customer and in customer marketing where he was on development teams that launched more than 50 products.

Mike says his family’s more than 50 years of combined industry participation has led to lifelong friendships, personal and professional mentorship, and unbounded generosity.

“I would be honored with the opportunity to pay forward what I’ve been afforded in this industry and have a strong desire to be more connected with the industry and serve it in any way that I can,” he adds.

He notes that in the next five years technological advancements will create consumers more knowledgeable than any generation before about the products they purchase and companies who provide them. “Ethical business practices, sustainable farming, and transparency of ingredients, including how products are developed will be more important than ever,” he says.

Mike believes social media will play an ever-increasing role in exposing business practices. “That forum can quickly give momentum to a cause. I would like to be a part of a new charter that will keep this in mind.” C&ST