NCA Future Leadership Program

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].

Program Benefits:

  • 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 and Candy & Snack TODAY magazine

Eligibility Requirements:

  • 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, 2024. 
  • 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. 

2024 Class of Future Leaders

Chase Brown

Chase Brown

Regional Business Manager-Grocery & Convenience-Texas/New Mexico, Perfetti Van Melle

Chase is the regional business manager for Texas and New Mexico at Perfetti Van Melle. He embarked on his confectionery journey in 2017 with Atkinson Candy Company, gaining diverse experience across various channels. In 2020, he joined Perfetti Van Melle, initially focusing on the convenience sector in the southwest before expanding to cover both grocery and convenience. Perfetti’s recent addition of Trident, Dentyne, and Bubblicious into their portfolio has helped Chase develop a robust skill set in sales and business management. Outside work, he is a dedicated parent to two children and a Golden Retriever. He’s a hockey player, and actively supports his local children’s hospital.

Industry Mentor: Mike Gilroy, VP of Trade Development & Sponsorship, Mars Wrigley 

Lori Davis

Director of Sales West, Burdette Beckmann, Inc. 

Lori is the director of sales west for Burdette Beckman Inc. where she manages daily operations, leads the sales team, and fosters client relationships. Her responsibilities include acting as the primary contact for operational integration throughout Burdette Beckmann, Inc.’s acquisition of PROMARK. While supporting the company’s growth, Lori’s goals involve promoting critical thinking in sales, helping her team overcome distribution challenges, and motivating staff to achieve common goals. Lori began her career at PROMARK shortly after earning her BA in Sociology from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. An avid reader, Lori lives in Lafayette, Louisiana, with her two children and two cats. 

Industry Mentor: Betsy Harris, Co-President, CSN | HWY Partners  

Kate Duffy 

Director of Human Resources, North America, Storck USA, L.P. 

As the director of human resources for Storck USA, L.P., Kate is known for her engaging and adaptive leadership style. Her experience spans HR leadership roles in the consumer goods, packaging, hospitality, and healthcare service industries, focusing on talent acquisition, development, and employee relations. Kate’s passion for confectionery, ignited in childhood by her grandparents, inspires her to connect talented individuals with the industry. Her background in hospitality enhances her understanding of the importance of human connections, reflecting how the industry positively affects consumers. Residing in the Chicago suburbs with her husband, Bill, and their dog, Sparty, Kate is an avid Chicago Cubs fan and aspires to visit all US National Parks. 

Industry Mentor: John Brooks, President, Adams & Brooks, Inc. 

Steve Edminister 

Team Leader – Grocery, Russell Stover Chocolates 

Steve is the team leader for grocery at Russell Stover Chocolates, guiding growth across more than 15 regional grocers. His career transitioned to confections in 2015, after diverse roles in the food industry, when he became a field sales representative at The Hershey Company. He lives in Bentonville, Arkansas, with his wife, Erin, and their three children. Beyond his professional role, Steve is an avid triathlete and certified USA Triathlon Level 1 coach. He co-founded the TeamE Multi Sport Foundation, focusing on youth engagement and healthy lifestyles. He wants to help these youth foster a passion for a healthy lifestyle from an early age. His community contributions were acknowledged in Celebrate Arkansas Magazine’s “Ones to Watch.” 

Industry Mentor: Mike Farley, VP of Sales, Goetze’s Candy Company, Inc. 

Cody Heinz 

Director of Sales, Bell Flavors & Fragrances 

Cody is the director of sales at Bell Flavors & Fragrances, a family-owned company where he has cultivated a deep passion for the confectionery industry for more than 17 years. Starting as a summer intern in 2004, Cody has experienced almost every aspect of the business, from production to customer service. A graduate of Miami University with a B.S. in Kinesiology and Health, Cody furthered his education with a master’s in business management from Lake Forest Graduate School of Management. He is actively involved in the NCA’s Young Professional Network, contributing to industry growth and leadership development, and serves on the board for the Western Candy Conference. Outside of work, Cody enjoys outdoor activities such as skiing, wakeboarding, and golf and cherishes traveling with his family and friends.

