Slowly but steadily the Main Dining Room at Chicago’s prestigious Union League Club began to fill up on Tuesday evening, May 24. As is typical for exhibitors and attendees on the first day of the Sweets & Snacks Expo, it can be difficult to leave the floor come day’s end. There are still friends to greet and a cocktail to consume before one makes his or her way to the buses waiting to whisk people away to Candy Industry’s 71st Kettle Award Reception.

But given that each year the Kettle Committee puts together  a slate of industry giants as nominees, it’s hard to stay away from the industry’s “Oscar night.” Consider the candidates in 2016: Mike Koch, v.p. of Morley’s Candy Co.; Marty Palmer, president and ceo of Palmer Candy Co.; Rick Ross, president and ceo of Galerie; and Dave Taiclet, president of the Gourmet Food Group of, Inc.

As the room filled to nearly capacity, the noise level continued to rise, a swirl of speculation rising to a crescendo level. And that’s when Kettle Committee Chairman Scott Funk asked for quiet. After a brief introduction of past Kettle Recipients and an overview of the nominees’ bios, Funk simply said, “envelope, please.”

A hush quickly came over the crowd as Rod Oringer, Kettle Committee Secretary, walked up to the podium with the envelope. As someone seated at the table, quipped, “One could hear a cocktail napkin drop.”

Following a few dramatic seconds, the name Mike Koch was announced. Once again — as is tradition — the crowd burst into applause upon hearing his name called out as the 2016 Kettle Award recipient. Koch then graciously acknowledged his fellow nominees, his wife and family, his colleagues at Morley Candy Co. and the industry for the honor. His smile and a reflective cooper glow remained with him all evening.