Food industry leaders throughout Michigan gathered October 1 for the Food Epprentice Experience, a food leadership initiative created by Paragon Leadership International to boost the regions’ economy and develop Michigan’s next generation of food industry leadership. NSF International, a not-for-profit, public health, and safety organization that writes standards and certifies products for food, water, and consumer goods, hosted the event at their headquarters in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Over 80 leaders attended the event, representing food manufacturers, processors, retailers, suppliers, foodservice, farming, food-related associations, and academia. Participants were divided into teams to develop a solution for one of four industry challenges: food safety, childhood obesity, hunger, and Michigan’s agriculture economy. Not-for-profit organizations sponsored each category, benefiting their respective organization’s mission. While participants worked on their projects, they received coaching to boost their leadership skills.

Each team presented their proposal to a panel of food industry judges. Judging was based on each team’s demonstration of leadership competencies, including innovation, strategic thinking, collaboration, and delivering results. A winning team was recognized for each category.

“Our team was comprised of the right mix of academic, professional, and business leaders to really drive some exciting and interesting creative thinking and processes,” says participant Jerry Goldner, global chief marketing officer for Compusense. “After 20 years in the consumer packaged goods business, this was one of the most professional and effective programs I have attended.”

Winning teams will be honored with a Legislative Reception at the State Capitol November 5 where they will discuss their Epprentice Experience, as well as ideas with state legislators working in the aforementioned areas.

“The first Food Epprentice Experience was a great success, and I am thrilled to announce that two NSF International employees, Cristin Colling and Michelle Rzendzian, will be heading to Lansing with their teams in November to present their food safety and agriculture campaign proposals,” says Kristen Holt, senior vice president for NSF food safety and quality programs. “Bringing together industry leaders from around Michigan enabled us to help create future food safety initiatives, as well as economic opportunities for our state.”

Merisa Campbell of the Michigan Farm Bureau Promotion and Education Committee, was excited about the outcome her winning team developed for promoting Michigan’s agriculture economy. “We have come away with ideas today that we’re going to take back and try to implement,” she says. “They don’t end here. We’re going to build on them and get them in front of the target group we’re after.”

The Epprentice Experience engaged multiple generations of Michigan’s future leaders. Through the financial sponsorship of the Kellogg Company, each team of industry leaders included graduate and undergraduate students from related university programs throughout Michigan.

Additionally, financial support from Pizza House, Busch’s Markets, and Edibles Rex, made it possible for a group of students from Novi High School to participate as their own team, tackling the issue of child obesity. The high school students created a mentoring program that they hope to launch within their school district. While still in the Epprentice session, they had already sent a YouTube video of their idea to the school administration, including Novi Superintendent Pete Dion.