Food marketing students soar to second place at national university case competition

Contact: Stacey Markin
Photo of WMU students Katherine Anderson, Lucija Matkovic, John Schneidenbach and Erika Hejl.

WMU students Katherine Anderson, Lucija Matkovic, John Schneidenbach and Erika Hejl.

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—Western Michigan University students Katherine Anderson of Rolling Meadows, Illinois, Erika Hejl of Bear Lake, Lucija Matkovic of Lansing and John Schneidenbach of Portage took second place against teams from 14 other universities at the 2019 National Grocers Association Student Case Study Competition held Feb. 24 to 26 in Las Vegas.

The business case for the competition focused on Stepherson's Superlo, an independent grocer in Memphis, Tennessee, that tasked students with developing strategies for hiring and retaining millennials and multicultural associates.

Preparing for success

The team prepared for the competition for several months. Meetings with faculty advisors and several fellow food marketing students helped spur the students to success, as they reviewed research, strategic approach and public speaking.

The students participating on the presentation team often met three to four times per week to share ideas and work through the best format for the final presentation.

"When we first began preparing for the competition, we started with general research about the area and demographics that the question was targeting," says Hejl. "Each member on the team researched in order to gather as much information as possible to begin shaping our recommendations. Once the presenters began practicing, it was up to the larger research and preparation team to give feedback and ask questions. The students on the team have different knowledge through coursework, internships, jobs and special projects, so being able to have that rich feedback loop throughout the process was key."

Ultimately, the team members took their research, which included the results of a survey they created and deployed, and crafted recommendations for the independent grocer.

"We distilled our research into three core strategies," says Anderson. "We found that the key things that would retain the populations identified were building a strong, employee-centered culture; creating a training program that allows for professional development and increased flexibility; and expanding current employee benefit options, including the ability for employees to personalize their benefits packages."

Earning top accolades

Photo of several WMu students anf faculty members sitting and standing in a group outside.

Student presenters prepared for the competition by meeting with a larger research and preparation team of faculty advisors and fellow marketing students for several months.

WMU food marketing students have a strong history of success at the National Grocers Association Student Case Study Competition, and this year was no exception.

"Both the research team and the four presenters were highly engaged in building a truly outstanding case presentation," says Bob Samples, executive-in-residence, faculty specialist and team coach. "During the finals, they had their best presentation of the entire competition. Being second in the nation against universities like University of Illinois, University of Minnesota, St. Joseph's University, Cal Poly, and others is quite an accomplishment. I am incredibly proud of how our team did in the competition."

Industry professionals who represented both the retail and manufacturing sectors evaluated team performances.

"I'd be lying if I said I wasn't nervous during each round of the competition, but I was also excited," says Schneidenbach. "We all know each other and the material so well that we were comfortable in the high-stress setting. We were even able to keep presenting without missing a beat during technical difficulties with projectors in the final round of the competition."

And being able to handle any situation like a professional is what participating in this competition helps teach students.

"I would describe this experience as a crash course in my degree," says Matkovic. "We had to drill down to relevant data and deliverables and simplify the vital information for an extremely brief presentation. It was a glimpse of what is expected of us in our careers. Being problem solvers, who evaluate our mistakes and concentrate on how to improve, is what the real world is all about. I am lucky to be a part of a program that challenges us in the way our professors and peers did during this case."

About food and consumer package goods marketing and the NGA

WMU is one of the premier universities in the country offering a four-year business degree specializing in food and consumer package goods marketing. The major prepares students for sales, research, marketing and management positions with food and consumer package goods firms and related organizations.

The National Grocers Association is the national trade association representing the retail and wholesale grocers that comprise the independent sector of the food distribution industry. Also represented are affiliated associations, manufacturers and service suppliers, as well as other entrepreneurial companies.

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