Don B. Huntley College of Agriculture

ABM Students Gain Insight at Grocers Conference

Published Date: Oct 27, 2016 10:00:00 AM

Metheny, Panquin and Dean Mary Holz-Clause

Two Huntley College of Agriculture students traveled to Palm Springs in September to attend the annual California Grocers Association Strategic Conference.

Lars Panquin and Paula Metheny, both agribusiness management students, were chosen by the college after filling out an application and writing a short essay. They attended the Sept. 25-27 conference with Dean Mary Holz-Clause at the Palm Springs Convention Center.

The association went out of its way to welcome the students, introducing them at the opening session.

Panquin, a junior, says he attended a number of different talks, including how technology is changing the business, how Smart & Final CEO Dave Hirz rebuilt and turned his company around. He also attended meetings between Unified Grocers and major food companies about sales strategies, product launches, and solving various challenges.

“It was a great opportunity to see how retailers and vendors work with each other when it comes to coordinating their efforts,” he says. “There are so many moving parts along the supply chain that need to be aligned and synced together. To get some insight into that process was really interesting to see up close.”

Metheny was paired with North State Grocery Vice President Brad Askeland, who created a schedule for her for the conference. In two days, she attended 22 meetings, each ranging from 20 to 40 minutes.

“This type of conference was like speed dating for business meetings,” says the transfer student. “I learned that 20 minutes, while short, is just enough time to decide if you want to move forward with a proposal. I learned that there is no room to be shy in a conference setting: the time flies by fast, and if you take too long to make a statement you could miss something.”

The experience gave Panquin insight that will allow him to bring a more informed perspective to his classes and projects. It also made him more interested in pursuing product development and marketing.

“I found those aspects of the industry to be very fascinating,” Panquin says.

For her part, Metheny says she gained contacts with suppliers who have agreed to provide tours for the ABM Club, of which she is the event coordinator. And although she initially thought she would pursue a career on the supply side, talking at the conference with North State’s vice president of perishables has opened her eyes to the possibility of working on the retail side.

“I have always wanted to put exciting fruits and vegetables on more peoples’ plates, and I thought working for a specialty produce company was the way to do that,” she says. “But as a vice president of perishables, you get to actually make the decisions to put these specialty products on the shelves for consumers to pick up and try.”