Industry Mentor: Daniel Cutchin, VP of Sugar Confections, Ferrero NA 

Christina Jenkins 

Customer Cocoa Research and Development Project Manager, Barry Callebaut 

Christina is a passionate chocolate and sweets enthusiast, blending her love for confectionery with a professional role in research and development at Barry Callebaut. Growing up in upstate New York, she developed a fondness for fresh, quality candy, often visiting Hershey Park in Pennsylvania. With degrees in culinary arts and food science, Christina has excelled as an R&D Project Manager in Chocolate and Cocoa for the past nine years. Her career highlights include traveling to the Ivory Coast as a sustainability ambassador and leading innovative tastings at major events. Now living in Napa, California, with her husband, young son, and their dog, Pop-Tart, Christina enjoys baking, exploring bakeries worldwide, and discovering new cookie flavors. Outside of the confectionery world, she stays active with yoga, Zumba, and contributes to her community through volunteer work at her local church. 

Industry Mentor: Joan Harvey, SVP of R&D, General Manager, Flavorist, Bell Flavors & Fragrances 

Mark Slusser 

General Manager, Blommer Chocolate Company 

As the general manager at Blommer Chocolate Company’s largest cocoa and chocolate manufacturing facility, Mark oversees operations, profitability, and strategic planning. Mark has built a decade-long career in the confectionery industry, holding various leadership roles. Raised in Hanover, Pennsylvania, surrounded by a food and agricultural environment, he developed a keen interest in the industry. After earning a degree in Agricultural Systems Management from Penn State University, Mark initially worked in the meat industry, later shifting to confectionery with Treehouse Foods. Furthering his education with a MS-MBA in Food and Agribusiness Management from Purdue, he transitioned to a plant superintendent role at Cargill’s cocoa and chocolate unit before moving to Blommer. Away from work, he enjoys outdoor activities like camping and fishing with his wife, Jamie, and their children, Callie and Colby, embracing the joys of family life and nature. 

Industry Mentor: Derek Glade, VP of Sales & Marketing, Taffy Town, Inc. 

Franki Smurro 

Senior Customer Marketing Manager, Mars Wrigley 

Franki has spent her rich 8.5-year career journey with Mars Wrigley North America. Currently the senior customer marketing manager, she has previously worked as the customer business lead for Target on the nonseasonal confectionery business. Originally from New Jersey, Franki pursued her education in Philadelphia at St. Joseph’s University, majoring in food marketing with a minor in Spanish. She recently enhanced her expertise by earning an MBA in Marketing from the same university, a step towards broadening her knowledge in the confectionery industry. In her personal time, Franki enjoys cooking, especially recreating her mother’s classic Italian recipes, and traveling, with recent trips to Champagne, France, and Lisbon, Portugal. In Chicago, she stays active with beach volleyball and soccer, enjoying as much of the warm weather as possible.  

Industry Mentor: Paul Bradley, Sales Director, Lindt & Sprungli (USA), Inc. 

2023 Class of Future Leaders

2023 Class of Future Leaders

Ferrato Kelsea Headshot

Kelsea Ferrato

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 

Gordon Emily Headshot

Emily Gordon 

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 


AJ Khoury 

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 

Stephanie Laub 

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

Carly Meck 

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 

Ryan Miller 

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 

2022 Class of Future Leaders

2022 Class of Future Leaders

Ashton Batten

Ashton Batten

Customer Business Leader, Mars Wrigley North America

Ashton Batten leads Mars Wrigley’s largest U.S. sales desk: the Walmart take-home candy business. In this role, she is responsible for executing Mars Wrigley’s confectionery vision and strategy with the world’s largest retailer. Ashton is passionate about cultivating collaborative relationships, developing people through great line management and finding novel solutions to business problems. She is based in northwest Arkansas where she lives with her husband, Cody.

Industry Mentor: Sylvia Buxton, President & CEO, Perfetti Van Melle USA, Inc.

William Felder

William Felder

Key Account Manager – Target, Ferrara Candy Company

William Felder is the Ferrara Candy Company’s national key account manager for Target’s seasonal confectionery business. After beginning his confectionery career at Mars in category management supporting Family Dollar and Target, he joined Ferrara Candy Company in 2019 as a category manager supporting Target and Albertsons. He then moved to be the key account manager for convenience, before being promoted to his current position. In addition to his current role, William serves on Ferrara’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Council and is a co-chair of the Black Employee Resource Group. William currently resides in Minneapolis with his wife and two children.

Industry Mentor: Rick Brindle, Vice President, Industry Development, Mondelēz International, Inc.

