Q&A With Jim Conlan

We put the spotlight on a classy candy man, the NCA chairman.
The first trait that’s apparent about the chairman of the National Confectioners Association is that he is a team player—and a modest one at that. “This is truly an organization that works together,” maintains Jim Conlan. “It is not about any one individual, least of all, me.”
And yet, this interview is about him, despite his sensitivity to being highlighted. As he is just about midway through his chairmanship (October 2004 through October 2006), Confectioner recently caught up with him to chat about his career, the confectionery industry, and the NCA.
Q: As NCA chairman, please describe your function.
Conlan: My role is to provide leadership to the board of trustees and to the executive board, to establish business priorities for the association, and then to see that our goals are met. But this is a hands-on job. Virtually every day I’m in contact with Larry Graham, the NCA staff, and our members. It’s a very involved process with input from a lot of sources. We are a very fortunate industry to have such good leadership under Larry, and a highly professional staff with a very involved executive board and board of trustees. My job is made easier because of the teamwork.  
Q: What career steps took you here and how has your experience guided this position?
Conlan: I spent over 30 years with Masterfoods/Mars, Inc. in a number of senior-level positions—sales management, brand management, business development, global and public affairs—and those wide range of disciplines provided me with a good base to help guide the industry association.
Q: Midway into your chairmanship for the NCA, what changes have taken place thus far, and what direction are you taking it moving forward?
Conlan: Even before I was chairman, the NCA embarked on a strategic plan to manage the fast-changing legislative environment affecting our industry. In 2004, we revisited that plan and made adjustments to move forward with the NCA focused on two major areas: to grow the industry and to protect it at the same time.  On the “growth” side, the NCA has funded a major research project that is still a work in progress—we will see new results in six months. On the “protect” side, the NCA is very active in communicating a balanced message on issues such as obesity. We want to make sure the industry is not demonized by either the media or government entities.
Q: What are the top confectionery issues today and how is the NCA addressing them? How should members be participating to solve them?
Conlan: One of the major challenges is managing change; within that, we see consolidation of our industry, the continuing growth in government regulations and restrictive legislation, both at the state and federal levels.
The NCA is very much involved at both the state and federal levels, actively dealing with a myriad of issues from CAFTA to tax and marketing restrictions.
Q: What are the major growth opportunities for candy?
Conlan: The key to growth on the retail side is the everyday availability of products and seasonal merchandising techniques. The key to growth on the manufacturing side is meeting the wants and needs of consumers. The bottom line is this category is expandable, profitable, and has a great future based on the ease of accessibility, as well as the quality and value of products offered. n