Selling Your Product to Institutions

Mark Coe

Mark Coe is a local food advocate and the managing partner of Michigan Farm To Freezer, a business that processes and flash freezes local fruits and vegetables for wholesale to institutional and retail markets. Farm to Freezer started as a workforce development program of Goodwill Northern Michigan utilizing a “live classroom” to provide vocational and food safety training for unemployed and underemployed individuals seeking employment in the local food economy. Over the past 6 years, Farm To Freezer has expanded its territories from Northwest MI to provide products statewide, selling a full line of Michigan flash frozen produce to over 300 retailers and 200 institutional feeding programs across the state, and achieving annual sales of over $1M.

Mark spent 10 years as farm manager for Calvin Lutz Farms in Kaleva Michigan. At Lutz Farms mark was responsible for the management of an agricultural fruit and vegetable operation spanning 1400 acres. While at Lutz, Mark also developed farm market sales and a farm to school program that advanced demand and interest in local produce.

Mark has extended experience in the photography industry and spent 20+ years in that sector until a shift in business lines provided an opportunity to move into local foods. Mark is active in farm bureau and has served 7 years on the county board. Mark also enjoys the other natural resources northern Michigan offers, and enjoys spending time with his family, camping, fishing, and snowmobiling where he currently sits on the board as the past president of the Benzie Manistee Snowbirds snowmobile club.

Common Hurdles as a New Food Entrepreneur

Kendra Wills

Kendra serves as an Innovation Counselor with the MSU Product Center and a Community Food Systems Educator with MSU Extension. She has over 20 years of experience working for MSU in a variety of program areas including: leadership development, local food sourcing, and land use planning. Kendra is a graduate of Michigan State University and Aquinas College. She is currently based in Grand Rapids at the Downtown Market.

Jermale Eddie

Jermale Eddie is a husband, father, engaged community member, business consultant, business coach and sought-after speaker. He is also the proud Owner & Co-founder of the multi-award winning Malamiah Juice Bar, founded in 2013. He recently served as the Director of Reaching In (Discipleship) at Madison Square Church in Grand Rapids, MI. Jermale has a Masters from Spring Arbor University and a Bachelors from Grand Valley State University. He currently serves on the Grand Rapids Downtown Development Authority Board (DDA), as well as several community-based committees. His vocational “sweet spot” is the intersection of faith, business and community development. Jermale believes that people and their experiences are the community’s strongest assets. Jermale resides in Grand Rapids, Michigan with his wife, Anissa, and 3 boys (Malachi, Nehemiah and Josiah).

How to Source Locally Raised Meat & Cheeses

Noel Bielaczyc

Noel joined the MSU Center for Regional Food Systems in the fall of 2014 and his work is focused on two areas: The Michigan Food Hub Learning and Innovation Network, and the Livestock Work Group, which seeks to build Michigan's meat supply chains through market development, research, and outreach. He received a master’s in Gastronomy with an emphasis in food policy and systems from Boston University. Prior to graduate school, he worked as a meat, seafood, and fresh foods buyer for a cooperative grocery store and a local foods market in Philadelphia. Noel's interest and passion for food stretches back to his childhood in rural northern Michigan, where he learned to grow, cook, and eat good food.

Gary Smith

As the Food Safety Officer in the Dairy Plant, Gary's assigned duties include providing technical assistance, leadership and training to Dairy Foods Complex staff, students and industry to produce safe and quality dairy products. Gary oversees training and compliance for all personnel to ensure that established procedures and customer requirements, requirements by regulatory agencies and third-party audits are all being met. Gary also administrates the continual improvement of food quality and safety programs.

Winning @ Retail – How to Market ‘Local’

Doug Stone

Doug Stone is a 30+-year marketing veteran with a unique background combining international food brand development, shopper and business-to-business marketing.  His brand-building work has won plaudits from clients, as well as recognition from the American Marketing Association and other industry organizations.  Stone has authored numerous published marketing articles and he has been a featured speaker and lecturer to business, industry, and university audiences.  His agency's website is at

Working with a Retailer – Who, What, Where and How?

