MBA Students at Nyenrode Aim to Restore Trust in the Food Industry

Nyenrode students, from left to right: Gareth Mead, Yiyao Pat Le, Hasan Tahir and Karoly Cserfalvi

A team of MBA students at Nyenrode Business University have taken advantage of the program’s ‘meet the CEO’ sessions to develop a proposed solution to tackle the lack of trust in the food industry, with animal feed company Nutreco.

Nyenrode’s ‘meet the CEO’ sessions enable MBA students to meet the CEOs of various high-profile companies and present their ideas for a business challenge they’ve identified within the company.

The group of four – Karoly Cserfalvi (interviewed here), Gareth Mead, Yiyao Pat Le and Hasan Tahir – were initially trepidatious about taking on a project for Nutreco, as none of them had previous experience in the food or agriculture industry. However, as Gareth Mead explains, this lack of experience turned out to be an advantage rather than a burden:

“Our outside perspective, not being industry experts, helped give us an alternative angle. Rather than focus on incremental technological advances that stand to benefit the largest farmers, we want to regain consumer confidence.”

Developing a solution

Consumer confidence in the food industry was the key issue the group wanted to tackle when their opportunity came to pitch to the CEO of Nutreco, Knut Nesse. This is a concern of Nutreco themselves, who wanted to better integrate responsibility and sustainability into their core of operations.

Yiyao Pat Le emphasizes just how timely the need to build trust in the food industry is:

“Consumer confidence in food production has plummeted after a barrage of high-profile recalls over the past decade. For instance, 33 percent of UK consumers trust the food industry less than they did five years ago.”

The group suggested utilising blockchain technology to track food from farm to plate, building a chain of trust between farmers, companies (such as Nutreco) and consumers. Mead explains why Nutreco are in such a strong position to carry out this vision:

“The tools already exist to trace every moment of an animals’ existence from farm to plate, but they need to be aggregated and scaled so they become accessible to farmers in emerging economies too. To make this work requires all parts of the food supply chain to collaborate.

“Nutreco, as leading animal feed producers, are close to the farmers and can play a major role in forming this coalition to create a trusted, sustainable food industry”.

With a tight project timeline (two weeks from start to finish), the team had to work efficiently and effectively. However, they had an advantage with their global team, giving them a broader viewpoint to find a solution.

Mead continues: “Our team could draw on experience from countries all over the world- Western and Eastern Europe, China, and emerging economies, which all face the same problem: how to feed people safely and sustainably”.

The summit of their endeavours

The group also had a worthwhile opportunity to present their idea at the Seeds & Chips summit in Milan. The Seeds & Chips summit bills itself as the world’s largest food technology event, attracting speakers from all over the world (in 2017, this included former US President Barack Obama).

Nyenrode alumna Princess Viktoria de Bourbon de Parma helped the students get onto the conference agenda, as she was also speaking at the summit on the issue of abolishing child hunger. The group presented their idea in the main hall, to an engaged audience with similar visions, as Le explains:

“It was heartening to hear so many common themes that resonated with our thinking, it left us with an impression that the groundwork has been laid for rebuilding trust in the industry. The world is ready, it’s time for action.”

Impact on the MBA experience

Being involved with this project for Nutreco has had a significant impact on all group members, particularly when they were invited by Knut Nesse to speak to Nutreco’s (perhaps initially sceptical) board about their solution, as Le explains:

“It was the first time any of us had been in a board meeting of a billion-dollar company. At the end, most executives liked our proposal and showed strong interest for further discussions.”

Le’s journey with Nutreco is continuing past the group project, as she will be undertaking an internship with their sustainability team very soon, as well as involving them with her MBA thesis.

Mead sums up why this project for Nutreco, far from being just a run of the mill class assignment, made such a difference to the group’s MBA experience:

“I don’t think any of us envisaged speaking at a global event alongside the likes of former US Secretary of State John Kerry or the Executive Chairman of Starbucks, Howard Schultz when we started this project. It has been an invaluable lesson in the importance of seizing the opportunities in front of you and doing everything with passion.”

Written by Julia Gilmore

Julia is a writer for TopMBA.com, publishing articles for business students and graduates across the world. A native Londoner, she holds an MSc in Marketing Strategy & Innovation from Cass Business School and a BA in Classical Studies & English from Newcastle University.

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