Ever wonder if taking the time to share your expertise with students really makes a difference? The answer is a resounding YES. Experiential learning continues to be a valuable resource for University of Minnesota students who pursue careers in the food industry. By participating in case study competitions, meeting with mentors, and sitting in on learning sessions, industry professionals shared valuable industry insight and feedback to The Food Industry Center’s student interns participating in the 2011 National Grocers Association Annual Convention.
For the first time, this year’s convention included a case study competition, challenging students to provide recommendations to a fictional mid-sized independent grocery store chain on how to best incorporate social media communications into their marketing strategy. University of Minnesota student interns and case study competitors Anna Eggen, Annette Gooch, Andre Gordillo, and Duane McDowell represented us this year’s activities, preparing a thorough and insightful analysis of social media’s role in the market place and the opportunities of its use in the retail food industry. Their presentation is available, along with the others, on the NGA website.
The intensive case study activity was a multi-faceted learning opportunity for the students. Noting how hot a topic social media is in the food industry right now, Anna observed “…the topic of social media was brought up multiple times throughout the conference emphasizing the importance of our research and findings.” Andre said “The work paid off in our final presentation…the experience we gained working together as a team to accomplish a goal of completing the project was invaluable.” And Duane noted “Participating in the presentation competition was fun and challenging, and seemed like a good way to make a strong impression on potential employers or advocates in the grocery business.”
As in the past, the students found the time spent with their mentors was an excellent way to learn about the business. As a Food Marketing major, Annette commented
“The mentor program was the most insightful part of the convention because it gave me a great opportunity to observe real-life work situations…Participating in the meetings also increased my confidence in my position in the food industry because I was able to comprehend and understand the concepts being discussed during the meetings.”
Andy Knoblauch, Vice President and Marketing and Sales for Coborn’s, was paired with Food Marketing student Anna Eggen, who sat in on Coborn’s meetings and commented “It was great to be a part of a high-level sales strategy meeting and observe the relationships and information sharing between a food retailer and their suppliers.” Andre Gordillo and Duane McDowell were paired with mentor Bill Chew of SUPERVALU, who spent time introducing them to the many professionals at the convention and walking them around the show room. Andre commented “The time spent there on the floor was certainly an eye-opening experience, and we were able to network and meet many professionals with whom I shared similar interests. I left the trade show with not only a full stomach from all the free samples, but a bag full of business cards and company contact information!”
Duane's experience was equally positive:
“He was a great person to walk the convention floor with – he knew almost everyone there, and was able to describe how each vendor and participant fit into the overall grocery industry picture… I can’t stress strongly (enough) how valuable having an industry mentor of this caliber was. Bill introduced me to several people who invited me to contact them as a part of my career search. I have contacted them, and have one very promising job lead that I am following as a direct result of being at the convention.”
Many students express their surprise in the breadth of the industry. As a newcomer to the food industry, Duane said he “was given a very positive impression of the grocery business and all of the ancillary services that support it.” Andre noted “the vast number of producers, wholesalers, manufacturers and retailers that have a hand in the industry surprised me.” Annette said “I had (an) understanding of what the convention would be like but I didn’t expect it to be as large and comprehensive as it was. The array of workshop topics, speakers, and number of vendors was very impressive and eye-opening.” Meanwhile, Anna commented “this experience helped me gain a better understanding of the consumer end of the food industry supply chain. In doing so, I believe I can bring a unique view to the production side creating a better consumer facing product.”
Growing up with parents in the food manufacturing business, Annette reflected on the relationships she observed at the convention:
“It was humbling to notice that all the attendees were either there to learn from other grocers or share successful tactics that their store implemented. Especially during a time of economic recovery, it was noticeable that the independent grocers were willing to share their story and lend advice to others. Independent grocers are a special part of the industry because they implement a business culture that’s unique from the rest.”
To hear about their experience in their own words and see more pictures from the 2011 NGA Convention, visit the Food Thought Blog to read their March blog posts.
The Food Industry Center’s mission is to develop leaders for tomorrow’s food industry and to be a leading source of knowledge on how food is produced, processed, distributed, and consumed. For the past few months we have been focusing on student programs that will help develop industry leaders for the future.
