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UCD: Putting the business of food on education menu

Mix of agri-food and business content will appeal to today’s graduates

The UCD Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School has launched a new MSc in Food Business Strategy, which will blend theory and practice to prepare graduates for a career in the rapidly-evolving and increasingly-important food business sector.

Beginning in September, the new programme has been devised jointly by the UCD Smurfit School and the UCD School of Agriculture and Food Science. The course will focus on developing students’ strategic perspective on doing business within the industry, as well as their understanding of the sector in which food businesses operate.

"The agri-food and drink sector is a driver of economic growth in Ireland. Food and drink companies in this indigenous industry employ some 50,000 people and achieved close to €10 billion in exports to over 160 countries in 2013," according Simon Coveney, Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine.

“Ireland, a country of just 4.5 million people, needs agile businesses capable of world- class delivery in product, skills and customer focus. The opportunity related to the ending of milk quotas next year and the ambition of companies across the sector can deliver world- class sustainable growth.


“This new Food Business Strategy course, with its multi-disciplinary approach, will be particularly valuable in equipping the next generation of food and drink industry employees with the insight to respond to ever-changing industry trends.”

Deep understanding
The unique mix of agri-food and business content makes the course particularly relevant to today's graduates, according to UCD business dean Prof Ciarán Ó hÓgartaigh.

“The food industry is critical for Ireland and, in the context of the growing demand for food, for the world. UCD Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School is at the forefront in developing courses that are relevant and that contribute to social and economic development by drawing on the strengths and needs of Ireland to enhance our international reputation and reach.

“The course will offer a unique opportunity to receive the highest quality business education as well as to gain a deep understanding of the food sector, equipping graduates with the necessary management and strategy development and implementation skills for the domestic and international food and drink industry.”

Damien McLoughlin, professor of marketing at the UCD Smurfit School, explains that the programme has been devised as a result of a number of factors. “The first is the absolute explosion of interest among students in the agriculture and food sectors. While the logic is that most of those students will end up in the food and agriculture-related courses and others will be in the science end, a significant proportion are interested in the business end of the industry.”

He believes this interest is at least in part-driven by the strong growth in the Irish food industry and the success of Irish food companies on the international stage. "The real global champions for this country are companies like Glanbia, Kerry, Aryzta and the major beef companies, and they are demanding the highest quality graduates to work for them in key business roles as well as scientific roles," says McLoughlin.

“It is not unusual to see customers of these major companies in the innovation labs with the scientists and the account managers discussing new product developments and very often these customer account managers will have come from a scientific background.”

Another key factor in the launch of the MSc in Food Business Strategy programme is the way education has been developing at UCD. “The days when students came to UCD to study a single discipline are coming to an end,” he explains. “We already have the UCD Horizons Programme which ensures that students take modules which are not directly related to their course. A commerce student might take some science or other modules for example. A feature of graduate education in future will be co-operation between faculties and this collaboration between agriculture and business is very exciting.”

That collaborative approach has led to a course which is not merely a combination of elements from the two disciplines but something completely unique. “There are no common modules on the programme,” McLoughlin points out. “For example, in marketing one module is on customer-driven marketing in the food industry and is unique to this programme. The course is exclusively about the food business and that makes it very different.”

Consumer choice
And the food industry is different. "Take supply chain management for example. Last week I ate grapes from India, but I don't want to eat grapes that are grown to a poor standard or where unethical labour practices have been used. All of that and more has to be looked after. And while this week the grapes were coming from India they might have been from South Africa three months ago, while oranges might be from Spain this week and from Brazil in the winter. This all has to be managed if we want to eat fruit all year round."

While food is a highly-regulated industry and this places its own demands on managers, another factor in the creation of the new course is the impact of consumer choice on the industry. "In McDonald's in Ireland, they have advertisements featuring the farmers who supply the beef for the burgers. In Australia, there's a barcode on the burger packaging which you can scan and that will let you see the farm which produced the beef. That's the direction things are going. The industry is dramatically different even to what it was just 10 years ago and we are preparing graduates for careers in it."

Also being offered by the UCD Smurfit School at present is the Bord Bia Marketing Fellowship. This intensive 12- month learning programme gives successful candidates the combined opportunity to gain hands-on experience working with some of Ireland’s leading food companies and also gain a master’s degree. Participants’ time will be split between working in one of 14 key international markets supported by Bord Bia and studying for the MSc in International Marketing Practice at UCD Smurfit School.

“There are huge opportunities for graduates here in Ireland as well as internationally but we need these great young people to work in Ireland particularly. People like Glanbia chief executive Siobhán Talbot, herself a UCD graduate, are great managers and great role models for this generation of graduates. It’s a very exciting time to be in food.”

Applications are still open for the MSc Food Business Strategy commencing in September. smurfitschool.ie/ourcourses/masters/foodbusiness/