SNAC Chairman Rob Sarlls brings collaboration and innovation to the forefront.

While the world is in a state of upheaval, associations in every industry have gone back to the drawing board to identify the key issues businesses are facing during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. In this state of seemingly constant change, one thing is for certain: SNAC International can count on Rob Sarlls, president and CEO of Wyandot Snacks, Marion, Ohio, and SNAC’s 2020 chairman of the board.

He’s an innovator focused on disruption, change and innovation, which is just what the industry needs right now.

“The disaster — the chaos, the pause — is giving everyone an opportunity at SNAC to think about how to service the needs of the industry and our members in a different way,” Mr. Sarlls said. “That’s what you’re supposed to do when disaster strikes: get creative.”

With more than 25 years in the food, beverage and agribusiness industries, Mr. Sarlls has focused on innovation and change for much of his career. When he joined Wyandot in 2015, one of his first orders of business was to reform the company’s strategic plan to focus almost completely on co-manufacturing better-for-you (BFY) snacks.

Despite recent consumer upheavals, BFY remains the wave of the future; for snack manufacturers, it’s where the innovation lives. And Mr. Sarlls is on a mission to bring the two together.

“The pace and nature of change is no longer just about better taste, healthier ingredients and savvy manufacturing,” he said. “In 2020 we’re seeing first-hand how important it is to understand what drive these changes. Our industry must increasingly look fast-forward and anticipate as well as respond to them.”

Mr. Sarlls takes the passion that he brings to Wyandot every day and applies it to his work at SNAC International with a goal to position SNAC as a one-stop-shop for every type of snack producer, especially emerging brands and incubators.

“SNAC International is uniquely positioned to ensure we are the first call for the emerging better-for-you snack business,” he said. “Who better to address recent disruptions and help change business templates going forward? Continuous — not just continuing — education is critical.

SNAC is a natural one-stop shop for education, networking resources, regulatory advocacy, and crisis management planning and implementation guidance.”

These goals are challenging while large gatherings are on hold, but Mr. Sarlls closely collaborates SNAC President Elizabeth Avery and her team, as well as the executive committee, to develop creative solutions for education and networking through different digital platforms.

“It’s sparked a lot of creative thinking on how to operate under unusual circumstances,” Mr. Sarlls said. “How do you do education and networking when you can’t be physically next to each other? The team’s working hard, and the spirit and enthusiasm are high.”

SNAC has already launched a series of webinars to offer insight from a variety of subject matter experts. For its virtual Legislative Summit, SNAC members had a chance to interact directly with policymakers right in their homes to discuss key issues impacting the industry. And work is underway for the launch of the SNX conference — the result of the result of a vision shared by SNAC leadership and Mr. Sarlls of an innovative educational platform — tentatively scheduled for March 2022 in Phoenix in conjunction with SNAXPO. The new concept, which will alternate years with the traditional SNAXPO equipment show, will focus on vital educational matters and ways snack producers and suppliers can collaborate to build long-term value.

COVID-19 has undoubtedly turned the snack market on its head, as evidenced in this year’s State of the Industry report. It’s also disrupted how associations like SNAC function, so there’s no better time to have a master of reinvention at the helm.

“Rob’s leadership has been instrumental in guiding the association through the pandemic,” said Elizabeth Avery, SNAC International president and chief executive officer. “The bans against gathering have forced SNAC to rethink how it delivers value to members, and with Rob’s help, we are developing new ways to deliver on our three pillars of Education, Advocacy and Networking.”

In the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, there’s no longer such thing as the status quo; everything changes too fast. But in the face of adversity, Mr. Sarlls sees an opportunity — for everyone.

“I’m an absolute firm believer that, in a perfect world, every person, every family, every company, every society wakes up in the morning and gets a clean sheet of paper to ask, ‘What am I doing today that is relevant for today?’ ” he said. “Businesses, individuals and organizations best thrive when they have that mindset. Then they’re able to meet — and even anticipate — the changes that happen in the industry, their community, the country and the world.”

Much has changed in the industry since early March. But Mr. Sarlls stands firmly on a platform of innovation.

“I bring a passion for that sort of thinking so that organizations and passionate individuals are channeling their efforts as smartly as possible,” he said. “I get the greatest joy from taking something that’s really good and making it great and working with phenomenal teams of people who share that same passion.”

Mr. Sarlls sees the pandemic as an opportunity to evaluate opportunities for reinvention in the industry as well as the association and its members.

“I have ambitious targets for new membership, increased support of our advocacy efforts through the PAC and an increased environment that is highly supportive of better-for-you innovation and emerging brands,” he said. “That’s not going away. I fully intend to work with the team to keep pushing forward. That’s what I live for, getting in front of people, getting them excited about what we do and getting them to be a part of it.”

Story courtesy of SNAC World and Sosland Publishing.

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