Invest in Your Future
NCA’s Future Leadership Program (FLP) is designed to provide support, education, access and opportunity to young professionals who wish to advance into the ranks of confectionery leadership. Through its implementation, NCA hopes to encourage more young professionals to assume such leadership positions and develop a more diverse pool of leaders within the industry.
Each year, NCA’s Future Leadership Program awards up to eight deserving young professionals (40 and under) an exclusive opportunity for networking and professional development. For one year, Future Leaders receive recognition among their colleagues and a hand-selected professional industry mentor, as well as complimentary registration to NCA’s three signature events, NCA’s Leadership Summit held in July and the Candy Hall of Fame weekend.
For more information on how Future Leaders are selected, view the Future Leadership Program evaluation criteria. If you have questions about the application or selection process, please contact [email protected].
- Collaboration with your classmates and industry leaders on a project that addresses an important NCA or industry initiative
- Formal mentorship by an industry leader, facilitated by NCA
- Networking opportunities with rising stars from the Young Professionals Network (YPN)
- Opportunities to collaborate with established thought leaders from the confectionery industry and NCA community
- Complimentary registration to NCA’s signature events, including the State of the Industry Conference, Sweets & Snacks Expo, NCA Leadership Summit and Washington Forum
- Complimentary registration to the Candy Hall of Fame weekend
- Industry recognition including, but not limited to CandyUSA.com and Candy & Snack TODAY magazine
- Candidate must be a current employee of an NCA member company or qualified retail customer.
- Candidate must be 40 years of age or younger as of January 1, 2024.
- Candidate must have at least three (3) cumulative years of professional experience in the confectionery industry as of January 1, 2023.
- Candidate must aspire to executive leadership within the confectionery industry.
- Candidate must demonstrate commitment and dedication to NCA and the confectionery industry.
- Candidate must have the support of their employer to participate if selected.
2023 Class of Future Leaders
Director of Marketing, Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory
Born and raised in Durango, CO, Kelsea had the privilege to return to her hometown after college to work as an intern for Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory. Over the course of more than a decade with RMCF, Kelsea has grown within the organization, through social media marketing, brand management, and into her current role – director of marketing. She is very passionate about business development, education and connection, and authentic leadership as catalysts for vibrant communities. In her free time, Kelsea loves to give back and currently serves on the Board of Directors for several community organizations including her local Boys & Girls Club, Mancos Valley Resources – a fiscal sponsor for 15 local non-profits, and Leadership La Plata. She loves to read, cook, ski and explore with her husband and their clumsy Irish Wolfhound.
Industry Mentor: Mark Wakefield, Senior Vice President of Marketing, Ferrero NA
Senior Category Manager, Walgreens
Emily began her retail career at Kohl’s Corporation after graduating from Indiana University in 2013. Building off a summer-long internship the year prior, she rose through the ranks of the women’s apparel merchant office before beginning her Walgreens journey as associate category manager for premium and seasonal candy. The combination of product ingenuity, business dynamics, and people within this industry has motivated her to thrive, leading to a promotion to category manager for greeting cards, gift wrap, floral, and party favors. Ultimately, Emily’s knowledge across these two distinct businesses propelled her to launch new strategies that united the best offerings from both categories, driving improved seasonal outcomes for each business. After a successful year and a half, Emily transitioned back to the Walgreens candy business as senior category manager for everyday take-home and seasonal candy, the position she currently holds. The new level of seniority affords her the chance to collaborate with suppliers, brokers and her Walgreens counterparts to create winning strategies that support the growth of Walgreens’ candy business, year over year.
Industry Mentor: Patrick Murnane, Vice Chairman, Murnane Companies
Director of Technical Sales, Capol LLC
AJ started his career in food at 4 years old, with his immigrant mother and grandmother encouraging him to help with the cooking. Regardless of the mess he made or the results, AJ was never discouraged. The respect, support, and encouragement shown by his mother and grandmother helped to build AJ’s confidence and instilled a desire to do the same for others in his professional and personal life. Throughout his career, AJ has found ways to support and encourage others. He ran for local office on a platform to address housing inequity impacting the elderly in his community, serves on several professional boards that include the board of Geauga County United Way and Community Investment Committee, and AJ has been a presenter for the AACT and an instructor for both PMCA and UW Candy School. He has also arranged for essential goods by the pallet load to be donated to Afghani refugees coming into his community. AJ loves his career and intends to continue serving through it.
Industry Mentor: Rob Nelson, Chairman & CEO, Elmer Chocolate
Customer Business Lead – Disney, Mars Wrigley
Stephanie is the customer business lead for Disney at Mars Wrigley. In this role, she leads the long-term, multi-dimensional corporate alliance partnership with The Walt Disney Company. A proud second-generation Mars associate, Stephanie is responsible for developing and deploying partnership strategy that delivers against mutual objectives and creates new value, along with driving business through a One Mars enterprise-wide lens. She is passionate about the confectionery industry and is motivated by complex challenges and opportunities for creative problem solving. She values building collaborative relationships and focuses her energy on sowing the seeds of the future. Stephanie currently resides in Virginia with her husband and two children.
Industry Mentor: Scott Miller, Director Business Development, Spangler Candy Company
R&D Manager, Blommer Chocolate Company
Carly is the research and development manager for product development at Blommer Chocolate Company. In this role, she manages a team of scientists, commercializes new products, and works with innovative ingredients. Carly has a passion for candy that was fully realized when she joined the company as an intern in 2010, and during her tenure at Blommer, Carly was honored with the Marie Kelso award at PMCA for her paper on Mysteries of Conching Revealed. Carly is a graduate of Delaware Valley University where she majored in food science, and she holds an MBA in food and agribusiness. Outside of work, Carly and her husband love to experience different cultures through traveling and cooking.
Industry Mentor: Tim Leonard, Vice President of Alternate Channels, CA Carlin
Vice President – Supply Chain, Spangler Candy Company
Ryan is the vice president – supply chain at Spangler, and he has extensive experience managing the supply chain and logistics for the company. Beginning his career at Spangler as a college intern, Ryan has earned numerous promotions during his tenure with the company and holds a master’s degree in supply chain management from Michigan State University. Ryan and his wife, a dietitian who offers him a unique perspective on candy, reside in Bryan, OH with their three boys. Ryan is heavily involved in his local community and especially enjoys coaching his sons’ athletic teams, affording him a busy but rewarding schedule.
Industry Mentor: Joe Melville, Owner & Director, Melville Candy Company