10 Questions With ... Larry Graham

I remember once, I was doing an interview for CNN or something. It was here in town, and I was in the waiting room. And there was John Bolton, who was the former guy for the U.N. for us, and then there was, I think, a general from the White House. And they were talking to each other, and one said to the other, "What are you talking about?" And one guy said, "Afghanistan." And then the other guy said to the other person, "What are you talking about?" He said, "Iraq." And then they looked at me and said, "What are you talking about?" And I said, "Halloween." Which was true, because what CNN was doing, they were looking at, what are some indices of how the economy is doing. So are we up or are we down?

And that's the other interesting thing about candy. We're an affordable treat, a small indulgence. So we don't go way up, and we don't go way down. The amazing thing I see about our trade show is, every year we have 40 or 50 new companies. Some leave, some come back. So it's still an industry in which a lot of entrepreneurs are trying to get into it. It's a fairly stable industry. I think the hard part is getting something distinctive and innovative.

When you lobby up on Capitol Hill, do you bring the candy with you?

Yeah. I mean, there's all kinds of ethic rules, but I think we can do it if it's under 10 dollars — and it's also immediately consumable. We used to have a massive party on Capitol Hill called Hilloween, and we did it around Halloween, but the ethics rules made it more complicated for us to do that because we gave away free candy. The bag of candy was, I don't know, maybe worth $10 or something like that. The other reason we had to stop it is, we had thousands of people on line, and we couldn't, no matter how much candy, we did this year after year, no matter how much candy we had, we never had enough.

Time to get serious. What are the big issues for the industry, and is there a war on sugar?

There's two things on sugar that concern us. One is the U.S. government's sugar program. Our members end up paying double the world price for sugar because of the congressionally mandated sugar program, which prevents sugar from coming into the United States. It also protects the domestic sugar growers and it makes sure there's a floor on the price, so that concerns our guys, and we are lobbying to get rid of that. We feel our guys have to compete around the world. We think the sugar growers should have to compete.

We're not against the sugar growers. We need sugar and we need in America the best of sugar, but we just feel they should be in a free market.

The other issue on sugar is, "sugar — bad for you," and that sort of thing. There's no science that there's anything toxic or anything like that about sugar except like any food, too much of it is not good for you. We feel that sugar gets a bad rap. It's not the food ingredients. It's the dose. So if you have reasonable amounts of sugar or reasonable amounts of candy, it's fine. It's going to be fine in your diet. We have a concern about that, that it's just wrong and inaccurate information out there.

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