In what would appear to be an unlikely alliance, John Persons and Michael Keating are seated at a boardroom table inside Niagara University's Bisgrove Hall, strategizing toward a common goal.
Persons, president and COO of Tops Friendly Markets, and Keating, senior VP for operations of Wegmans Food Markets, are joined by Robert Denning, president and CEO of Perry's Ice Cream, Jamie McKeon, VP of marketing for Rich Products Corp., "Wing King" Drew Cerza, and a host of fellow titans of the regional food market industry.
Formed in February 2015, the 16-member food marketing advisory board is a collaborative endeavor of industry leaders and Niagara University's marketing faculty. Its charge is to create, build and inspire transformative programs and partnerships that position the food industry of Western New York at the pinnacle of global excellence, while enriching educational and service opportunities for students.
The latter objective will be fulfilled through a new food and consumer packaged goods marketing concentration that is now being offered at Niagara University.
"We've assembled an advisory board of industry leaders and Niagara University faculty and administrators to build out what I believe will be the premier partnership of industry and academia," said William J. Chiodo, executive vice president of Acosta Sales and Marketing and chair of the advisory board. "Our goal is to educate the future leaders of our industry and, through research, help address the industry's challenges and opportunities. The food marketing program at Niagara will truly be a win-win-win, as it will benefit the students, the regional food industry and the community."
Students interested in the concentration will be required to complete five core food marketing classes and master key required industry skills by participating in sponsored internship programs and industry certifications.
"Students will be immersed in food marketing concepts and practices through hands-on learning, internships and career opportunities," said NU's president, the Rev. James J. Maher, C.M. He sits on the advisory board. "The curriculum for the program has been developed in close consultation with food industry experts and professionals to deliver the most impactful and relevant learning experience of any program of its kind in the world."
Each of the offered courses incorporates case studies and applications provided by industry members to enhance student knowledge of current industry issues and challenges. In addition, the classes will include significant participation by members of the advisory board.
A previous study sponsored by the Erie County Industrial Development Agency reported the Buffalo-Niagara region is the top area in the country for the food and food processing industry in terms of employment concentration in this industry cluster. Over 1,200 food and food processing firms are located in the area, employing more than 16,400 workers.
"The concentration of food companies in upstate New York is one of the largest in the entire country, and most millennials are unaware of the vast career opportunities that exist across its sectors, such as manufacturing, distribution, or retailing," Chiodo said.
The NU food marketing advisory board includes (as of Oct. 1):
To learn more about the program, call 716-286-8169 or visit www.niagara.edu/food-and-cpg-marketing.