One of the nominees for the 76th Annual Kettle Awards, to be held May 23 at the Union League Club of Chicago, is Chairman and CEO Kirk Vashaw, of Spangler Candy Company, Bryan, OH, maker of Dum-Dums and other non-chocolate treats.

Voting for the Kettle Award is currently ongoing, and will close at the end of February. 

This is the first in a series of articles that will highlight all three nominees. 

In 2008, Vashaw became the 7th president in Spangler Candy Co.’s 111-year history and the first fourth-generation family member to lead the company. The company employs 500 employees in its Bryan, Ohio plant and produces more than 12 million Dum-Dum lollipops and three million candy canes every day. In its 500,000 sq.-ft., state-of-the-art manufacturing facility in Bryan, some of America’s most well-known confections are made, including Dum-Dums, Saf-T-Pops, Circus Peanuts, Spangler Candy Canes and more. In 2018, He led Spangler’s acquisition of NECCO, which had then fallen into bankruptcy. Through his leadership the entire company was acquired and Spangler retained the NECCO Wafer, Sweetheart, and Mary Jane brands. They have since merged those manufacturing operations into their own plant, expanded their plant and successfully relaunched the brands. The remaining NECCO assets were sold at auction.

Liz Parker: How did you originally get into the candy and confectionery industry?

Kirk Vashaw: Prior to Spangler, I worked in the marketing department for the Gillette Company where I had experience with licensing, including Disney licensing. In 2003, Spangler signed a deal to license Disney characters on our products and they needed someone to help manage that business. At that time, Gillette was getting ready to be acquired by Proctor and Gamble, so I was likely either going to be moving to either southern Ohio with P&G or Northern Ohio with Spangler Candy.

LP: What was the biggest challenge of your career, and how did you overcome it?

KV: Certainly the NECCO acquisition in 2018 was the craziest business period I’ve encountered. In a several months period, Necco declared bankruptcy; we were high bidder in the bankruptcy auction two weeks later; then two days later we lost the bid, only to be end up getting all the assets eight weeks later. I put in 100-hour weeks that summer, but I did make some of the conference calls from our small boat at a nearby lake.

LP: What do you love most about working in this industry?

KV: We have a collaborative industry with people who believe our industry is an important part of people’s well-being. Also, as a decent sized business in a small town, it is rewarding to be able to see first-hand the positive impact the jobs we create have on our local community.

LP: What is the proudest moment of your career?

KV: I suppose there are two. I remember being asked to be the next leader of Spangler Candy as the first 4th generation Spangler. I also love the new water tower in Bryan as I never liked the old design. For nearly 20 years, we waited until it needed repainting and 2022 was the year. Looking at it on the drive into the factory is a great way to start the day.

LP: What is your favorite candy or confectionery treat?

KV: I cannot say without getting kicked out of the family. There is an old family rule that you cannot eat any competitive candy product within 50 miles of Bryan.

LP: What’s the next step in your career?

KV: We’re a 4th generation family business, so my job is to make sure we make it to the next generation of leadership.

Congrats to Kirk Vashaw on his nomination! For more information on the Kettle Award, click here.