Oregon Executive MBA Blog

Shifts in the Trade Winds: IFT16 and the Opportunity of Conscious Consumption

If you haven’t met me, the basic introduction is that I’m using my time in the Oregon MBA to build a career that impacts sustainable food and agriculture. This path led me to interning with Mercaris, a startup that provides rare and valuable market intelligence to the organic grain industry. Also, nice to meet you, hope you’re having a nice summer, and welcome to the Oregon MBA!

The IFT16 Trade Show Floor

The trade show floor at IFT16

Two weeks ago, I represented Mercaris at IFT16, an international convention of food scientists and industry professionals. The conference promoted professional development through shared research. Meanwhile, an accompanying trade show attracted a cross section of the industry, all vying to show their “on trend” ingredients, equipment, and processes.

Being new to the world of food science, I noticed a unifying trend: the prevalence of informed, discerning, and wary consumers. If you have paid attention to food advertising in the last five years, you’ll recognize terms like “clean ingredients” and “sustainable sourcing.” You might also know a little bit more about technical ideas like probiotics, antioxidants, or minimal processing. You might be attempting a diet that is “free from” ingredients like gluten, sugar, sodium, and even meat. You might even classify yourself as a locavore, a flexitarian, or just a foodie in general. And the most interesting part of this amazing development is how it has taken the food industry by surprise.

A keynote seminar underlined the gap in understanding between the food scientists and the food consumers. A marketing executive presented the findings of C+R Research, which conducted a marketing study on the clean label trend. He stated that clean label claims and minimalist packaging are “a backlash and a challenge to Big Food companies” and they target a mainstream audience. 69% of those surveyed reported consistent label-reading behavior. Consumers are certainly awakened to the idea that some food products have negative health benefits. More importantly, consumers woke up to the idea that some companies have a consistent track record of stakeholder care. 47% of those surveyed reported the use of simple strategies to meet their personal dietary requirements, including trust in certain retail outlets or packaged products.

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Me and a 2,000lb tote, a standard of transportation for food commodities

In another age, health and wellness were confined to certain high-value customer segments. However, the final takeaway from C+R Research pointed to a tectonic shift in consumer behavior: when it comes to food, education and socio-economic status are no longer the reliable barometers they once were. Conscious consumption now cuts across class, with consumer age playing a key role for segmentation purposes. Millennials and Boomers are more receptive to clean label claims than are Gen Xers, but all generations exhibit some level of food literacy which impacts their purchase behavior. As one Gen X member of a live consumer panel remarked, “they put [high fructose corn syrup] in our food and we got fat as a nation… I’m mad at them.”

And so, to what cause do we attribute this disconnect between consumer and industry? Alarmist documentaries like “Cowspiracy,” and “Food, Inc.” paint a grim picture of multinationals that hide their nefarious production practices or actively sacrifice the health of people and planet in the name of profit margins. From my position on the trade floor, however, the disconnect seems to stem from reductionist science. As one executive from the GreenBiz Group noted, the purpose of a food company is to create products with an eye toward cost, safety, and taste. Within this spectrum of values, raw food commodities boil down to fats, sweeteners, and emulsifying agents. They are designed for shelf-stability and are marketed for mass appeal.

Once you add nutrition to this mix, the food scientists begin to scratch their heads. A food product is only the sum of its ingredients, and meeting dietary guidance is a matter of stacking nutritional values. Under this lens, food science looks more like product development, while nutrition separates into another discipline altogether. Food scientists are rapidly trying to address this gap in their education; one of my favorite seminars was amusingly titled “Nutrition and Food: An Obvious but Little Appreciated Partnership.”

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A consumer panel hosted by C+R Research

The trend towards health and wellness has seismic implications for the entire supply chain. Going forward, consumers will reward food companies for their attention to nutritional economics and transparency, rather than for their cost economics and quality control. Furthermore, as the world shifts towards more sustainable diets, food companies will be rewarded for communicating the environmental impact of their ingredients. The IFIC reports that for 41% of consumers, the sustainability of a food product is an order winner. And Big Food is responding with agility. A seminar on sustainable proteins illuminated the development—and the opportunity—of supply chains based around plant, insect, and cultured proteins.

At IFT16, I tasted the future of food. Protein bars made with chia, amaranth, and algae oil. Egg-free chocolate chip cookies made with a chickpea flour. 100% Guatemalan dark roast served on a nitro similar to Guinness, and an Indian spice cold brew made with tamarind. Naan pizza. Spaghetti-and-mealworms. I also had updated versions of trending classics like the mango smoothie and the grilled cheese sandwich. IFT16 stimulated all my senses and sensibilities, and I am fortunate for the experience.

Written by Joey Jaraczewski

Jaraczewski joins the Oregon MBA with a passion for changing the food industry. He grew up in rural Arizona and has spent the past four years exploring the world of food from multiple angles. He’s worked as a server and bartender in Flagstaff and traveled across the country visiting farms, feedlots, food distribution warehouses, and retailers. As an Oregon MBA on the sustainability track, Jaraczewski plans to build on that experience to explore ways to build a more sustainable food system for generations to come. Jaraczewski will graduate as an Oregon MBA with the class of 2017.

