Food Marketing Students Take Home First Prize in NGA Case Study Competition

Monday, February 20, 2017

A team of five SJU food marketing students won the top prize of $4,000 in the 2017 National Grocers Association (NGA) Student Case Study Competition. This is the second year in a row that students from Saint Joseph’s have won this national contest. This year, the NGA Show took place in Las Vegas from Feb. 12-15.

The winners were team captain Sarah Trabattoni ’17 of Brick, N.J., Madie Smith ’17 of Harrisburg, Pa., Chris Lazzarotti ’18 of Westfield, N.J., Albert Wunsch ’18 of Englewood Cliffs, N.J. and Kara Wilson ’18 of Oreland, Pa. All five worked collaboratively to create the winning case study, which they began over two months ago.

“It’s an amazing feeling,” says Wunsch, who is enrolled in SJU’s 5-year food marketing co-op program. “With all the work and sleepless nights we put in working on it, to be able to not only say that our hard work paid off, but that we were also the first team to be back-to-back champions is amazing.”

Each year, the Student Case Study Competition challenges students from all over the country to solve an actual issue facing the food industry. The 2017 case study was for Harp’s Food Stores Inc., a business based out of Springdale, Arizona. Student competitors had to decide how the store could best reach millennial consumers.

“The most difficult part was getting started,” says Trabattoni. “It requires a lot of research to even begin collecting your thoughts. I think it took us about a month before we actually started to formulate our plan.”

Sara Williamson, Ph.D., assistant professor of food marketing, served as the team’s full time coach. She also coached last year’s winning team. Williamson and the students met multiple times each week in order to conduct research, formulate their strategy, and perfect their presentation skills. The students also received input from other professors—including John Stanton, Ph.D., professor of food marketing, who founded the NGA Student Case Study Competition and led a professional speaking boot camp for the team—as well as industry professionals who sit on the board of the Academy of Food Marketing.

“This case competition, while food marketing specific, incorporates all of the students’ business training thus far to develop an elevated project,” says Williamson. “And to their benefit, the students receive focused training and mentorship from the food marketing faculty that is far beyond the classroom experience.”

This guidance helped the team to decide to reach the younger target audience by focusing on the local authenticity of Harp’s Food Stores.

“Our solution was three cross-functional strategies that worked to connect, enhance and share Harp’s hometown advantage,” says Wunsch.

Thirteen other teams competed in the competition. Once the scores were tallied, there was a tie for first place—the SJU team earned the same score as the team from Western Michigan University. The sponsor of the competition, however, was so impressed with the students’ work that it awarded the first place prize to both teams.

As food marketing students, the team members took advantage of their time at the NGA Show, a national event that includes retail and wholesale grocers as well as professionals in the food distribution industry. Not only did all five of the team members benefit from making connections at the NGA Show this year, but by taking home Saint Joseph’s University’s second consecutive first-place win, they also cemented SJU’s standing with the organization.

“A second win in a row suggests we really are doing something special here,” says Williamson. “We are attracting and training the best students. Not only are the students very special, but the food marketing faculty at SJU are the best equipped to train them.”

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