Tony Fontana

Tony Fontana

National Account Manager, Haribo of America, Inc.

Tony Fontana is Haribo’s national account manager supporting the Target, Walgreens and Rite Aid businesses. After a short stint selling copiers and nine years in analytics and category management at the Nielsen Company and ConAgra, he joined the Haribo team, progressing through roles in marketing, category management and regional sales before taking his current position. Tony is an active member of the National Confectioners Association and its Young Professionals Network and has served on NCA’s State of the Industry Conference and Sweets & Snacks Expo committees.

Industry Mentor: Mike Gilroy, VP of Trade Development & Sponsorship, Mars Wrigley North America

Jonathan Hartigan

Jonathan Hartigan

Director of Sales, North, Shankman & Associates, Inc.

Jonathan Hartigan brings more than 15 years of experience to his role as director of sales for Shankman & Associates, Inc., where he oversees Shankman’s north region. Blending analytics, sales experience, and relationship building, Jonathan has previously held multiple roles in category strategy and sales within Shankman, all while playing a significant role with sales teams in developing meaningful customer and client strategies. He lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan, with his wife and two sons.

Industry Mentor: Brandon Sagotz, Director Customer Marketing & Industry Relations, Ferrara Candy Company

Rebecca Kuehn

Rebecca Kuehn

R&D Manager, Guittard Chocolate Company

Rebecca Kuehn provides technical leadership in innovation and chocolate-making at Guittard Chocolate Company, and her work has led to new product launches, improvements and production line startups domestically and internationally. Introduced to the industry while researching chocolate at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Rebecca earned her M.S. in Food Science & Technology from University of California – Davis and worked in previous R&D roles at Nestle Confections & Snacks and Olam Cocoa before joining Guittard. She also serves as Professional Manufacturing Confectioners Association’s West Region Chair.

Industry Mentor: Mitchell Goetze, Chief Executive Officer, Goetze’s Candy Company, Inc.

Danielle Laubenstein

Director of Global Marketing, Mauna Loa, Hawaiian Host Group

Danielle Laubenstein is the director of global marketing for Mauna Loa, overseeing the brand’s repositioning into becoming Hawaiʻi’s premier health & wellness brand by transforming the Macadamia Nut into new product categories across grocery aisles. Danielle has worked in the CPG health & wellness and luxury confectionery space for over a decade for companies such as Chocolove, Godiva and DFS (an LVMH company), delivering double-digit revenue growth.

Industry Mentor: Emily Edmondson, Sales Director, Galerie

Daniel Mendelsohn

Daniel Mendelsohn

Associate Director, Seasonals and Innovations, PIM Brands, Inc.

As associate director of seasonals and innovations for PIM Brands, Inc., Daniel Mendelsohn applies his extensive experience in brand and product development, for international CPG brands, and his passion for innovation and design thinking. In addition to his current role, Daniel serves as a mentor and advisor at Pace University on the topics of design and innovation. He is based in New York with his wife and daughter.

Industry Mentor: Byard Ebling, Vice President of Sales, Shankman & Associates, Inc.

Miguel Zorrilla

Marketing Brand Director, Ferrero USA, Inc.

Miguel Zorrilla is the senior director of marketing at Ferrero USA. Over the last two years, he has led Ferrero’s Butterfinger business, unlocking 15% growth on the core business and managing a cross-functional team that executes on projects across the Butterfinger business. Before joining the team at Ferrero, Miguel worked at Mars Wrigley in a variety of roles focusing on brand management and innovation.

Industry Mentor: Josh Shapiro, Chief Marketing Officer, PIM Brands, Inc.

2021 Class of Future Leaders
Serena Bitzer

Serena Bitzer

Senior Business Analyst, The Hershey Company

Serena Bitzer is a senior business analyst at Hershey and has previously worked in Hershey’s Continuous Improvement and Operations Business Development divisions. Serena’s life-long passion for candy started as a child! For her elementary school play about Pennsylvania history, she chose the role of the Hershey Kiss; it was fate that she ended up working at The Hershey Company. Serena holds degrees in Engineering, Food Science, Supply Chain Management and is pursuing her MBA. Serena is proud to serve on the board of the Professional Manufacturing Confectioners Association and the leadership team of the Hershey Women’s Business Resource Group as well as other community organizations.