OEMBA Director’s Blog: February 2015

Happy Groundhog’s Day. FYI, the nation’s designated groundhog did see his shadow, signaling six more weeks of winter. In my Minnesota days, this was always cause for celebration—“Only six more weeks of winter!”

In Portland, I don’t expect the rain to stop in six weeks. Herewith, the second monthly blog to update students, staff, faculty, alumni, and other friends on what’s going on at 200 Market Street. As always, please let me know if there are issues you would like to see in this space.

Thanks to Instructor Heidi Connole for inviting potential students from the January information session into her Global Business class to participate in a case discussion. Special thanks to Natalie Miller, Class 28, for attending the info session to answer questions. If you missed it, please check out our story on Apply101, the company Miller started with fellow student Steve Baer.

Miller related during the info session about how an alum read the story about her and Baer’s new venture on the Lundquist College of Business website. That alum then contacted Miller to express interest in expanding to his neck of the woods, which happens to be in China. (Our slogan is, after all, “Oregon Roots Global Reach.”)

Speaking of alumni, the OEMBA Alumni Association continues to impress. The latest in their speaker series was Dr. Brandon Barnett, Class 16, director of business innovation at Intel. Barnett talked about Intel’s use of big data to find opportunities. The word is getting out about these talks too. I counted 30 in attendance on a Wednesday evening. Some alumni in attendance had not yet been to 200 Market Street before.

Earlier that same day (January 28), our future neighbors at the Oregon College of Oriental Medicine conducted a very kind-hearted ceremony essentially blessing the new building. It was conducted from their rooftop, which looks down on the building site. We are planning an alumni happy hour celebrating the project on April 2 using that location. Hope to see you all there.

We also hope to see ground broken soon on our future location in Portland Old Town Chinatown, but understand that these projects face a long list of hurdles.

The mood of our students at 200 Market is especially serious in January and February. First-year students face arguably their most difficult pairing of courses with Managerial Accounting and Statistics at the same time. Second-year students are attacking their capstone projects with renewed purpose. We are, as always, extremely proud of the way they are able to balance coursework, professional responsibilities, and home life.

See you all back here in March.

Dave

Written by David Boush

David Boush has been on the faculty of the Lundquist College of Business since 1987. Before becoming Executive Director of the OEMBA he was a senior associate dean in the LCB and served on several occasions as the Marketing Department Head. His wife Dara is a retired IT manager. They have two grown sons and two grandchildren.

OEMBA Director’s Blog: January 2015

Happy New Year

My New Year’s resolution is to write a monthly blog to update Oregon Executive MBA students, staff, faculty, alumni, and other friends on what’s going on at 200 Market. I’ll keep them short. Please let me know if there are issues you would like to see in this space.

Special Thanks

To all the guest speakers in fall classes, thank you. Class 29 and 30 students learned about agricultural drones, retail design, patent law, strategic communication, financial planning, and lots of other very topical cool stuff. We didn’t always get the stories into “This Week in Class,” but we are all in your debt. I’m afraid to try and list you all lest someone is left out.

Thanks also to alumni Joe Pugh, Jim Pernas, and Nate Nilles, who were so generous with their time in the information sessions for new students. Nothing is as important to prospective students as the real scoop from alumni.

New Developments

One of the most exciting things I’ve seen in the past six months is the reenergized Oregon Executive MBA Alumni Association. They have a great speaker series, a lively newsletter, and they are connecting with the UO Alumni Association. I know we can do great things together.

In other developments, design on the new building and the future home of the Oregon Executive MBA across from White Stag is proceeding apace. I have been working closely with the architecture firm ZGF (who designed our space in 200 Market) and Ellen Devlin (who is spearheading the new Sport Products Management program, which will share the space with us Monday-Thursday). The new building will include a tiered classroom very much like the current one and a larger flat classroom than we have now. The two main benefits over the current facility will be more state-of-the-art technology and (drumroll . . . ) nine breakout rooms. We will also sometimes have access to facilities at White Stag if needed.

Live-streaming between 200 Market and the Bend Academic Extension facility has been mostly a success—in no small part because of the good humor of the Bend contingent. (This fall for the first time five students travelled to 200 Market once a month instead of every week).  We are still working out the challenges of camera placement. It’s the kind of issue that we should be able to improve in the new building.

Recommended Reading

John Eckroth introduced Class 30 financial accounting students to The Reckoning: Financial Accountability and the Rise and Fall of Nations by Jacob Soll. Spoiler alert: double-entry bookkeeping saved the world.  A perfect gift for any accountants you may know.

See you all back here in February.

Dave

Written by David Boush

David Boush has been on the faculty of the Lundquist College of Business since 1987. Before becoming Executive Director of the OEMBA he was a senior associate dean in the LCB and served on several occasions as the Marketing Department Head. His wife Dara is a retired IT manager. They have two grown sons and two grandchildren.