Since 1993, the National Agri-Marketing Association (NAMA) team at the University of Delaware has been preparing students for careers after college by giving them real world opportunities and immersing them in the experience of creating and pitching a food product to marketing executives.
The team is sponsored by the NAMA Marketing Club, which was established by Ulrich Toensmeyer, professor of Food Marketing and Management in the Department of Applied Economics and Statistics. The team went to their first NAMA competition in April 1994 and 2017 marked the team’s 24th competition.
The team spends a portion of the year brainstorming and coming up with food products to present to a panel of industry professionals at the NAMA competition which is held every year in various cities across the United States.
To develop the products, the team looks at market dynamics, market characteristics and demographics and tries to understand what the industry is looking for in a product. Once the product is developed, the team goes through all the marketing channels, looking at design, packaging, how the product should be priced and what kind of customers they should target.
The product is then presented at the national competition and the judges decide if they would want to go forward with the product or not.
Two notable alums from UD that participated in the NAMA team during their time at the University include Eric Ziegenfuss and Jacqueline Cascio. They both said that they also enjoyed their interactions with Toensmeyer, or “Dr. T.”
Ziegenfuss, who spent four years on the NAMA team, said that getting ready for the competition is a very real world experience because “you have to understand your product completely. The panel of judges [at the national competition] would ask us questions about the product so it was like what a boss would do if you were going to present a new idea to a company.”
Ziegenfuss works in the sales department for The Oppenheimer Group in Newark, a company that imports produce from 26 countries around the world and sells it to nationwide retailers such as Wal-Mart, Whole Foods, and Costco and local retailers such as Acme and Shop Rite.
“I sell all 10 of our produce categories and I manage our tropical department which includes mangoes and pineapples,” said Ziegenfuss. “I work with growers from around the world gathering info about the timing and size of the crop, setting market prices based on supply and demand, and then I work with our sales team to get this product to retail stores. Every produce item is different and no season is ever the same. It is very fast and dynamic”
At UD, Ziegenfuss studied food agribusiness marketing and management and knew that he wanted to do something food and produce related once he graduated. He said that his favorite part of the job is “the speed of the business. It’s almost like we’re stock brokers in a way because every day we wake up, we look at the weather, and we look at all the different market factors such as supply, demand, and exchange rates as we try to bring the best value to our customers while also keeping our growers happy.”
Ziegenfuss said that being a part of the NAMA team was a great experience and that he loved his time at UD.
“I love the University of Delaware and I feel very fortunate that I got to be a part of the NAMA team for 4 years and work with Dr. T. Being a part of NAMA was probably one of my most valued experiences because of the real-world environment that the team created. Dr. T encouraged us to think outside the box but his teaching style and guidance helped us prepare for the real world and was unlike any classroom setting I experienced at UD. The most rewarding part was creating a product from scratch and then knowing every detail about what it would take to launch the product in real life. It was a great talking point on many job interviews and it was a perfect stepping stone to a career after I graduated,” said Ziegenfuss.
Cascio graduated in 2001 with a degree in Food and Agribusiness Management. Now a trade marketing senior manager at Perdue, Cascio said that she works closely with the sales team and vets opportunities through logistics, operations, and marketing.
“We let the sales team focus on selling and then we work through all their opportunities whether it’s new items and their distribution, promotion, all that kind of stuff and I have responsibility for our organic chicken. That’s my little piece of the business,” said Cascio.
Cascio, who grew up in Connecticut and had a dad and grandfather that worked in the chicken business, worked as an intern twice with Perdue in food service and retail during her senior year at UD. Right before she graduated, she was offered a full-time job in Salisbury, Maryland working in customer service.
“That’s kind of the starting point of having someone right out of college is to work inside in customer service so I spent two years there and then went on the outside and spent most of my career in outside sales,” said Cascio.
As for her experience with the NAMA team, which she joined her sophomore year, Cascio said that it provided her with “real world experience. It prepares students for their career and life post UD. From learning how to work as a team, writing a business plan, presenting in a public atmosphere to selling yourself and your product to a group of individuals. My experience on the marketing team was invaluable and helped prepare me for what I do today.”
Cascio also said that Toensmeyer was a great professor and continues to be a great mentor.
“I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone that takes such an interest in his students’ life and their success and I just find that absolutely remarkable being out of school for as long as I have, I still have that close connection to UD and that’s because of Dr. T,” said Cascio. “I still talk to him on a regular basis as relates to UD and my career and it’s a very special relationship that he forms with his students because he wants them all to succeed.”
Article by Adam Thomas