Industry Mentor: Troy Pearley, EVP General Manager, USA, Divine Chocolate

Nisha Desai

Nisha Desai

Head of Business Development and Strategic Partnerships, Daily Harvest

Nisha joined Daily Harvest in 2021 as Head of Business Development and Strategic Partnerships. Prior to Daily Harvest, she had been with, Inc. since 2014, working on multiple growth initiatives, including the management of the business transformation process following the Harry & David acquisition and the launch of the company’s newest brand, Simply Chocolate. Nisha is passionate about leveraging macroeconomic trends and consumer insights to drive growth. Nisha began her career as an economics officer at the State Department, advocating on behalf of American companies abroad. She holds an MBA from Columbia Business School and a B.S.F.S from the Georgetown School of Foreign Service.

Industry Mentor: Sarah Atkinson, EVP, Atkinson Candy Company

MJ Puch

Mark Puch Jr. (MJ)

Key Account Specialist, Primrose Candy Company

A fourth-generation candy manufacturer, Mark Puch Jr. is a key account specialist focusing on new business development at Primrose Candy Company. Mark is passionate about creating innovative and cutting-edge products that contribute to the growth of the confectionery industry and is involved in the Chicago Candy Production Club and the Chicago Entrepreneurial & Family Business Council. He graduated from Marquette University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration.

Industry Mentor: Kirk Vashaw, Chairman & CEO, Spangler Candy Company

Sandi Santa Ana

Sandi Santa Ana

Category Management Director, Ferrara Candy Company

Sandi Santa Ana is a director of category management at Ferrara, helping build Ferrara’s category management function since its inception five years ago. She brings to the role her enthusiasm for storytelling and ability to turn data into actionable insights across multiple customers and channels, driving growth in the category. Sandi is passionate about driving diversity & inclusion in the workplace as the co-founder of the ¡UNIDOS! (United Latinos of Ferrara) employee resource group, and she is an active member of Ferrara’s Diversity & Inclusion Council. Before joining the confectionery industry, Sandi started her CPG career through the Sales Leadership Development Program at Johnson & Johnson.

Industry Mentor: Anthony Trani, CEO, Elenco (Previously Vice President of Global Marketing, Bazooka Candy Brands)

Becky Silberfarb

Becky Silberfarb

Senior Director of Marketing, Bazooka Candy Brands

Becky Silberfarb is the director of marketing for Bazooka Candy Brands (BCB), leading brand strategy and driving growth on some of the most fun, nostalgic and innovative candy brands. Since joining the company in 2016, Becky has commercialized several key innovations for the company including Ring Pop® Gummy Gems and Push Pop® Gummy Roll. Additionally, she leads brand positioning and integrated marketing campaigns for all U.S brands. Before joining BCB, Becky supported marketing activations at Dannon on the Activia® and Danimals® brands. She holds an MBA from the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan.

Industry Mentor: Marty Palmer, President & CEO, Palmer Candy Company

2020 Class of Future Leaders
Lisa Eustic

Lisa Eustic

Senior Marketing Director, The Promotion In Motion Companies, Inc. Lisa Eustic is currently a senior marketing director at The Promotion In Motion Companies, Inc. (PIM), focusing on the company’s snack portfolio. Since joining PIM in 2011, Lisa has worked to drive growth across the company’s portfolio of consumer loved confections and snacks, including America’s #1 fruit snacks brand, Welch’s® Fruit Snacks, via impactful 360-degree marketing and disruptive innovation. Prior to joining PIM in 2011, Lisa worked on market-leading beauty brands at Avon and L’Oreal.

Industry Mentor: Mitchell Goetze, CEO, Goetze’s Candy Company, Inc.

Betsy Hritz

Betsy Hritz

Regional Sales Manager for Vending, Military & Special Markets, Just Born Quality Confections Betsy Hritz is a regional sales manager for the specialty, vending and military channels for Just Born Inc. Betsy has been with Just Born for over 10 years, beginning in Just Born’s internship program and progressing to its national convenience and grocery retail programs. She has held multiple roles across Just Born’s sales and trade show teams. Earlier this year, she received her MBA in food marketing from St. Joseph’s University.

Industry Mentor: Shelly Clarey, Vice President of Sales & Marketing, Adams & Brooks, Inc.

