Spangler CEO tells ag group sugar policy hurts manufacturing, jobs

BOWLING GREEN, Ohio — The president and chief executive officer for Spangler Candy Co. told a group of farmers and farm-related industries he could double his business in five or 10 years if he could have just one thing.

Kirk Vashaw, who is the fourth generation to work for the company and has been president since 2008, said what he needs most is sugar. Or, more specifically, to buy sugar on the free market.

“We will double our business in Bryan, Ohio, if you allow us just one thing,” he said. “All I want is ‘let us buy sugar on the free market.’”

Vashaw’s comments came during a June 21 presentation at the Northwest Ohio Ag-Business Breakfast Forum, held at the Ag Incubator Foundation north of Bowling Green. The event was hosted by the Center for Innovative Food Technology.

He said the U.S. sugar market is kept artificially high due to a federal price support program, and estimated it costs his own company about $20,000 a day.

“It’s huge,” he said. “It’s millions and millions of dollars” over time.

More jobs. He figured he could employ one additional worker for a year, on what he spends every two days ($40,000) because of the inflated sugar price, due to U.S. sugar policy.

The Spangler Candy Co. was started in Bryan in 1906 and has undergone nearly 90 expansion projects. But if U.S. sugar were more affordable, he predicts an even bigger expansion and more manufacturing.

Vashaw said he isn’t advocating for a total removal of the subsidy, but would like to see sugar subsidized at the same rate as other commodities. The popular perception is that the sugar subsidies benefit sugar farmers, but he said that often isn’t the case.

“Who really benefits?” he asked. “It’s the sugar processing companies, the processing companies, seed and fertilizer companies … very little of the money actually trickles down to the farmers.”

He said a sugar price more in line with world markets for sugar would benefit farmers and manufacturing, because manufacturing would grow and demand more product.

“It seems to me that we should be on the exact same page with our farmers and I think we are in spirit, but the policy just puts us at odds with them,” he said. “And no one likes that. We should be working together so that we can grow our business and grow our business with farmers.”

Sugar lobby

He showed a chart of U.S. agricultural lobbying efforts, in which the sugar lobby, at nearly $6 million, significantly outspent all other commodities during the 2010 election cycle. Over the past decade, the sugar lobby has represented more than 34 percent of all crop lobbying.

It all adds up to what Vashaw calls “the Spangler disadvantage,” and said it gets passed on to consumers to the tune of $3.5 billion nationally, or roughly $50 per family of four.

History. He also talked about some of the values that have helped keep the company strong for more than 100 years, even during recessions and the Great Depression. They include being honest, practical, market-wise and independent.

The company took its first and last long-term debt in 1913 when it purchased its current factory and took a mortgage for $2,000.

“We take risks,” Vashaw said, “but we don’t bet the farm.”

During the Great Depression, the company actually grew sales and expanded, managing to pay for its own expansions without loans.

In 1953 they bought Dum Dums from Akron Candy Co., and in 1954 they purchased A-Z Candy from Detroit, positioning themselves as a “hard candy maker of national significance.”

About the Author

Chris Kick lives in Wooster, Ohio. An American FFA Degree recipient, he holds a bachelor’s in creative writing from Ashland University. He spends his free time on his grandparents’ farms in Wayne and Holmes counties. More Stories by Chris Kick

One Comment

  1. Aly says:

    Hi Chris – I work for a custom spring manufacturer here in Houston, TX and am always trying to keep up with what is going on with the industry as a whole. Many manufacturers and manufacturing groups often bring up the subsidies that are afforded to the agricultural industry. Like agriculture, the manufacturing industry is crucial to a healthy US economy. We have a strong agricultural policy – we need the same for manufacturing.

    Anyhow, great article and a different perspective which is nice. Thanks for sharing! – Aly

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