Mariann Brown

Mariann Brown has worked for Kroger for 34 years.  She has held several different position from Store Management, Pricing Analyst, Category Management and her current role as DSD Sales Promoter. She also spent several years in the Columbus Division for Kroger as their Pricing Analyst and then Drug/GM Category Manager.  Then she moved to corporate, Cincinnati Ohio as a Grocery Category Manager where she handled six different commodities for Kroger nationally.  Then is 2008 she was able to come back to Michigan in her current role as DSD Sales Promoter.

Scott Larson

Scott Larson is a Buyer in Grocery for Meijer, Inc., the Grand Rapids, Mich.-based retailer that operates more than 240 supercenters and grocery stores in Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, and Wisconsin.  Scott joined Meijer in 2013 and held various positions within pricing and merchandising before being promoted in 2018 to his current role.

As a Buyer in Grocery, Scott is responsible for setting the business strategy for the desk and leading the buying team that represents hot beverages and soup within dry grocery to provide the best assortment to customers. Scott is very passionate in developing partnerships with the vendor community and cross-functional partners to ensure Meijer exceeds their customer’s expectations.

Prior to his employment at Meijer, Scott spent four years in various roles at IRI (Information Resources, Inc.), with primary focus on POS data analysis for Club channels.  Scott earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Marketing.

Taking the Mystery Out of Lot Coding, UPC’s & Shelf Life

Dr. Jeannine Schweihofer

Jeannine is the Meat Quality Extension Educator and is an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Animal Science at Michigan State University.

Jeannine is the Meat Quality Extension Educator and is an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Animal Science at Michigan State University.  She works with livestock producers and meat processors throughout the state to enhance meat quality and safety.  Schweihofer has developed resources related to direct marketing meat and poultry; coordinates HACCP two-day certification seminars; and conducts other programming and research related to the production of beef, pork, lamb, and poultry. Jeannine works in this role across the state. In addition to her undergraduate degree in animal science from MSU, Jeannine holds masters’ and Ph.D. degrees in meat science from Kansas State University.

Jason Hofman

Jason serves as the Facility and Operations Manager for the FPIC. In this role, he is responsible for coordinating client activities and ensuring compliance to food safety standards and regulations. Further, his experience in quality assurance and product development provides a knowledge base to assist clients in developing new production processes and develop new products. Jason holds a bachelor’s degree in Animal Science and a master’s degree in Food Safety, both from MSU. Jason entered the meat business in 1992 after completing his bachelor’s degree, working in both production and quality assurance roles. The bulk of his time in the meat industry was spent working in the poultry slaughter and processing industry as well as in the production of ready to eat meat/poultry products. Through these experiences he was also involved with the start-up of two large commercial poultry processing plants in Michigan. In addition, Jason has extensive experience with USDA-FSIS regulations and policy pertaining to the meat and poultry industry and has experience with the implementation of Global Food Safety Initiative standards in meat and poultry processing facilities. He is certified in HACCP, holds a PCQI certification and is a certified Lead Instructor for Preventive Controls for Human Foods. Prior to assuming his current role, Jason held a teaching and extension position within the Department of Animal Science and the Department of Food Science & Human Nutrition. In this role, Jason worked closely with meat processors around Michigan and taught courses in animal products and meat and poultry processing.

Tina Conklin

As a Food Processing Specialist for the MSU Product Center, Conklin works with facilities large and small on a variety of food processing needs. She provides assistance as a HACCP Team member and works with companies who want to obtain GFSI standards. Conklin also assists with equipment sourcing and facility design.

Prior to working for the Product Center, Conklin spent 25 years in the food industry. She spent time in operations management as well as Quality and Food Safety. Conklin has worked both as a Plant Manager and a Director of Technical Services.  She has assisted with large-scale plant start-ups in the United States, Venezuela, Argentina, Australia and Malaysia. Conklin received her B.S. in Animal Science from Auburn University and holds a master’s in management from Aquinas College.