Liz Miller

Liz Miller

Liz Miller was most recently the senior marketing manager at Divine Chocolate, where she led the company’s marketing efforts for five years. She began her career in various nonprofit marketing and communications roles and completed a Master’s degree in International Human Rights. Liz also volunteers on the leadership team for the Washington D.C. Chapter of Ellevate Network, a global professional development network committed to helping women succeed in business.

Industry Mentor: Audra Vogler, CEO, Hoffman Vogler

Takuma Oka

Takuma Oka

Director of Sales, Morinaga America, Inc. Takuma (Tak) Oka is the director of sales for Morinaga America Inc. He joined Morinaga America in 2010 and was involved in the early stages of the introduction of HI-CHEW fruit chews to the U.S. market. In his current role, he manages HI-CHEW’s business portfolio and strategy across all classes of trade. Tak previous held the role of National Sales Manager.

Industry Mentor: Lisa Shapiro, Owner, LM Shapiro Strategies

Mathew Rubinstein

Vice President, Billie-Ann Plastics Packaging Corp. Mathew Rubinstein is the vice president of Billie-Ann Plastics Packaging Corp. and has been with Billie-Ann Plastics since 2008. After receiving an MBA from the NYU Stern School of Business, he has committed to modernizing and continuing the legacy of Billie-Ann Plastics, which has been in business since 1973. To that end, Mathew became certified through NYU’s Sustainability Training for Business Leaders in order to work toward a goal of making the company zero-waste certified.

Industry Mentor: Jeff Brown, Chief Commercial Officer, PIM Brands, Inc.

2019 Class of Future Leaders
Steve Casey

Steve Casey

National Sales Manager, Melville Candy After attending Boston College, Steve moved to Los Angeles where he became a talent agent in Hollywood representing celebrities and brand endorsements. From there he became the VP of Business Development for an experiential marketing agency called NVE based in Los Angeles. Steve then co-founded a marketing agency which was bought out shortly thereafter representing high-profile brands such as Beats by Dre, GoPro and Sonos by age 28. In 2014, he moved back east and has been with Melville Candy as the National Sales Director worldwide. Since joining, the company has grown over 75% in gross sales. For the last five years, Steve has been a member of NCA and active in YPN.

Industry Mentor: Ed Seibolt, Vice President of Sales and Business Development, Fannie May Confections Brands, Inc.

Natalie Herr

Natalie Herr

Senior National Accounts Sales Manager, Hawaiian Host Natalie worked in the confection industry for nearly four years at Russell Stover Chocolates. Over that time she took on many new roles and challenges within the wholesale department. She began with 10, smaller regional grocery accounts as a new hire and within five months was promoted to manage larger grocery and mass businesses. Since then Natalie continued to take on new and larger accounts and was promoted to a Team Leader position where she was able to explore mentoring and managing a team. Most recently, she has made the move to Hawaiian Host as Senior National Accounts Sales Manager.

Industry Mentor: Torie Burke, Co-Founder and CEO, Torie & Howard, Inc.

Michele Polito

Michele Polito

Corporate Buying Director, Sugar Factory Michele launched her professional career in 2002 as an Assistant Buyer for Dylan’s Candy Bar. In 2006, she took her passion and acquired expertise for retail buying to Saks Fifth Avenue, buying and developing products in categories such as Intimate Apparel and Designer Men’s Shoes. Always having a craving to get back into the Candy Industry, she returned to Dylan’s Candy Bar in 2013 as a buyer for Everyday Candy and Collaborative Partnerships. Soon after her return, she was promoted to Senior Buyer where she was the driving force on all R&D of Dylan’s Candy Bar branded and licensed product. She worked closely on licensing deals with partners like Warner Brothers, Paramount Pictures, Sanrio and Nickelodeon. Michele spearheaded all product assortments as it pertains to global expansion, launching Dylan’s Candy Bar in Canada and the Middle East. Michele joined Sugar Factory as Corporate Buying Director in May 2019. Outside of work, she continues to give back to her community by supporting two philanthropic organizations: the New York Chapter of St. Jude and Habitat for Humanity. serving on both for over 13 years.

Industry Mentor: Mary Beth Lane, Managing Partner & SVP of Alternative/Vend Channel, Carlin Group

Tessa Porter

Tessa Porter

President & Owner, Sprinkk Tessa is the president and owner of Sprinkk, a Nebraska-based startup focusing on confectionery process design and small scale manufacturing. She is a food science graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and she completed her master’s degree at the UW-Madison studying sucrose crystallization under Dr. Rich Hartel. Tessa has been involved in the confectionery industry since 2007 through her work at the UNL Food Processing Center, The Hershey Company and Ferrara Candy Company. In 2016, she joined Glanbia Performance Nutrition to combine her passion of confectionery science with her health and wellness interests, and in 2018, she returned to pure confections at Ferrara. She has been actively involved with PMCA, AACT and NCA events focusing on student involvement.

