Food conference making Grand Rapids debut


Western Michigan University’s 2016 Food Marketing Conference, a two-day annual conference highlighting trends in the food and consumer packaged goods industries. Photo via

An event that for more than half a century has brought food industry leaders together is coming to Grand Rapids for the first time.

Western Michigan University’s 2016 Food Marketing Conference, a two-day annual conference highlighting trends in the food and consumer packaged goods industries, will be at the DeVos Place Convention Center early next week.

The conference

More than 700 executives are expected to attend the 51st annual WMU Food Marketing Conference in downtown Grand Rapids, April 11-12, to hear presentations from leading experts across the country, participate in breakout sessions and have an opportunity to network with others in the industry.

This year’s theme is “People, Purpose and Passion: The Pathway to Success.”

Frank Gambino, director of food and consumer packaged goods marketing at WMU, said the conference was designed 51 years ago as a way to recognize and thank the industry for support of the food program at WMU.

“That continues to be a part of today’s conference; however, today’s mission is much larger. The conference brings industry leaders to West Michigan to discuss important issues facing the industry,” said Gambino. “It allows business partners to network with their business partners and provides a rich educational format that provides insights into business practices.”

Gambino said the conference also exposes food marketing students to a “first-class” industry event and proceeds from the event support the scholarship fund and food program at WMU.

The speakers

This year’s event includes a keynote presentation from Hank Meijer, who serves as co-chairman of Meijer Inc. Other scheduled speakers are: Jason Dorsey, best-selling author; Tara Jaye Frank, corporate culture adviser and speaker; Neil Stern, senior partner at McMillanDoolittle LLP and author; Rich Wolowski, president and chief operating officer at Gordon Food Service; and David Carroll, musician, entertainer, and motivational speaker.

Wendy Davidson, president of Kellogg Co.; Paul Madura, president of PRM Leadership Services LLC and retired senior vice president of HEB Food/Drugs; and Karen Fichuk, president of Nielsen North America, also will give presentations during the two-day conference.

The growth

WMU has hosted previous conferences in Kalamazoo, but growing interest in the event over the past decade prompted a search for a larger venue.

Gambino said Grand Rapids was chosen for this year’s event due to the university’s presence in the area with its MBA program, as well as the food industry cluster representated in the region.

“It was a logical choice given the industry support in Grand Rapids and because it is home to such major industry organizations as Meijer, SpartanNash, Gordon Food Service and HT Hackney,” said Gambino. “Many of the food and consumer packaged goods manufacturers also have a significant presence in Grand Rapids supporting these retailing giants.”

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