Through the efforts of Research Fellow Dennis Degeneffe and Associate Program Director Lisa Jore, we have established The Food Industry Center Student Affiliates program designed to strengthen ties between University of Minnesota students and companies in the food industry. During the fall and early winter, we worked with a small group of students to learn more about their career development needs and to craft a strategy for working with student groups across the University. Then in February, four Affiliates represented the University of Minnesota in the case study competition on social media strategy at the National Grocers Association convention. Knowing that our students value connections to industry mentors, opportunities to hear industry speakers, and internship opportunities, we are working this summer to strengthen these aspects of our student programs for the coming year.
Our research program continues to investigate and share insights on the complex food system. Focusing on issues around local and sustainable food, I have been devoting much of my time to the development of a set of state-level food system indicators. I also have published a white paper on sustainability standards with my Dutch colleague Ge Backus and, following up on our local foods case studies project, I am working on a book that summarizes our research on local food supply chains. Meanwhile, the Center’s Associate Director Tim Beatty, is working with a great group of Applied Economics graduate students on food security and consumer behavior research projects. He is also wrapping up some fascinating work on the “heat or eat” dilemma that challenges low-income consumers in the UK when fuel prices increase.
Finally, this continues to be a time of change for The Food Industry Center. Dennis Degeneffe, the Center’s Research Fellow, took an early retirement option from the University in June. We will miss Dennis’ regular presence, but wish him well as he continues with his successful market research consulting activities. We hope to find ways to keep him connected with the Center, as his past food industry research has provided invaluable insights on consumer behavior in the food industry.
One final change to report as we wrap up the 2011-2012 season at The Food Industry Center, is that I will be stepping down as Director at the end of June. This will give me more time to devote to several large research projects and to my duties as President of the Agricultural & Applied Economics Association, the leading professional organization for agricultural and applied economists. Professor Michael Boland, who recently joined our faculty, will assume the Center directorship starting in July 2011. Mike brings a wealth of industry experience, a deep dedication to students, and a seemingly unlimited supply of energy and ideas. I welcome him to The Food Industry Center and will look forward to continuing my involvement with Center activities.
SunOpta is the latest member to join The Food Industry Center’s Sponsoring Membership program. Based in Minnetonka, MN, SunOpta Foods specializes in sourcing, processing, and the distribution of natural and organic food products integrated from seed through packaged product. Their wide-ranging participation in the natural and organic sectors of the food supply chain will no doubt offer valuable insight to the Center’s research and programming of this growing segment of the food industry. We appreciate their support as we continue to learn about our complex and diverse global food system.
With funding from the University of Minnesota’s Healthy Foods, Healthy Lives Institute, TFIC Director Rob King, along with Professors David Mulla of the Department of Soil, Water, and Climate and Mary Story from the Department of Epidemiology, Research Fellow Gigi DiGiacomo, Molly Anderson of Food Systems Integrity, and David Wallinga of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy are working on a project to develop a set of state-level food system indicators. The chosen indicators, all of which are based on publicly-available data, will provide a broad view of the food system and its performance over time.
Currently in progress, researchers are collecting indicator data on employment and payroll in food system activities that range from input supply and farm production through food processing, wholesaling, retailing, and post-consumer waste. They are also collecting indicators related to access, affordability, and health performance at the consumer level. In addition, data reflecting a wide range of economic, environmental, health, and the social impacts of the food system is being captured.
Collected from all 50 states during the period of 1997-2007, the data will be analyzed to provide a better understanding of the current food system and its changes over time. Data will be summarized in food system fact sheets for each state and in maps that highlight differences across states and over time. For example, the map shown here illustrates differences in the contribution of food retailing payroll expenses to total wages and benefits paid in each state. Food retailing is a significant source of payroll and benefits in all states, but is especially important in relatively sparsely populated western states as well as in Delaware and Vermont.
Results from this rigorous study of the food system, which will be available in early 2012, will be a robust and valuable resource for policy makers and planners at the state and national levels.
Are you a category manager for globally-distributed food products? Do you work with a finance group to develop costing models and evaluate financial performance of new food products? Do you provide nutrition counseling to grocery store customers? Are you in charge of implementing your company’s risk management plan? Students repeatedly tell us they are interested in supplementing their classroom learning with industry insight from food professionals currently working in the field.
Sharing your industry experience with students is the most effective way to recruit and equip your future employees with the industry knowledge you need from new employees. Speaking at a Student Affiliates’ meeting is the easiest way to meet students expressly interested in working in the food industry, to learn more about their industry-specific skills, and how they can play a role in your business.
More information about the Student Affiliates program is available on the Affiliates’ webpage.
To arrange a speaking date(s) for your employees or yourself, please contact Lisa Jore by email or phone (612) 625-7019.
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