Industry Mentor: Beth Goeddel, Vice President, Retail Sales & Marketing, Clasen Quality Chocolate

Mike Terroni

Mike Terroni

Vice President of Grocery, HWY Partners A second generation in the confection industry, Micke attended industry events as a child with aspirations of becoming a part of it. With 10+ years of industry experience, Mike is the Vice President of Grocery and leads a broker sales team in the NYC Metro market. A recent recipient of Ghiradelli’s Top Broker Award, Mike has a track record of delivering results. Prior to joining HWY Partners, Mike held various positions at Mars Chocolate, including national sales with responsibility for a top 10 customer and in customer marketing where he was on development teams that launched over 50 new products.

Industry Mentor: Clark Taylor, Sr. Vice President – Sales/Marketing, CandyRific LLC

2018 Class of Future Leaders


Channel Lead – Brand Licensing & Ingredient Sales, Mars Wrigley Confectionery Arsh Ghuman is the Channel Lead – Brand Licensing & Ingredient Sales for Mars Wrigley Confectionery. During her time with the company, Arsh has transformed e-commerce into a core competency at Mars Chocolate – shaping the value proposition and positioning. She has also built an assortment management framework to identify opportunities for product, pricing, and promotion on Amazon and Traveling the world is in Arsh’s DNA as she has visited nearly 20 countries and doesn’t foresee stopping anytime soon.

Industry Mentor: Matt Pye, Senior Vice President of Sales & Marketing, Just Born Quality Confections


Head of Marketing, HARIBO of America, Inc. Lana Jones began her career within CPG in 2008 with ECRM. During her time as a Retail Director, she was given the opportunity to work closely with retailers and developed a passion for the confectionery industry. Since leaving ECRM, she has had the opportunity to work as a Brand Manager for Russell Stover, Associate Category Manager for Candy at Walgreens, and Brand Manager for HARIBO of America. Through these experiences, Lana has developed an understanding of manufacturing, product development, brand marketing and merchandising.

Industry Mentor: Kathy Corcoran, Vice President of Premier Specialty, Premier Specialty


Inside Sales Manager, Adams & Brooks Originally from a small town, farm and big family, Sharon learned early on the value of hard work and dedication. Now, she says she’s blessed with a fun and challenging career in an industry that she loves. Sharon started with Adams & Brooks as a Marketing & Sales Assistant, and has since climbed up the ladder increasing her responsibilities as Inside Sales Manager. She interfaces directly with brokers and customers, developing strategies and products, and enjoys staying abreast on industry issues. She is passionate about building relationships and developing her leadership skills.

Industry Mentor: Audra Vogler, CEO, Hoffman Vogler


President, Jason Scott Specialty Foods Jason Musick’s whole life has been surrounded by the food business. His father, Gary Musick, ran various food companies while he was growing up. Jason graduated with two business degrees at Drake University, followed by an MBA in general business at Lynn University in Boca Raton. During his time in school and shortly after, he worked multiple jobs in various food areas from hospitality to catering to production. Through these experiences, Jason has absorbed as much knowledge as possible which led to the creation of his own business in 2015.

Industry Mentor: Dave Fleischer, Retired, Previously Vice President of Trade Relations, PIM Brands, Inc.


R&D Corporate Manager – Product Development, Blommer Chocolate Company Melissa Tisoncik has worked for Blommer for seven years and was recently promoted to the position of R&D Corporate Manager-Product Development. In her role, Melissa leads a cross-site team of managers that provide technical services support in North America, Canada, and China. She earned her B.A. in chemistry from Illinois Wesleyan University and a M.S. in Food Science from the UIUC. She has served as the Chairperson of the AACT Chicago Section since 2013 and has spoken at both AACT and PMCA national conferences since joining the industry.

Industry Mentor: Jeff Rome, BBi Sales Consultant, Burdette Beckmann, Inc.

