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Student group becomes first ever to represent New Paltz at food industry conference

FB_IMG_1456698812853_resized_1A group of four SUNY New Paltz students advised by Russell Zwanka, marketing lecturer in the School of Business, took part in the annual National Grocers Association (NGA) Show, a three-day conference held in Las Vegas, Nev. that included a challenging case study competition and a series of food industry-related workshops, lectures and meetings with food manufacture and retail experts.

Their participation comes with the School of Business in the midst of an effort to expand food industry-related offerings, and create opportunities for students in a growing industry that, due to an anticipated wave of retirements, will need to fill massive numbers of managerial and executive positions in the coming years.

The New Paltz student participants – Bryce Clemens ’17 (Marketing), Jacklyn Coyle ’16 (Marketing), Andrea Denis ’16 (Digital Media and Management) and Michael Rampert ’16 (Marketing) – got a unique, up-close look at the inner workings of the retail food industry at an event hosted by the national trade association of retail and wholesale grocers.

“The NGA expo was so much more fun than I imagined, and gave me insight into the industry I might never have gotten,” Denis said. “I learned so much about how companies and partnerships started up, whether they were brand-new or had been around for generations. It was amazing to see how groups such as the Women’s Grocers Association (WGA) were established, and how they have continued to grow.

“The expo also helped us create business relationships and presented internship and career opportunities. There were plenty of companies who were more than open to the idea of taking on interns and employees, and they were welcoming and helpful in answering our questions.”

The College’s NGA delegates earned their place at the show through weeks of extensive preparation for the case competition, which called on students from food marketing programs across the country to research and develop a marketing plan for an independent retail company, with particular emphasis on the relevant skill of building up an e-commerce presence.

The New Paltz group competed against students from more than a dozen other institutions, most of which have longer-tenured programs related to food marketing. Rather than seeing this as a disadvantage, Denis said, they looked at this as an opportunity.

“We established relationships with the other students, particularly with those from St. Joseph’s University, and although it was a competition, we all were rooting for and congratulating each other by the end,” she said.

The team did not advance to the final round, but just by their presence and participation they achieved a more important milestone in the growth of New Paltz food marketing programs and the School of Business more generally.

“We pulled together and made it happen,” Clemens said. “It was nerve-wracking at times, but we owe a great deal to Professor Zwanka for preparing us for the event. We were the first team from New Paltz to go to the NGA Show, and I’m confident that we showed New Paltz has the potential to put together a winning team in the future. More than anything, this trip was a learning experience – an opportunity to grow as an individual and as a professional.”