State of the Industry Conference reaches for the stars

This week has proved an exceptionally busy one for the magazine, topped off by reporting from the National Confectioners Association’s State of the Industry Event which took place in Miami, Florida.

There were many major trends revealed during its insightful three days, which offered a significant inside track into how the dynamic US market is performing, exploring underlying issues, as well as sharing hopes and aspirations for the future.

While it’s fair to say the sector finds itself amid ongoing disruptive factors in the form of global supply chain challenges and increased costs of operating that have undoubtedly had a notable impact, yet it seems there’s light at the end of the tunnel in terms of the market’s continued evolution.

As the NCA’s president and CEO John Downs asserted in his opening keynote address, the industry is unified in its mission of tackling some of the most pressing issues that have hit the industry, which is seemingly showing a good deal of resilience on the other side of the Covid-19 pandemic.

This was very much underlined by the fact that the sector posted $42 billion in revenues this past year, despite those external issues, which points to the segment’s robust operating infrastructure. It also ably demonstrates that American still very much love their candy as an affordable treat, and that isn’t about to change any time soon.

Moreover, as the NCA’s leader underlined, the industry ‘has achieved its moonshot’ with its ongoing Always a Treat campaign on responsible enjoyment of confectionery, that has projected a positive image for the sector, while acknowledging that its array of offerings should be decidedly considered as a luxury rather than daily staple of consumers’ dietary intake.

There were of course plenty of other highlights from the event, including its opening evening celebrating the contributions of brokers to the confectionery market, as well as a lifetime achievement award being presented to Ross Born, of the Just Born confectionery group. This set the tone very fittingly indeed for proceedings, which looked to emphasise the positives in regards to trading conditions.

However, there were some encouragingly open exchanges on addressing some concerning matters including labour shortages and how the industry is addressing recruitment for the sector, as well as exploring how digital technology is driving engagement with consumers at a highly rapid pace. This was perhaps most clearly demonstrated with a presentation from the Chinese-founded TikTok video hosting platform.

While its concept may not be an entirely new one, its adoption rate has been especially impressive, as younger generations clamour to post their latest entries in an authentic and relatable way – which industry is becoming increasingly responsive to in its marketing plans. After all, what better way to sell to your customers than shoppers actually doing that very role for you in highlighting how tasty/interesting/different a new product line is in a typically quirky manner that doesn’t come across as a hard selling technique. Reaching the next generation of influencers is going to be one of the major challenges for the sector.

Though there are many tests remaining for the industry, including delivering on sustainability goals in terms of environmental and social responsibility in operating, the conference struck a strong balance between genuine optimism and reflection on today’s complex business conditions. For a full review of the event, catch our subsequent edition of the magazine.

Neill Barston, editor, Confectionery Production

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