2017 Class of Future Leaders
Becca Mandru


Director, Drug Channel, Carlin Group
Becca launched her career within the retail industry in 2009 as a Merchandise Analyst at Kohl’s Corporation. In 2010, she took her knowledge and passion for retail to Walgreens Corporation, where she landed on the promotional planning team. She analyzed the effectiveness and profitability of the promotions run at Walgreens and developed an innovated new promotional planning tool that aided decision making across all retail categories. In July 2012, Becca was promoted to a Category Specialist of Confections and has been in the Confection Industry ever since. During her time at Walgreens, she was busy establishing a reputation of taking on new categories and ensuring growth. She also had a wonderful opportunity during her time at Walgreens to help launch WNEXT, Walgreens Young Professionals Business Resource Group. In 2015, Becca took her experience and moved into the broker community, working first as a Business Manager at the Carlin Group (formerly Carlin O’Brien). She used her wealth of knowledge from a retail perspective to help drive growth and advise confection manufacturers on the development of best in class retail programs. In 2016, she was promoted to Director of Business Development and Strategy for the Carlin Group, tasked with the execution of the strategic vision of Carlin Group’s clients within the Drug Channel.

Industry Mentor: Mike Maslen, Vice President of Sales, Hudson Group

Kate McAleer


Owner & Founder, Bixby & Co.
Kate McAleer is an owner and founder of Bixby & Co., an artisan confectionary producer located in the historic working waterfront of Rockland, Maine. Bixby & Co. was founded in 2011 to produce and sell unique natural and organic chocolate products. Kate earned her honors BA from New York University and holds diplomas in pastry arts and culinary management from the Institute of Culinary Education in New York City. The first Bixby Bars were developed after experimentation and trial and error in the family kitchen and are currently sold across the country in over a 1000 specialty and natural food stores. Kate is the 2014 Gorham Savings Bank LaunchPad Winner, MaineBiz 2014 “Nexter” of the top 10 people impacting Maine’s economy, and the 2015 Small Business Administration’s Young Entrepreneur of the Year for Maine and 2016 Tory Burch Foundation Fellow and Tory Burch Foundation Grand pitch prize winner of $100,000.

Industry Mentor: Shelly Clarey, Vice President of Sales & Marketing, Adams & Brooks, Inc.

Rutherford Ross


Vice President of Sales, nib mor, Inc.
Ross Rutherford began his career in the CPG industry with The Carlin Group (formerly BeaconUnited Cincinnati) as a Category Analyst shortly after completing his Master’s Degree in Organizational Communication at the University of Cincinnati. Within six months, Ross was promoted to a Senior Confection Analyst and began working on numerous special projects for Kroger’s Seasonal Category Manger. In his first year as a Business Manager, Ross won Ghirardelli’s Broker Incentive Trip for year over year sales growth. In October 2014 Ross made the transition to the manufacturer side of the industry, joining DeMet’s Candy Company as the Central Region Business Manager. In January 2016, DeMet’s and Godiva – both owned by Yildiz Holdings – merged their North American sales teams to create pladis North America, a division of pladis global. In the new organization, Ross transitioned to Manager, Customer Marketing and has started to lead an organizational change in the way DeMet’s and Godiva communicate their story to the trade. In addition, Ross is working to build the brands by driving a deeper understanding of channel specific needs and opportunities, managing the flow of communication between sales and marketing, and strengthening the way the team operates as a holistic unit.

Industry Mentor: Jerry Hagedorn, Executive Vice President of Business Development, Barry Callebaut USA LLC

Caitlan Servian


Assistant Brand Manager, Just Born Quality Confections
Caitlin Servian is a passionate and dedicated Assistant Brand Manager for the PEEPS® Brand at Just Born Quality Confections. A 2011 summa cum laude graduate of Moravian College, Caitlin earned her Bachelor of Arts Degree in Business Management, with a focus in Marketing and a minor in Mathematics. Caitlin currently works on the iconic seasonal candy brand, PEEPS®. In her role, Caitlin works on brand partnerships, manages the Christmas portfolio, and is currently planning for the Easter 2017 launch of PEEPS® Delights™. Selfless service is important to Caitlin. Each summer, she serves as a Just Born mentor to a select group of high school students through Lehigh University’s Iacocca Institute’s Pennsylvania School for Global Entrepreneurship, coaching the students on a project and preparing them to present in front of Just Born leadership. Caitlin also participates in a yearly program that allows college students to learn more about business and marketing through job-shadowing.

