February 2020
WMU Food Marketing Conference Offers Exciting Agenda
For CPG and Retailer Attendees  

By Rose Anthony

Key topics in shopper marketing will turn Western Michigan University’s 55th annual Food Marketing Conference into a must-attend event. More than 800 industry leaders are expected to convene at DeVos Place in Grand Rapids, Mich. March 31 through April 1.
The popular two-day conference will feature presentations on personalizing the shopper experience and connecting with the “future consumer.” Other sessions will address current trends in workplace dynamics, understanding the new marketplace, changing consumer behaviors, and digital technology.

“This conference lineup offers everything from a glimpse into how the political environment in the United States may affect the food and consumer package goods industries to understanding who your real competitors are,” said Dr. Frank Gambino, WMU 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 industry is evolving. In addition, there are ample networking opportunities with industry thought leaders, and attendees rank the networking potential at the conference as outstanding.”

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

The conference offers more than 20 sessions on a variety of topics, including:

  • 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.

  • Steve Pinder, partner at Kurt Salmon, a division of Accenture Strategy, will discuss new consumerism and how physical and digital marketplaces’ reaction to unprecedented change will be a key differentiator in the competition for consumer spending in the future. Participants will learn about the specific actions retailers and consumer package goods companies need to take in the next 5 to 10 years to remain competitive.

  • John Ross, president and chief executive officer at IGA International, will draw on his experience to help attendees address who their real competitors are. Participants will explore industry changes that impact the traditional ways we think about competition, focusing on three areas: exploring how fast casual restaurants and delivery are chipping away at grocery sales; learning why it is important to refocus efforts on solving problems for time-starved shoppers; and  discovering how an increase in convenience-driven foods can help you become the “meal solution center” your shoppers need.

  • 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.

In addition, the conference will host its popular executive forum, moderated by Meg Major, vice president of content at Winsight Grocery Business. The forum will address a variety of industry trends and include panelists from SpartanNash, Meijer, Colgate-Palmolive, KeHE Foods and UI Global Brands.

Additional sessions centering on creativity and innovation, driving profitable growth, and the impact of cannabis legalization will also be offered.

Past attendees are effusive about the value of attending the conference.
“The Food Marketing Conference is one of the premier industry conferences in the country and one I have been attending for years,” said Denny Belcastro, vice president of business development, 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 value for my time.”

Bob Richardson, director of sales and customer development, The Clorox Company, said, “The conference is time well spent! This is a must-attend event on my calendar each year. The speakers are top notch and provide keen insight into the trends affecting the direction of our industry. The conference also provides a great forum to network with industry trading partners as well as the future leaders of our industry through the talented WMU students in attendance.”

Jeff Perry, vice president at Catalina, said, “I attend the WMU Food Marketing Conference because I find that – regardless of your role or responsibility – it offers something for everyone.  “Whether it’s the educational sessions that highlight the significant transformation, challenges and opportunities our industry faces, or the opportunity to network, I always find this conference to have a strong return on investment.”

The conference is a nonprofit event supporting scholarships and programs that provide unique educational experiences for WMU food and consumer package goods marketing students.

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