Food Forum: Creating opportunities for collaboration

To nurture the next generation of food retailers, industry leaders and educators must find new ways to work together.

By Richard J. George, Ph.D.

This year, the food marketing enterprise at Saint Joseph’s University is celebrating 50 years of education and service to the food industry. As we engage in a yearlong calendar of commemorative events, I am reminded of the great relationships we have enjoyed with food retailers and the food and allied companies that serve American families. Our primary goal is to prepare tomorrow’s leaders for this terrific industry. We could not do this without the financial support of the industry as well as the commitment to hire these bright young men and women, whether for internships, cooperative experiences or their first job upon graduation. Likewise, our executive master’s in food marketing is designed to insure “lifelong” learning for the industry.

However, there are even more opportunities for collaboration between industry and academia. Allow me to share a couple of examples of such collaboration that you might want to pursue with your local university.

Walmart Scholars

In the context of a food retailing class, students are given a specific “challenge” project developed by Walmart, a consumer package goods manufacturer (currently Nestlé), and Neill Crowley, a member of the food marketing faculty. Student teams conduct extensive primary and secondary research. Most of the students’ time in conducting primary research is spent working in specifically assigned Walmart stores interviewing customers and working with store personnel to develop solutions to their “challenge” project.

In class, students are exposed to guest speakers from Walmart, Nestlé, Nielsen and other industry executives who provide valuable “real world” insights and information that the students can use in preparing their “challenge” solutions, recommendations, and perspectives. Some classes are held in Walmart stores and field trips to Walmart’s distribution center are part of the course content. The intent is to provide the Walmart Scholar with a comprehensive “real world” understanding of how Walmart and Nestlé work together to solve a problem.

This past fall semester “challenge” project was entitled “Fully Servicing the SNAP And WIC Customer During High Voucher Redemption Periods.” The Walmart Scholar teams conducted rigorous and extensive primary and secondary research and presented their strategic and tactical findings and recommendations as to how to achieve a better in-stock position on Nestle brands (as well as other family groups) during the first 10 days of the month while targeting a specific customer demographic and psychographic profile.

At the end of the semester, the student teams presented their findings and recommendations to a panel of judges from Walmart, Nestlé, the department and the Academy of Food Marketing. Feedback from all involved was one of unbridled enthusiasm. Cash prizes and other awards were presented to the winning team as well as the runners-up.

Summer Scholars

The university offers a summer scholars program whereby students work with selected faculty on common research projects. This past summer one of my summer scholars, Bridget Babson, developed “An Interactive Approach to Educating Philadelphia Youth and Their Families on Nutrition.”

The research emanated from the growing nationwide obesity epidemic and the fact that Philadelphia is statistically the most obese among the ten largest cities. This unwanted distinction is no doubt a reflection of the high proportion of low-income families living in the city, since nutritious foods such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains often cost more than fast food or snack items. Access to these foods is another obstacle to establishing healthy eating practices, as many sections of the city have been deemed food deserts.

With this as background, Bridget developed 123.Eat: A Nutrition Education Toolkit for Children and Their Families. The toolkit covered areas such as calories, food labels, in the kitchen, getting food and getting fit. For each area she provided easy explanations and simple examples which could be understood by the intended audience. The toolkit is fun and easy to read and represents an opportunity for a retailer and manufacturer to give back to the community in an efficient and effective manner and at the same time develop a differential advantage.

I recommend that retailers and their CPG counterparts consider developing similar programs with a neighboring university. The investment is minor, but the results are significant.  I would be more than happy to provide additional information on both of these collaborations as well as send an electronic copy of the Nutrition Education Toolkit. 

Richard J. George, Ph.D. is chair and Professor of Food Marketing, Gerald E. Peck Fellow,  Haub School of Business at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia. He can be reached at  610-660-1608, rgeorge@sju.edu or www.rjgeorge.com.

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