Food marketing students take first place at national university case competition

Contact: Molly Goaley
Four students in front of ocean front

Left to right: Kyle Wade, Ali Bultynck, Samantha McGrath and Alden Wichman comprised the presentation team that took first place at the NGA Student Case Competition.

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—Western Michigan University students Ali Bultynck of Troy, Michigan, Samantha McGrath of Canton, Michigan, Kyle Wade of Marshall, Michigan, and Alden Wichman of South Lyon, Michigan, soared to first place against teams from 13 other universities at the 2020 National Grocers Association Student Case Competition, held Feb. 23 to 25 in San Diego, California.

The business case for the competition focused on developing ways for independent grocers to make it easy for shoppers to maximize the benefits of the Gus Schumacher Nutrition Incentive Program, or GusNIP.

“The GusNIP program benefits low-income customers and retailers by providing an incentive to purchase healthy fruits and vegetables, but independent grocers face challenges encouraging customers to take advantage of this beneficial program,” says Greg Ferrara, NGA president and CEO. “We appreciate the hard work of each student who participated in this case study, offering well thought-out and creative solutions that benefit independent grocers. NGA is proud to provide the next generation of students with opportunities for learning and growth.”

The competition was one of many ways for university students to get involved at the 2020 NGA show, which included a mentorship program and networking opportunities with industry influencers.


Food marketing team in front of big W

Members of the winning team from WMU.

The presentation team was supported by a research team comprised of students Jensen Derry of Ortonville, Michigan, Patrick Nicholson of Wyoming, Michigan, Nicole Pavlock of Sterling Heights, Michigan, Erin Richter of Gurney, Illinois, Alex Wozbut of Chicago and Matthew Wyand of Crown Point, Indiana. The group prepared for 10 weeks, meeting with faculty advisors, reviewing research, and perfecting their public speaking skills.

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.

“I am extremely proud of our team for the long hours we put in both practicing our presentation and conducting research,” says Wade. “What made us so successful was the overall team dynamic and the culture we were able to create. With every member of the team there to support each other’s success, it made the long days and nights worth it as we kept the end goal in mind.”

“We created a SWOT analysis and spent most of our time defining the problem, understanding the customer decision tree and government implications, and brainstorming potential solutions on how to overcome these challenges,” says McGrath. “From this, we were able to create data-driven recommendations as well as a plan on how to implement them. I believe our insights, in conjunction with the industry exposure we receive through our WMU courses, gave our team a base understanding of the strategies used in real life. This is what set us up for success in the competition,” she says.


WMU food and consumer package goods marketing students have a strong history of excelling at the NGA Student Case Competition, and this year was no exception. 

“Our presenters performed flawlessly over three days of competition, and brought home the win with an amazing final day of presenting and answering some very tough questions,” says Bob Samples, executive-in-residence and faculty specialist for the food and consumer package goods marketing program. “They could not have done this without the support of their research team. The faculty coaches and I are very proud of the way the team represented WMU, not just as competitors but as attendees at an event with more than 1,000 industry executives.”


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 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 companies.

For more WMU news, arts and events, visit WMU News online.