At Candy Industry’s 72nd Kettle Awards, with nearly 250 guests in attendance, Sara Clair, director of product development for Brown & Haley, received the industry’s most prestigious award, the gleaming copper kettle. Shawn Askinosie, founder and ceo of Askinosie Chocolates; Steve Genzoli, v.p. of quality assurance/research and redevelopment for Ghirardelli; and Kirkland Vashaw, ceo of Spangler Candy Co.; were also recognized at the event, which was held at the Union League Club in Chicago.

Clair, who also serves as the chairperson of National Confectioners Association (NCA)’s The Confectionery Foundation, has blended candy making with education throughout her career. Clair formed a dessert catering business in high school and in 1978 — while in college — developed a methodology to extend the shelf-life of her premium, fresh cream Silver Elegance truffles.

She hand-dipped at night, attended classes in the morning and delivered to San Francisco Bay area gourmet retailers in the afternoon. After completing undergraduate and master’s degrees at Stanford University, she joined Retail Confectioners International (RCI) and sourced equipment, hired employees and increased sales through participation in the Winter Fancy Food Show.

After marrying Pierson Clair, current vice chairman and ceo of Brown & Haley, Sara sold her business to start a family. Later she began consulting in product development until her husband joined Brown & Haley as president and ceo in 1997. Upon joining the company’s product development team in 1998, Sara moved into technical sales in 2005. In 2014, she formally became director of product development using her past experience and creativity to help launch 15 new ROCA Buttercrunch and Mountain Bar product extensions.

Since 2011, Sara has served as founding chairman of The Confectionery Foundation for the NCA. She has focused the Foundation on education, research and philanthropy creating the Next Generation program to strengthen the industry.

For 10 years, Clair has attended the NCA’s Washington DC Forum and advocated its pro-confectionery political programs. In 2010, she campaigned for the Yes on 1107 ballot proposition, which successfully reversed Washington state’s candy tax. She has testified at state and city environmental hearings to expand walkable shorelines.

As chairman and board member of the 84 year-old Western Candy Conference, she transitioned communications and registration to digital while restructuring the finances, education and marketing.