WMU food marketing students strike gold at national case competition

by Stacey Markin
| WMU News

KALAMAZOO, Michigan—A team of three Western Michigan University students claimed first place in the 2017 National Grocers Association Student Case Study Competition Feb. 12-15 in Las Vegas.

Students Mariel Dehn of Rochester Hills, Sarah Hamilton of Clarkston, and Rustin Rice of Vicksburg earned the top spot and $8,000, competing against teams from 13 other universities. The case focused on developing a marketing strategy that would increase basket size, frequency of store visits and volume of higher margin purchases among millennial consumers for Harps Food Stores, an independent retailer.

Photo of Sarah Hamilton, Rustin Rice and Mariel Dehn.

WMU students Sarah Hamilton, Rustin Rice and Mariel Dehn

WMU shared first place with St. Joseph’s University after judges determined there was a tie after the final round of presentations.

Distinct life stages

“We came to the conclusion that many look at millennials as a whole, but with such a large age gap, millennials can be in distinct life stages,” says Dehn. “For Harps’ 81 stores, we came up with a marketing plan and four different merchandising plans that were targeted toward each stage: young transitionals, start-up families, small-scale families and young, bustling families. For each life stage, we were able to give a snapshot of what that group currently needs from a grocery store.”

This segmentation of the Millennial market was one of the unique features of the WMU presentation.

Preparing for success

Photo of a group of WMU food marketing students.

An entire team of food marketing students helped the three-student presentation team bring home the gold through coaching, research and role playing.

The team prepared for the competition for several weeks. Weekly meetings with three faculty advisors and several fellow food marketing students helped spur the students to success, as they reviewed research, strategic approach and public speaking each week.

“Our professors’ industry experience and coaching really helped us as we met each week,” says Hamilton. “We also had coaching from a former independent grocer. I spent countless hours on my desktop at home creating a visually appealing presentation, and we all reviewed our portions of the presentation script many times. I even had a few dreams where I was standing before an audience presenting the case and our recommendations.”

Flawless performance

Team performances were evaluated by industry professionals who represent both the retail and manufacturing sectors.

“I believe that our team’s performance in the final round was flawless,” says Dr. Frank Gambino, WMU professor of marketing and director of the food and consumer package goods program. “The content of the students’ presentation was outstanding, and their dedication in preparing for the competition shows the work ethic and devotion to the industry that are hallmarks of the WMU food marketing program. In our program, this is a group effort, with a larger group of students working to prepare the presentation and a smaller presentation team conveying the efforts of that broader group. I am so proud of our entire team. This win would not have been possible without this outstanding collaborative effort.”

When the students reached the final round of competition, their efforts were rewarded. “It felt amazing to know that all of our hard work had paid off,” says Rice. “We were able to show everyone at the National Grocers Association Conference that Western’s food marketing students can compete with the best students across the country and win.”

Food and consumer package goods marketing

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.

Learn more about WMU's food and consumer package goods marketing program at wmich.edu/marketing/academics.

For more WMU news, arts and events, visit wmich.edu/news.