Nick Brown & Michael Stigers
General Business

NJ Food Council Focuses on Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Annual Conference

Leaders from New Jersey’s food retail and distribution businesses gathered in Atlantic City recently to focus on the next generation of the food supply chain, as well as evolving opportunities in the New Jersey food industry.

“This conference shows [our] dedication to stay ahead of the trends and look towards the future of the industry,” said New Jersey Food Council (NJFC) Vice Chair Jason Read of Wawa. “Trade relations is at the heart of our association. It is these significant business relationships between food retailer, supplier, c-store operator, broker, co-op, and wholesaler members that drives our beyond essential $136 billion food distribution industry in New Jersey. “

The annual conference demonstrates NJFC’s commitment to encouraging trade partnerships through member engagement and elevating the industry, he added.

The program spotlighted Mike Stigers, the newly-appointed president & COO of Wakefern Food Corp., who is now leading the state’s largest employer and most successful business cooperative in the country. He joined in a “Fireside Chat” with NJFC Chairman of the Board Andrew Kent from Glass Gardens ShopRites.

Attendees also heard from talented visionaries and a venture capital non-profit who discussed experiences and insights on “An Entrepreneurs’ Perspective: Breaking into the Food Industry” with Lawrence Inserra, III, of Price Rite, serving as the panel moderator.

“We shared a discussion about breaking into the food industry and forging a pathway to success,” Inserra said. “This session provided inspiration and practical advice for navigating the complexities of entrepreneurship in the dynamic and competitive food industry through success stories about overcoming challenges, innovative business strategies, paths to capital financing and key milestones on the path to success.

“We know that entrepreneurs sharing their experiences of facing challenges and setbacks can provide valuable lessons,” he added. “Hearing about how others navigated obstacles such as funding issues, regulatory hurdles, or market competition offered insights into resilience and problem-solving in the food industry.”

Panelists included:

  • Gonca Esendemir, co-founder/CMO, Thumb Bread®
  • Jim Gunton, managing partner, Tech Council Ventures
  • Dr. Juan Salinas, founder/CEO, Perfect Life Nutrition selling under the banner P-nuff

“Each year at this event, we also present a special recognition to an individual in the trade who brings together all aspects of the food business, stimulates thoughtful ideas, enhances trade goals, participates actively in Food Council matters and supports the overall mission of the Food Council,” said NJFC President & CEO Linda Doherty. “It is always a pleasure to present the

Jimmy Ostling Trade Relations Award.”

This year it was presented to NJFC Associate Vice Chair and Trade Relations Committee Chair Nick Brown, Associate Director of Sales with Kraft Heinz, for his dedication to the association and his inspiring enthusiasm for the advancement of Trade Relations in the food industry.

“Nick, you are a passionate role model on our Board and we appreciate all you do to foster strong and meaningful trade partnerships,” Read said.

The NJFC also used the Trade Relations Conference to relaunch its in-person Leadership Development Program, after it was suspended because of the pandemic. As a part of the agenda, this year’s students were asked to stand and be recognized. The program, like the conference, is an invaluable experience for future leaders of the food industry.

The conference concluded with a “curtain closer” golf outing, held April 10 at Galloway National Golf Club in Galloway Township.

Mark your calendars for the NJFC’s annual “Night of Distinction” on Wednesday, May 15 at the Palace of Somerset. Honorees include: Neil Greenstein, president of Brookdale ShopRite and ShopRite of Newark; Stew Leonard Jr., president and CEO of Stew Leonard’s; and Samer Rahman, vice president and chief merchandising officer of Allegiance Retail Services.

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