Industry Mentor: Katherine Clark, Retired, Previously Vice President of Sales, Capol LLC

pladis North America, Anthony Trani


Vice President, Global Marketing, Topps Confections
Anthony Trani is currently the Global VP of Marketing and Innovation for Bazooka Candy Brands (BCB), the confectionery division of The Topps Company. Prior to joining BCB in 2009, Anthony worked in the Snacks Business Unit of Kraft Foods, currently a part of Mondelez. Since joining BCB, Anthony has worked to consistently grow both the BCB business and confections category by ramping up innovation activity and enhancing marketing programs. Through his work, Anthony has also had the opportunity to travel to and learn about the confectionery markets in Europe, South America, Korea, and Japan. He is incredibly proud of the BCB marketing team and the hard work they put in each and every day to drive the business forward both here in the U.S. and abroad. In addition to his dedication to work, Anthony is passionate about service in the community. He currently serves as a Board Member and Finance Committee Chair for Brooklyn Community Housing and Services, an organization that provides safe and clean supportive housing for more than 1,000 formerly homeless women, children and men, with its mission being to end homelessness in Brooklyn, NY.

Industry Mentor: Ryan Schader, President, Galerie

2016 Class of Future Leaders
Sarah Atkinson Headshot

Sarah Atkinson

Atkinson Candy Company
Sarah is the fourth generation of Atkinson family members to carry on the Atkinson Candy Company heritage. Sarah started working for Atkinson Candy Company during high school spending the summers assisting with administrative duties, trade shows and retail sales in the factory store. In 2007, Sarah became the marketing director for Atkinson Candy Company with full-time responsibilities in trade promotions, product innovation, trade events and office management. Today, Sarah is actively involved in all strategic planning, brand management, marketing activities and event planning for Atkinson Candy Company.

Industry Mentor: Rick Ross, CEO, Galerie

Elizabeth Clair Headshot

Elizabeth Clair

Barry Callebaut
Elizabeth Clair is national confectionery sales manager for Barry Callebaut, the world’s largest chocolate and cocoa company, and a third generation member of the American confectionery industry. A strong supporter of career-focused education, she actively participates in The Confectionery Foundation, the Curriculum Advisory Board of The French Pastry School in Chicago, as well as the Western Candy Conference, American Association of Candy Technologists and Institute of Food Technologists.

Industry Mentor: Lisa Shapiro, Owner, LM Shapiro Strategies

Byard Ebling Headshot

Byard Ebling

Shankman & Associates
Byard Ebling is a vlient development manager for Shankman & Associates. He oversees the client relationship as well as all aspects of sales, team management and revenue for the entire Shankman & Associates business for those key accounts. That client list today includes some of the most important confectionary companies that Shankman & Associates has in their total market basket of partnerships. In correlation to the success at Shankman & Associates and reputation in the market, Byard was nominated and voted in as the youngest board member for the Northern Ohio AGMR Trade Organization in January 2015.

Industry Mentor: Paul Minger, Retired, Previously Vice President of Trade Associations , HARIBO of America

Amy Guittard Headshot

Amy Guittard

Guittard Chocolate Company
Amy’s involvement at Guittard not only includes marketing activities, but also sourcing and sustainability, serving on several committees for the World Cocoa Foundation and often traveling to origin to meet with farmers, buyers and traders to continue Guittard’s long-standing tradition of collaborating on the ground with those closest to the source. Most recently, Amy led the brand refresh and launched several new consumer and professional products for the 146-year-old brand. In August 2015, Chronicle Books published Amy’s first cookbook, Guittard Chocolate Cookbook, Decadent Recipes from San Francisco’s Premium Bean-to-Bar Chocolate Company.

Industry Mentor: Ross Born, CEO, Just Born Quality Confections

Chris Jenco Headshot

Chris Jenco

Jenco Brothers’ Candy
Chris began writing a business plan for the candy store he now owns with his brother while he was a senior at Hobart College. He did all the demolition on the building that would become Jenco Brothers’ Candy before working with a local architect. Local businesses have recognized the brand Chris created as one that is valuable to partner with. Proctor & Gamble has brought teams of engineers to the store for question-and-answer sessions with Chris on customer sensory experiences, mix and match products, and other topics relating to their fabric care line.

Industry Mentor: Ted Cohen, Retired, Previously President & CEO, Hillside Candy