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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Vitamin World has come a long way since it began in 1976 with a single location. From a small kiosk in Williamsville, N.Y., the company has expanded into malls to create the footprint that it has today thanks to becoming part of NBTY, an American manufacturer of vitamins and nutritional supplements.

“As part of a $3 billion enterprise, our organization garners a wide variety of benefits,” President Jack Krause says. “World-class manufacturing and sourcing functions enable us to create great-quality products at a reasonable price. We have the ability to share ideas and consumer insights with leaders across the business. This scale also gives us an extended talent pool and capabilities in corporate shared functions such as IT, HR and business management.”

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The late-2000s were a difficult time for high-end kitchen equipment maker Viking Range Corporation. Like many luxury goods manufacturers, the Greenwood, Miss.-based company was affected as consumers scaled back purchasing during the recession. Further, Viking struggled as its list of products grew beyond what was manageable, though its brand value remained high. 

But since being bought out by The Middleby Corporation at the end of 2012, CEO Selim Bassoul has helped the company regain its focus and improve sales and profits. “We’re growing now instead of shrinking,” says Brent Bailey, vice president of brand management.

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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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Based in Atlanta, Sionic Mobile is a mobile commerce company that aims to revolutionize m-commerce by creating loyalty and value for merchants of all sizes, as well as for consumers. By using mobile devices and the cloud, Sionic Mobile is able to connect merchants with nearby, ready-to-spend consumers. 

“Sionic Mobile spun out of a decade-old company in mid-2010,” Founder and CEO Ronald Herman says.  “We currently have 28 full-time employees and contractors. What we are known for are customer loyalty and mobile ads.” 

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Headquartered in Dublin, Calif., Ross Stores, Inc. has been able to grow and flourish into a high-performing S&P 500, Fortune 500 and Nasdaq 100 company. Today, it operates Ross Dress for Less, the largest off-price apparel and home fashion chain in the country, which has more than 1,200 locations in 33 states. The company also operates dd’s DISCOUNTS, a moderate off-price chain with more than 150 locations in 15 states. 

“The biggest reason for our success is our ability to attract and retain talented and experienced people across all areas of our business who are able to successfully execute the company’s core strategy on a consistent basis,” President and Chief Development Officer Jim Fassio says.

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