While working in industry, Conklin applied for, and received on behalf of companies she worked for the prestigious DuPont Qualicon Food Quality Award, the Indy – Environmental Steward Award and the NSF Food Safety Leadership Award.

The Art of Storytelling through your Label

Christa Chambers-Price

Christa Chambers-Price is the CEO of Entre-SLAM, Inc. a brand story and marketing strategy group. She is a U.S. Military Intelligence Army veteran, a former FBI Analyst and she helps brands discovery, build, and launch big ideas that move the world. With an emphasis on consumer psychology, behavioral science, and storytelling, Entre-SLAM has crafted a methodology that guides innovators on how to discover what makes their brands unique, identify market opportunity, and improve product or service designs while learning how to blend all of these components together to tell a great story. Christa has over 25 years of design, animation, and web development experience and has worked with over 1,000 startups, social entrepreneurs and non-profits from across the country. 

Working with a Co-packer: When to Make That Important Decision

Amit Makhecha

Amit Makhecha is a food-industry professional with 20+ years of experience across restaurant and specialty catering, food distribution and contract specialty food manufacturing.

He exited the restaurant and catering business in 2017 to focus on developing his family's growing portfolio of food brands including Bleaf & Poplettes.

Amit currently serves as the Managing Director of FEAST Detroit, a collaborative contract manufacturer and food startup accelerator that he co-founded in 2017. FEAST is designed to help scale production for small and medium food brands through shared resourcing, dedicated operations, and access to a mentor network of food industry veterans.

In Partnership with Eastern Market Corporation, FEAST has grown rapidly since inception, producing over 100 SKUs for 19 Michigan-based food brands.

Meggan McCaughan

Meggan McCaughan is the co-owner of Total Food Package, a dry foods co-packer located in Spring Lake, MI. Total Food Package is Organic Certified through Oregon Tilth and Kosher Certified through Kosher Michigan. It is an allergen free co-packing facility. Total Food Package is capable of blending and packaging a variety of dry goods and they ship worldwide.

Meggan graduated from Michigan State University with a degree in Supply Chain Management. She worked in Purchasing for 6 years in Grand Rapids, MI at Siemens, a multinational industrial manufacturing company. In 2011, Meggan and her father, John Memmott, started Total Food Package.

Meggan is the Director of Business Development and is the contact for the entirety of the quoting process. She works with new customers through the initial conversation about the project through the first production run and beyond. She is adept at overcoming the challenges presented by running a small business and streamlining projects through a production line that she and John create. Meggan works closely with the customer to scale up production of their product so that customers are capable of supplying major retailers like Meijer, Whole Foods, and Amazon.

Alan Pronko and Marie Groom

Alan Pronko and Marie Groom are owners of Pronko Enterprises, LLC with nearly 30 years of combined experience in the food industry. A serial entrepreneur, Mr. Pronko moved on from a successful boat business, to culinary school and then Executive Chef at a leading nationwide restaurant chain. Marie graduated from CMU, holding several positions before finally being convinced by entrepreneur Alan to open a small family business – a Mexican/Asian fusion restaurant in Hamtramck, MI.

After receiving many compliments, and plenty demand for the salsa in the restaurant, the family decided to close the restaurant to focus on manufacturing their salsa full time. This was the birth of Maria’s House Made Salsa, and what eventually led to Pronko Enterprises, LLC. Maria’s House Made Salsa is produced and packaged for retail markets in the Metro Detroit area - and once launched, the business was inundated with requests from other local food entrepreneurs for guidance and direction with their products. The family saw this as a business opportunity to use their unique expertise and experiences to help other food entrepreneurs, and to this day their client portfolio continues to grow.

Alan focuses on recipe development and production/manufacturing, while Marie takes care of packaging, label design and assisting their clients from start to finish – enabling them to bring their unique products to market.

Working with a Distributor – When, Why and How?

