Students enrolled in Western Michigan University’s food and consumer packaged goods (CPG) marketing program are receiving a unique educational experience that relies on the support of business partnerships to assist in preparing them for positions in the field.

The connection with industry is a central theme of the Food/CPG Marketing program at WMU, starting with the first introductory class of the program and extending through students’ upper-level classes. The four-year business degree program prepares students for myriad positions in the CPG industry, including retail management, category management, research, sales, logistics and food service. Students routinely go to work for many of the leading companies in the industry after serving internships with the firms, explains Frank Gambino, director of the program.

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Parties are all about people coming together, so it’s only natural that a company like Wally’s Party Factory would put so much emphasis on being an active part of the communities it serves. According to Vice President Jonathan Erwin, the Texas-based party supply chain not only provides customers with everything they need to host their own gatherings of friends and family, but it also works hard to ensure that it is just as much a part of the community as they are. That emphasis has been key to the company’s success over the years, Erwin says, and is a major part of the reason why Wally’s Party Factory is the second-largest party supply chain in the country. 

The company has been serving Texas since 1995, when Erwin’s father, Walter Erwin, converted the business to the sale of party supplies. Before that, the company focused on closeouts and manufacturing giftwrap for department stores, but the success of the party supply side of the business inspired a switch to focusing on that entirely. Today, Wally’s Party Factory has 27 locations throughout Texas and Oklahoma, and continues to be a family owned and operated company. 

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When Bill and Salie Utz founded what would become Utz Quality Foods Inc. in their kitchen in 1921, they launched an organization that would grow into the largest privately held snack brand in the United States. Still headquartered in Hanover, Pa., Utz is now the largest independent snack company in the country and produces a wide range of snacks.

The work done on a daily basis by the associates at Utz Quality Foods is a major reason why the company has been successful and stable. Many associates have 20 or 30 years of experience with the company, adding to its consistency and great quality.

“Many generations of the same family have worked with us over the years,” Vice President of Corporate Brands Chuck Tullis says. “The pride they have for our company and products and the culture they create cannot be duplicated by our competition. Another key component of our success is attributed to consistent direction from our management team as well a diverse business model in products and sales distribution methods.” 

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Founded in 1916 as the United Cash Store in Sayre, Okla., United Supermarkets was the company’s major brand until 17 years ago. “Most of our history was just United Supermarket,” President Robert Taylor declares. Under that brand, the company has 37 stores in 24 markets in west Texas. It also operates supermarkets under three other brands and has a chain of 32 fuel and convenience stores called United Express.

Market Street was the first new brand the company introduced Oct. 1, 1998. “The Market Street store is designed to be where everyday meets gourmet,” Chief Merchandising Officer Wes Jackson says. The stores include gourmet, specialty and ethnic merchandise. “We meet most or all of those needs, but at the same time, we are different, because we also have the everyday merchandise that you go to traditional supermarkets for,” Jackson says.

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Murray’s Cheese owner Rob Kaufelt wants to bring quality cheese to the masses. But for a small cheese retailer with two New York shops – one in Greenwich Village and the other in Grand Central Terminal – that dream seemed daunting. So Kaufelt turned to what has long been considered the enemy of small grocers: giant corporate supermarkets. Murray’s Cheese entered into a partnership with Kroger, one of the largest grocery store operators in the world with more than 2,500 locations, to place boutique Murray’s Cheese kiosks in Kroger supermarkets. The program started with three partner locations and has grown to nearly 200 in the past seven years.

The partnership has allowed Murray’s Cheese to retain the intimate, neighborhood feel of a mom-and-pop store while creating a national footprint. In 2015, Murray’s will have opened another 90 Kroger supermarkets, bringing the total to more than 250 locations by year-end. To make those partner locations as successful as possible, Kroger shares its extensive sales data with Murray’s, allowing these cheese specialists to customize which products are available at each store in accordance with local tastes. Kaufelt explains that data is so detailed that Murray’s Cheese management might even know more about the 187 Kroger locations than it does about its own two stores.

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The only thing better than admiring the precision icing and colorful toppers of a DecoPac-designed cake is eating it. But for the Minnesota company, nothing is sweeter than watching as its latest products are reordered over and over again. With every year, the designs become more innovative and fun as DecoPac reinforces its position as the world’s largest supplier of cake decorations to professional cake decorators.

Before it was supplying gum paste butterflies and singing candles to the cake industry, DecoPac got its start on the other side of the order form. The company began in 1919 as McGlynn Bakeries. After recognizing how much consumers liked decorated cakes, McGlynn Bakeries began centralizing the supply of cake decorations and formed DecoPac to supply its own stores. Within a few years, DecoPac was providing pre-packaged decorating kits to other supermarkets and bakeries. The supply side of the business eventually supplanted McGlynn Bakeries and in 2004 the company sold off the last of its bakery operations.

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For more than 60 years, Cosentino’s Food Stores has set itself apart with customer service and by offering a wide variety of affordable, quality products and operating clean stores that are easy for customers to navigate. Since starting operations with a single small store in 1948, Cosentino’s has grown to encompass a footprint that today includes Price Chopper, Sun Fresh, Apple Markets and Cosentino’s Market formats in Missouri and Kansas. 

“Today, we have 27 stores, including 19 Price Choppers, two Cosentino’s Markets, two Apple Markets and three Sun Fresh locations,” co-owner John Cosentino says. 

“Our family established the organization by focusing on providing great service to our customers. That commitment to service was a big reason why we became so successful,” he adds.

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Founded in 1947, Hulbert Supply traces its roots back to the opening of a plumbing supply house in the Champlain Valley region. After more than 65 years in business, the company has grown to include six locations and become the leading destination for kitchens and bathrooms, plumbing and heating, air conditioning and water treatment in upstate New York and Vermont. The company has succeeded by getting to know the contractors and homeowners in its community, as well as by looking for ways to keep up with industry changes and improve upon service and product offerings.

“It is our goal to carry high quality products. We don’t typically carry or sell anything we would not want in our own homes,” President Dale Miner says. “We live in a world of disposable products, but quality is critical for the kinds of products we sell, as is access to repair parts if something does go wrong. We work with customers to help them find the best products for their jobs. It isn’t about pushing them to the most expensive option. It is about helping them find the best product for the application at a fair price.”

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