Experts to address rapidly changing food industry during Western’s virtual Food Marketing Conference

Contact: Molly Goaley

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—More than 60 leading experts will speak about the rapidly changing food and consumer package goods industries during the 55th annual Western Michigan University Food Marketing Conference. The event, titled “Thriving in an Age of Uncertainty: An Interactive Experience,” takes place Tuesday, March 23, and Wednesday, March 24, and will be held virtually for the first time in the program’s history. 

Russell Zwanka sitting at laptop

Dr. Russell Zwanka, associate professor of marketing, will lead a panel discussion on supply chain learnings from the pandemic during the 55th annual Food Marketing Conference.

The conference will focus on new consumerism—especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic—and will cover topics spanning technology, supply chain, disruption and Washington, D.C.’s impact on food consumption. 

“This conference lineup offers everything from a perspective on how consumers engage with brands in a post-COVID-19 world, to how the political environment in the United States affects the food and consumer package goods industries,” says Dr. Frank Gambino, professor of marketing and director of the conference. “Attendees can select options from an array of relevant sessions that apply to different facets of food marketing, all of which highlight how the business is evolving in a time of uncertainty. In addition, attendees will have an opportunity to network with professionals from around the world from the safety and convenience of their homes.”


The conference offers an interactive environment and networking with speakers, plus on-demand presentations covering a variety of topics. Sessions include:

  • Kevin Holt, chief executive officer at Ahold Delhaize USA, will detail the company’s journey to become a grocer of the future through personalizing the shopper experience. Focused on meeting consumers’ evolving preferences, the company’s leadership is rethinking traditional operations, strategies and ways of working to achieve future success. 
  • Joy Nicholas, principal at JN Retail Connections, will moderate a panel discussion with leading industry experts on why diversity, equity and inclusion matter in food and consumer package goods marketing.
  • John Ross, president and chief executive officer at IGA International, will draw on his experience to help attendees explore what truly makes a shopper loyal to one retailer or brand over another and how that equation has changed since COVID-19.
  • Celia Swanson, former executive vice president at Walmart, will speak about disruptive change and preparing for it. Her deep expertise in retail, large-scale transformation, company culture and multi-generational workforce engagement informs a presentation where she will share insights that will help attendees rise above uncertain challenges in life and work and make the difficult but right decisions to move forward.
  • Duncan Wardle, former vice president of innovation at Disney, will share how marketing will be replaced by experiences in less than a decade. He will discuss how connections between consumers and companies through experiences can significantly enhance engagement, creating deeper relationships with brands that can last a lifetime. Wardle will present three approaches to consumer relationships: re-engineering relationships, fundamentally challenging the rules of engagement; re-inventing consumer relationships in new and different ways; and re-expressing relationships with consumers to develop innovative new products and services.

Additional sessions centering on pandemic influences on grocery shopping, preserving corporate culture in a remote environment, driving profitable growth and much more will also be offered.

“The Food Marketing Conference is one of the premier industry conferences in the country and one I have been attending for years,” says Denny Belcastro, vice president of business development at Kimberly-Clark. “It provides attendees a better understanding of the complex trajectory of this fast-moving industry. This is a must-attend event for me each year; I always find this conference to be a great investment of my time.”


Now in its 55th year, the Western Michigan University Food Marketing Conference convenes leading experts from around the country to share the latest developments in the industry. The conference is a nonprofit event supporting scholarships and programs that provide unique educational experiences for WMU food and consumer package goods marketing students.

To register, visit the conference webpage or call (269) 387-2132.