Don Symonds

Don has worked his entire life in the supermarket industry in a multitude of positions that have allowed him experiences in retail operations, wholesale sales and distribution and direct store distribution. Don started in the supermarket industry in 1968 as a bagger for Meijer, Inc. in Lansing, Michigan. He continued with Meijer holding a variety of positions including Store Director positions in East Lansing, Michigan and Columbus, Ohio. Don then accepted employment with Spartan Stores of Grand Rapids, Michigan where he held positions as Retail Counselor, Merchandising Supervisor and Purchasing Manager. The position at Spartan Stores led Don to his current employment with Lipari Foods in Warren, Michigan where he has held positions as Regional Sales Manager, Marketing Director and his current position as Event and Trade Relations Director. Don’s variety of experiences has offered him the opportunity to view the supermarket industry from many different perspectives that aid him, as he designs programs and promotions that help retail customers meet their sales and marketing goals.

Don serves on the Board of Directors for the Michigan Grocers Association, Wisconsin Grocers Association and Illinois Food Retailers Association to assist these and other state agencies to address legislative issues that affect the food industry. In 2017, Don was awarded the Illinois Food Industry Vendor Leadership Award. Additionally, Don has this entrepreneurial spirit in his personal life, with being an inventor and inventing a patented solar swimming pool heater for his family fun business called Beluga Pool Solutions.

Kate Brent

Kate Brent has been with Cherry Capital Foods in many different roles. Originally joining as a sales team member, Kate moved to the purchasing team in 2016. Now in a leadership role, Kate uses her understanding of the local food systems as well as her experience with food retailers to ensure that Cherry Capital Foods provides efficient distribution of locally sourced food products to a diverse array of accounts across the State.

Bobby Hesano

Bobby Hesano graduated from Western Michigan University with a Bachelors of Business Administration with specialization in food marketing. This was a useful aide in becoming the owner and president of D&B Grocers Wholesale & Distributors. D&B has been in business for 27 years, currently servicing 1,200 retailers across Michigan, Ohio, Illinois and Indiana.

Food Label Claims: Clearing Up the Confusion

Mike Lally

Mike’s key role as the West Regional Food Inspector with MDARD has been in place for twenty-nine and a half years. Additionally, he is an instructor for a variety of food safety related areas including FSPCA Preventive Controls for Human Foods, Michigan Cider Makers Safety Class and holds FDA credentials for shell egg inspections. Mike is also the regional specialist in food labeling, cider, sprouts, and other minimally processed food products. A graduate of MSU with a B.S. in Food Science in 1984 and Graduate Certificate in International Food Law. Mike lives in Ada with his wife, four children, and their dog, Daisy.

Consumer Trends in Beverages

Dr. Bill Knudson

Bill Knudson’s primarily responsibility is as a Product Marketing Economist at the MSU Product Center, Food • Ag • Bio.  Primary focus of his work is applied economic analysis on agriculture, food, and bio economy issues.  Prior to his position at MSU he spent nine years as a Policy Advisor for the Senate Majority Policy Office, covering the areas of agriculture, higher education and appropriations. He is currently working on Development of Profitable Michigan-Based Meat and Livestock Value Chains Supplying Local and Regional Markets

The Best Packaging Solution: Why it Matters?

Brian Wagner

Brian Wagner focuses on helping individuals and organizations unlock their growth potential, and is passionate for Innovation, sustainability, entrepreneurship and the Packaging Industry he has served for over 30 years. He co-founded PTIS – a global consultancy in 2000, and DEPTH Speaking in 2018. He and his team have advised over 300 Fortune 500 and Forbes 1000 companies through innovation, strategic organizational work as well as developing new growth and productivity initiatives. Wagner is a John Maxwell certified business coach and mentor, as well as a frequent speaker at corporate events, seminars and sales meetings. He earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Packaging from Michigan State University (MSU), and supports academics through the PTIS Founders Packaging Endowment at MSU, and mentoring at Cal Poly’s Business School and at Arizona State University as executive-in-residence at the WP Carey MBA Executive Connections program.

Brian and his wife Dawn reside in Petoskey, MI.