Sweets and Snacks Expo 2014 Kettle

Kettle Award Winner Mike Bianco, Senior V.P. of Global Operations & Distribution, Jelly Belly Candy Co., stands in the center of nominee Steve Hegedus, President, CEO & Owner, Abdallah Candies Corp., (left) and Joseph Dutra, President/CEO Kimmie Candy Co. Photo by Vito Paimisano.

Traffic from Chicago’s McCormick Place, home of this year’s Sweets & Snacks Expo, to the Union League Club (ULC) was brutal. As a result, the typical “early birds” to Candy Industry’s 69th Kettle Awards reception didn’t get there till after 6 p.m. Nonetheless, by the time the program was set to start, the ULC’s Main Dining Room was full of guests from the confectionery industry anxious to see the nominees and find out who the recipient would be.

As Russ Crosio and Bryan Bainbridge, chairman and vice chairman of the Kettle Committee respectively, introduced the nominees — Mike Bianco, Jelly Belly Candy Co.;  Joe Dutra, Kimmie Candy Co.; and Steve Hegedus,  Abdallah Candies Corp. — the anticipation began to grow.

The room turned quiet when Scott Funk, Kettle Committee secretary, brought the black leather satchel to the podium and gave it to Crosio for the evening’s eagerly awaited announcement. Once again — as is the tradition at the Kettle Awards — the crowd burst into applause when Crosio read the recipient’s name: Mike Bianco of the Jelly Belly Candy Co.

An emotional Bianco, who several times had to recompose himself, first thanked his wife, Linda, telling the audience that “I love her.” He also went on to say that having had a number of jobs in different industries, working in the confectionery industry had proved to be “by far the most rewarding.”

He also thanked his mentors at Jelly Belly Candy Co., Russ Albers and Herm Rowland, both past Kettle recipients and past president and chairman of the company, respectively. Bianco said he “wouldn’t be standing here tonight,” without their friendship and support.

Bianco, who most recently retired from Jelly Belly Candy Co. as senior vice president of global operations & distribution but continues to consult for the company, has made candy a lifelong career.  An integral part of Jelly Belly Candy for the last 28 years, he has held various positions prior to working his way up to overseeing all operations. Before joining Jelly Belly, Bianco worked for See’s Candy. 

His candy making vocation started from an excellent foundation, which began with an indentured mechanical apprenticeship in the manufacturing and the printing industry after earning a B.S. degree from Pacific Western University.

With an in-depth understanding of mechanics and the candy manufacturing process, Bianco was a natural fit to serve the Western Candy Conference (WCC) as a president, chairperson, board member and committee member.

Through his role with the WCC and his desire to continue the development and learning in the candy industry, Bianco was able to establish a WCC scholarship program as well as collaborate with the University of California - Davis to help create the School of Food Science there. 

Bianco has also devoted time participating on the PMCA Education Committee, serving as a member of the National Confectioners’ Association (NCA) Technical Committee and as a past president of the American Association of Candy Technologists (AACT). 

Ongoing research and development has been key component to helping grow the confectionery industry. As a result, Bianco has been involved with the Research Sub-Committee for NCA, worked on a starch drying research with the NCA and AACT, and published papers on panning and printing on candy. 

His thorough knowledge of candy manufacturing has been essential to the growth of the Jelly Belly Candy Co., particularly as the company expanded its operations to the world arena in Thailand and built a greenfield facility there. Bianco has focused on maintaining the quality of candy production and plant improvements not only with the equipment choices for the Thailand plant, but also through recent installations of several new equipment lines in the company’s U.S. plants. 

Well-known throughout the candy industry as a promoter of confectionery, Bianco was recognized by the WCC as its 2002 Candy Maker of the Year.  He was subsequently inducted into the Candy Hall of Fame in 2005 and awarded the NCA’s Distinguished Service Award in 2009.

In 2013 Bianco was inducted as an Honorary Commander at Travis Air Force Base, subsequently being nominated and attending the National Security Forum.