Present at today's unveiling of the Niagara University Food Marketing Center of Excellence were, from left, John Persons, William J. Chiodo, William J. Chiodo, Jamie McKeon, the Rev. James J. Maher, C.M., Dr. Peggy Choong, Drew Cerza, Shannon Chowaniec, Dr. Paul Richardson and Robert Denning.

Niagara University, with guidance from regional food industry leaders, has established a Food Marketing Center of Excellence within the university’s College of Business Administration.

The center will work with these industry leaders to create, build and inspire transformative programs and partnerships within the Western New York community. In addition, the center will enhance the university’s recent creation of a new undergraduate degree in marketing with a concentration in food and consumer packaged goods.

The center and food marketing program have been built with guidance from a who’s who of regional food industry leaders, including Jamie McKeon, VP of marketing for Rich Products Corporation,  John Persons, president and COO of Tops Friendly Markets, Michael Keating, senior VP for operations of Wegmans Food Markets, Robert Denning, president and CEO of Perry’s Ice Cream, “Wing King” Drew Cerza, and several others.

“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.”

The FMCOE will serve as a bridge between industry and students who are transforming consumer behavior in the food industry. Members of the center will connect with students to engage them in research projects, internships and career opportunities.

The FMCOE will also sponsor seminars and certifications in areas such as packaging, labeling, safety, regulation and service. The FMCOE also provides training in HR, project management, social media marketing, data analytics, pricing, promotion and category management. This will furnish FMCOE members the opportunity to enhance their leadership skills, competencies and best practices.

According to a study by the Erie County Industrial Development Agency, Western New York is home to some of the most successful food companies in the world and has the highest concentration of firms in this sector in the U.S. By linking premier executive leadership with the innovative academic vision of Niagara University, the FMCOE is will be a gateway to insight, knowledge and networks for industry growth and success.

Formed in February 2015, the 14-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.

Niagara University recently launched a new undergraduate degree in marketing with a concentration in food and consumer packaged goods that provides students with a unique and comprehensive career path to the growing food industry in Western New York and around the globe. This program combines food industry specific curriculum with internships, real-life case studies and project is, industry immersions and mentoring. Students will have the ability to embark on summer global trade missions and travel to meet with food industry executives to learn about the industry and discover opportunities.

“Students are immersed in food marketing concepts and practices through hands-on learning, internships and career opportunities,” said Niagara University’s president, the Rev. James J. Maher, C.M., who 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 industry issues and challenges. In addition, the classes include significant participation by members of the advisory board.

A previous study sponsored by the Erie County Industrial Development Agency reported that 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,” added Chiodo.

Below is the roster of the Niagara University food marketing advisory board (as of Dec. 1):

  • Chairman: William J. Chiodo, EVP Grocery Sales, Acosta
  • Robert Castellani, Retired Food Executive
  • Drew Cerza, President, Just Wing It Productions
  • Dr. Peggy Choong, Professor of Marketing, Niagara University
  • Robert Denning, President & CEO, Perry’s Ice Cream
  • Bob Ferretti, Team Leader, The Clorox Company
  • Paul Gorski, Major Gifts Officer, Niagara University
  • Michael Keating, Senior Vice President for Operations, Wegmans Food Markets Inc.
  • Jamie McKeon, Vice President of Marketing, Rich Products Corp.
  • John Persons, President & COO, Tops Friendly Markets
  • Paul Peterson, Vice President, Lactalis Dairy Co.
  • Dr. Paul Richardson, Director, MBA Program, Niagara University
  • Mark Serling, Senior Director of Sales & Marketing, Upstate Milk Cooperative
  • John Zimmerman, Senior Vice President of Business Development, Rosina Food Products Inc.

Additional information on Niagara University’s Food Marketing Center of Excellence can be found online at

To learn more about the academic concentration, please call 716.286.8169 or visit

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