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B-Schools Driving Thirst For Tech Innovation In Global Beverage, Food Sector

New global wine MBA shows the growing appetite for the food and beverage industries among business school students.

Wed Jun 10 2015

MBA students will be raising a glass to the business of wine at Sonoma State University, as the California-based business school announced plans to run a one-year, full-time MBA program focused on the fermented grape.

The launch of the Global Wine MBA will mark a growing appetite for the food and beverage industries among business school students.

San Francisco is renowned for its tech centre Silicon Valley but just north of the city, in the wineries of Napa Valley, Sonoma State is translating a global thirst for wine into a business education opportunity. A bevy of other schools run programs focused on this sector.

The Global Wine MBA will cater to a variety of topics including data analytics, as technology transforms farming, and food and drink production. Cloud computing, precision engineering and biotechnology have gained ground with consumer goods industry producers.

Sonoma State also announced the launch of its first French language certificate for the wine business, based in the US. “Since France is perceived to be the one of the greatest wine countries in the world, there seemed to be a natural synergy,” said Sonoma State professor Suzanne Toczyski. The school already offers an Executive Wine MBA.

Several top European business schools are running specialist MBA degrees in consumables and agriculture management

Bologna Business School in Italy is one – its 12-month MBA Food and Wine program is in its fourth year.

“Food and wine represent local heritage and local roots,” said Ludovica Leone, co-director of the MBA Food and Wine program at Bologna. “[But] increasingly, students are coming from Asia, South America, Africa and the US.”

For Italy, wine is still one of the major drivers of exports and is seen as an affordable luxury among consumers.

“Food and beverage is one of the things which Italy is proud [of],” said Chiara Mauri, program director for the master of management in food and beverage at Milan’s SDA Bocconi School of Management.

But food and beverage is becoming a global business, she said, and being able to play on a global scale is key for companies in the industry.

However, with a growing global taste for wine comes challenges. One is catering to so many different pallets. “The wine producers [need] to learn how they can push their products onto the markets after centuries of simply responding [to] the demand,” said Jérôme Gallo, head of Burgundy’s School of Wine & Spirits Business.

At Burgundy, the one-year wine management MSc had 44 students enrolled last year. In light of the financial crisis, more managers are developing an appetite for sectors that satisfy life’s more basic needs. Jérôme puts this down to enhanced job opportunities

The master of management in food and beverage at SDA Bocconi is supported by major consumer goods brands such as Barilla Group.

Students in such programs are finding careers in companies like SABMiller, the brewing and beverage giant, and Unilever, owner of a number of food and drinks brands.

They are mostly managers at the intersection of the tourism, consumer goods and luxury sectors.

The growth of new consuming and producing regions has strengthened career prospects. In China, for example, 2.2 billion bottles of wine were sold in 2013, making it the fifth-largest wine market by sales, according to International Wine and Spirits Research.

China has attracted business schools like INSEEC, part of a French education confederation based in the cities of Paris, Bordeaux, Lyon and Chambéry. It plans to launch wine marketing programs taught in Mandarin at universities in Beijing and Shanghai.

INSEEC already runs an MBA in wine marketing and management, an MBA in spirits marketing and management, and a luxury brand management MBA with a focus on food and wine. The INSEEC Wine & Spirits Institute was founded a decade ago and has about 300 students.

There are an estimated 3.5 million jobs in the wine and spirits industries globally, said Inseec Wine & Spirits Institute director Jean-François Ley, and there are 600,000 in France alone.

Growing producing regions have given rise to programs outside of Europe’s wine clusters.

Adelaide Business School in Australia, for instance, runs a master of wine business program, which has drawn 50 students from a cocktail of nations.

Dr Roberta Crouch, program director, said that people are realizing that the service industries which are aligned with tourism and entertainment will experience growth in future.

She added that graduates tend to land jobs across the wine industry including in tourism and hospitality businesses.

But it is not just courses in fine wines that business students are developing a taste for. The UK’s Royal Agricultural University (RAU), which offers two specialist food industry MBAs, aims to grow from 1,200 students to more than 2,000 over five years.

Between 10% and 15% of all jobs globally are in the agri-industries, which are estimated as being worth about $4 trillion, according to Kanes Rajah, dean of RAU’s School of Business and Entrepreneurship.

RAU students are finding jobs in sales, marketing, logistics, factory operations and production, as well as in the e-commerce sector and at traditional retail companies.

Technology, however, is where graduates may be most in demand. Tech is transforming farming and food production and, even for smaller companies, it is increasingly necessary to grow operations to afford the tech needed to remain competitive and efficient, and to provide solutions to address food security.

“Farms are getting bigger. EU subsidies may not be available in about 14 years’ time. We will need more educated farmers and rural entrepreneurs,” said RAU’s Kanes.