Following her father’s footsteps: Lily Zwanka’s breakthrough into food marketing

Contact: Amy Coughenour

Lily Zwanka

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—Starting her journey in her hometown of Albany, New York, Lily Zwanka chose her majors in food marketing and economics due to her passion for food, retail and all consumable things. Transferring from another university, Lily hopes to diversify her perspective on multiple aspects of the food marketing industry in order to grow now and after graduation.

“I would like to have experience in sales, marketing and category management,” she says. “My program gives me endless opportunities for where I could go after graduation which is a fantastic feeling to have.”

There are many reasons why Lily is excited to be a part of this field, but the work atmosphere is the most appealing. She believes there is a place for everyone’s comfort level.

“I enjoy a fast-paced, competitive atmosphere, and there are plenty of companies that offer that environment. But there are also many companies in this industry without the intense competitive feel that offer more of a family approach to their businesses.”

While Lily decided to start her career in food marketing at WMU because the program was well-known and highly ranked across the country, she hasn’t done it alone. She has the support of student organizations, internship opportunities and professors—most importantly, her father, Dr. Russell Zwanka, director of food and consumer package goods marketing program and associate professor of marketing.  

“It might be cliché to say your parent is your mentor, however, there is absolutely no way I would even be at WMU or involved in as much as I am without him. He has supported me every step of the way. From hyping up the Food Marking Association (FMA) until I finally joined, to always being happy for me when I got my first job, to moving up in FMA throughout the years, and of course getting my first internship.”

Being engaged in various programs and student organizations on campus has opened many doors for Lily. By being a Lee Honors College member, working an on-campus job as a WMU Haworth marketing department associate and the executive vice president of the Food Marketing Association, she can explore different opportunities on and off campus.

Joining a student organization on campus was what gave Lily the confidence to present at conferences, improve her marketing skills, and build a network of future marketers and current individuals in the industry.

“The Food Marketing Association has truly helped shape where I am today. It is how I got my first internship with Kellogg’s, made many friends, and learned how to network effectively. Now on their executive board, I have increased my leadership skills.”

As a participant in a case study team for the National Grocers Association during the 2021-22 academic year, Lily was able to make high-level connections through her presentation. Additionally, she was the first sophomore to present at this level.

“I met Joe Mueller who happened to be a top executive at Kellogg’s, and he watched me present our case study to the judging panel and audience. After the competition was over and we were all back home, there was an internship position that became available for Kellogg’s directly under Joe.”

By being involved in the case study team, Lily developed a large network of business professionals that will allow her different avenues to explore after graduation.  

While Lily’s father was a key supporter in her success at WMU, another individual Lily credits with her success is Professor Bob Samples.

“Bob helped coach my public speaking for the NGA competition alongside my dad. Having someone who will give you their honest opinion about how you’re doing or what to do differently is key to growth.”

Through the uplifting support of her parents, mentors and organizations at WMU, Lily has gained experience as a leader that she is ready to share with others.

“Putting yourself in places that are new and uncomfortable is good. You don’t realize how much you don’t know or can learn until you start taking yourself out of your bubble of comfort,” says Lily.

If you would like to learn more about the opportunities the food marketing association has to offer, feel free to reach out to Lily on LinkedIn.

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