Food marketing students clinch second place at national university case competition

Contact: Molly Goaley
Five students socially distanced and standing outside in courtyard

Left to right, students Erin Richter, Patrick Nicholson, Lee Ramsay, Julia Mills and Madeline Paciorek.

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—Western Michigan University students Julia Mills of Portage, Patrick Nicholson of Wyoming, Madeline Paciorek of Grand Rapids and Erin Richter of Gurney, Illinois, took second place at the 2021 National Grocers Association Student Case Study Competition, held virtually March 8 to 10.

The business case for the competition focused on trends associated with the COVID-19 pandemic's massive disruption of the economy, supply chain and store operations, and how retailers with local supply chains are better equipped to adapt to widespread shortages of high-demand products. Students addressed the following concern: With the major economic issues that consumers are facing due to COVID-19, how can independent grocers continue to be competitive through their local supply chains against price operators?


The team prepared for the competition for several months. Meetings with faculty, industry professionals and fellow food marketing students helped spur the students to success, as they researched the case competition's independent grocer, devised a strategy for the retailer and practiced public speaking.

The presenting team was supported by the following students:

  • Lee Ramsay of Dexter, who served as a presenting team alternate
  • Alleyna Davis of Hastings 
  • Kylie Falk of Charlotte 
  • Benjamin Famiano of Portage
  • Keelyn Knop of Portage
  • Shayna Krawczyk of Portage
  • Emily MacDonald of DeWitt
  • Abi Main of Three Rivers
  • Mark Taylor of Grayslake, Illinois
  • Katelyn Wandel of Gilberts, Illinois

"Part of our strategy included looking for opportunities to attract more shoppers to local products," Richter says. "We looked at the retailer's sourcing issues and how we could improve those, and ultimately focused on improving their marketing efforts and creating a well-rounded, omni-channel approach to promoting their local products. This included focusing on in-store signage and packaging, looking at their website and social media to see how we could enhance those experiences, and redefining how they feature local foods. Ultimately, we created a plan that would give the retailer an increase of 20% in their local sales and a 6% increase in sales overall."

"The case was a perfect fit for our team," says Nicholson. "We are all passionate about local food, and we all had experiences to share about growing up with local products and what they meant to us. We knew if we let our personal stories shine through, that we could really make a winning presentation."


Nicholson adds that preparation from WMU marketing faculty helped propel the team to success.

"The reason Western does so well in the competition every year is because the faculty do an incredible job of  selecting students with a balance of different strengths, positive attitudes and a passion for winning," he says.

This year's coaches included:

  • Marv Imus, president and chief executive officer, Imus Solutions
  • Bob Samples, executive-in-residence
  • Dr. Russell Zwanka, associate professor of marketing

Samples noted that despite the conference's move to a virtual format this year, competitors did an exceptional job of communicating as a team and using their personal backgrounds in sustainable farming, retail and other avenues to leverage their case.

"The students did incredible work engaging with one another and making sure that their unique stories came through," Samples says. "That is part of what sets Western’s program apart—students and educators have real-life experience."


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. Western has advanced to the final rounds, placing first or second, every year since the competition began in 2004. 

"I am so proud of this year’s team—four speakers, backed by a solid group of future food industry leaders from the Haworth College of Business food and consumer package goods marketing program," says Zwanka. "The plan was excellent, and the presentation was flawless. We could not have done it without our student support team and the help of our faculty coaches."


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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