Food and Consumer Goods Marketing: Inviting Industry into the Classroom


Wendy Davidson, president of U.S. specialty channels, Kellogg Company, addresses the audience at the 2016 WMU Food Marketing Conference.

Food and consumer package goods marketing is an elite program that is recognized as one of the best in the country. There are many reasons for that: dedicated faculty, relevant research, a focus on experiential learning, high-quality students. And the cornerstone of the program’s success is support from companies in the food and consumer package goods industries.

“We have intentionally reached out to our industry partners and the employers who hire our students and invited them to be a part of the process of educating our students,” says Dr. Frank Gambino, professor of marketing and director of the program. “There is no better gauge for how successful we are as educators than the feedback of people leading the organizations that our students aspire to join.”

The program’s 40-person industry advisory council meets three times per year and its sub-committees have virtual meetings as well. The subjects of these meetings cover everything from assessment and student placement data, to the latest faculty research, to the skills needed in the evolving landscape of food marketing.

“The time, talent and financial support given to our program by our advisory council members, industry partners and alumni makes us what we are,” says Gambino. “We are able to offer the very best in food marketing education because of our partnerships.”

The annual marquee event for the program is its Food Marketing Conference, an industry standard, which has seen exponential growth in recent years and drew more than 800 attendees this year. Company sponsorships of this event support conference operations and student scholarships.

This year’s conference was held at DeVos Place in Grand Rapids, Michigan, on April 11 and 12, and featured presentations by industry leaders who explored current trends in the food and consumer package goods industries and this year’s conference theme—People, Purpose and Passion: The Pathway to Success.

WMU Food Marketing Conference  - Platinum Sponsors
Daymon Worldwide
Hormel Foods
KeHe Foods
Kellogg Company
Learning Evolution
Procter & Gamble
Spartan Stores
The J.M. Smucker Company

Conference Presentation Recap

  • Hank Meijer, co-chairman of Meijer, Inc., joined the family business at age 11 as a grocery clerk and then again in 1979 as assistant advertising director. As co-chairman, he oversees the strategy for Meijer’s more than 200 self-service combination supermarket-discount department stores. His presentation, titled “Minding Our Customer,” offered insights for retailers and manufacturers alike.
  • Jason Dorsey, best-selling author and Millennials expert, has been featured as a generational expert on 60 Minutes, The Today Show, and The Early Show and in The New York Times. His message “Unlocking the Power of Generations to Grow Your Business” resonated with attendees.
  • Karen Fichuk, president of Nielsen North America, presented “Do You Have an Omni-Channel Strategy?” She has been with Nielsen since 1990, contributing to the company’s success by developing innovative service models and initiatives to drive business results for clients and for Nielsen.
  • Rich Wolowski, president and chief operating officer, Gordon Food Service, dove into culture and its impact on a company in a presentation titled “It’s All about People and Culture.” Wolowski explored how simple concepts can transform an organization’s culture, engagement and bottom line and how passion for people and employees can become a sustainable competitive advantage through actions, ideas, service and spirit.
  • Neil Stern, author, retailing expert and senior partner at McMillanDoolittle LLP, spoke about “Disruptions in Food Retail: How to Respond” and offered a fast-paced overview of key trends that are disrupting the market and innovative ways retailers can respond.
  • A conference favorite, the “Executive Forum” moderated by Paul Madura, former senior vice president and general manager, H-E-B Food-Drugs, featured executives from Kroger, Trader Joe’s, 7-Eleven, Rite Aid, Kellogg and H-E-B Food-Drugs. Several breakout sessions on a variety of topics were also offered.

Each year, as a result of the conference, students are awarded between 45-60 scholarships. Samantha Oleson, a recipient of the Mondelez Platinum Sponsor Scholarship, greatly values industry involvement in the program. “The industry partners that we get to meet have a huge influence in the development of the program and the students. As a recipient of one of the scholarships, I appreciated it even more, knowing the company it came from is investing in my future.” In May, Oleson will represent the fourth generation in her family’s grocery stores, Oleson’s Food Stores, located in northern Michigan, where she will assume the position of manager.

These sponsor scholarships help to defray student educational expenses and provide funding for learning experiences such as the program’s summer industry tour where students visit over 20 businesses during a two-week intensive course, travel for case competitions such as the National Grocers Association Case Competition where WMU placed 3rd this year, and student-faculty research collaborations.

Ways to Support the Haworth College of Business Through Your Company

Matching Gifts: Many employers support their employees’ philanthropic interests, which can double or triple the impact of your gift. Please check with your employer’s human resources office to see if your company matches gifts. You may direct your gift to a discretionary fund or earmark it for a specific department.

Sponsorships: Nearly every department in the college has educational experiences and events for which they need sponsors. Sponsoring a Haworth College of Business event is a great way to build brand awareness for your company within the student and Kalamazoo communities and to help deserving students have enriching experiences.

Hiring: One of the most important ways you can support the college is to encourage hiring of business graduates in your organization. Recruiting WMU talent to your organization is a win-win-win. Our students have the opportunity for great jobs in thriving organizations, your company benefits from their talent, and you benefit personally as the value of your degree is enhanced when others recognize the quality of WMU.

Recommend the WMU MBA and M.S.A. programs: Often, the workplace is where conversations about career advancement take place. Western has excellent graduate programs, which can benefit you and those that you know. When you or a colleague is thinking about taking that next step, think of WMU.

To give to the Haworth College of Business, please visit or call  (269) 387-8700.

audience members

More than 800 food marketing professionals attended this year's conference.