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K-State Today

March 21, 2024

K-State students shine at National Grocers Association Case Competition

Submitted by Brandon Savage

K-State students Michael Jacobson, Colby Osner, Evan Giles, and Caleb Conyers pose with alumni Scott and Tresa Burger from Sabetha, KS.

Last week, a team of four students from the College of Business Administration at Kansas State University took on the challenge of the National Grocers Association Foundation Case Competition in Las Vegas, Nevada. The competition, sponsored by UNFI, included teams from nine other universities across the country. This marked K-State's inaugural participation in the event.

The heart of the competition was a comprehensive business case provided by Niemann Foods, Inc., a prominent Midwest grocery operator with more than 130 retail locations.

This year's topic, "Maintaining a Competitive Edge," tasked students with exploring strategies for independent grocers to remain relevant and competitive in an ever-changing market. The case encouraged participants to delve into aspects such as customer service enhancements, product differentiation and technology adoption, as well as the impacts of their strategies on community engagement and sustainability. Acknowledging the pivotal role of independent grocers in our food systems, the case highlighted Niemanns' commitment to innovation and excellence. It was a real-world scenario that required the K-State team to balance strategic thinking with the practical realities faced by businesses like Niemanns, who are not only economic anchors but also vital lifelines to their communities.

"The experience was eye-opening," said Evan Giles, a sophomore from Lee's Summit, Missouri. "Not only did I learn practical skills in problem-solving and teamwork, but I also gained valuable insights into industry practices. Despite the challenges, the journey was immensely rewarding, and I'm eager to leverage these newfound skills in my academic and professional pursuits."

His sentiments were echoed by fellow teammate Caleb Conyers, also a sophomore, from Wichita: "I loved that our team had the ability to apply researched knowledge to create a solution for a real-world problem on how an independent grocery store like Niemanns can continue to compete in today's growing grocery industry."

Colby Osner, a junior from Conway Springs, highlighted the value of the competition beyond the business strategies.

"Going to Vegas for the Student Case Competition was an amazing experience," said Osner. "My favorite part was being able to present our research to the judges about what we found on how independent grocers can stay competitive in today's market. Throughout the trip, I connected with many grocers and learned the importance of small-town grocers to avoid food deserts."

Another junior, Michael Jacobson from Gardner, shared his gratitude: "The 2024 NGA convention provided me with invaluable experiences and opportunities for growth. The challenge posed by Niemann Foods inspired our team to develop a proposal aimed at ensuring their competitive edge in an ever-evolving industry landscape."

The K-State team was advised and accompanied by Brandon Savage, instructor in the department of management, and received financial support from the K-State Rural Grocery Initiative, a program committed to empowering rural communities through sustainable food access.

"Our students' participation in such a competitive and intellectually demanding event not only showcases their talent but also embodies the spirit of innovation and commitment to community service that the K-State Rural Grocery Initiative promotes," said Erica Blair, program director. "We are incredibly proud of their performance and their representation of our values on a national stage."

Savage added, "In addition to the enriching educational experience for the students, my favorite part was how many K-State faithful we bumped into in Vegas during the week proudly wearing purple and the Powercat! It demonstrated to the team that K-State has a sizeable alumni network/family across the country and world!"