Innovative Thinking

MU students place second at Food Distribution Research Society Student Marketing Case Competition

Four University of Missouri students placed second at the recent Food Distribution Research Society (FDRS) Student Marketing Case Competition.

The competition took place in Washington, D.C., during the FDRS annual conference, which was held Sept. 14-18. Students who participate have the opportunity to play the role of consultants for an industry client and apply their knowledge of food distribution, marketing, management, economics and merchandising to a real-world problem.

This year’s case study was centered on providing distribution solutions for the Farmers Market Coalition in the D.C. area. The challenge was to find a way to provide better communication between local farmers markets, vendors and consumers.

MU team members Emma Boase, Drew Cox, Maria Kuhns and Alex Stichnote pitched the idea of a phone application that would provide information on the date, time and location of the farmers markets, as well as a list and bio of vendors and their products.

“We were really just trying to find a way to put information into the hands of any person that really wants it,” said Maria Kuhns, an agribusiness management senior from Mason, Illinois. “Being that we’re young and use our phones a lot, an application just seemed like the best way to have real-time information.”

The students were given two weeks for research. In D.C., they attended a one-hour presentation with more information about the case and then had four hours to finish their own presentation. There were two rounds of the competition. During the first round, the team presented their idea in front of academics in food distribution. In the second round, they presented their idea in front of the clients who were all representatives of the Farmers Market Coalition.

“Because we are on such a time crunch, there’s no time to argue,” said Alex Stichnote, an agribusiness management senior from Ashland, Missouri. “You have to just make a decision and go with it. That was really impactful because if the decision isn’t the one that you wanted, you just kind of have to move on.”

The team was given a tentative budget of $15,000; however, they took a risk as the application they pitched would cost $250,000. Their idea was to have the Farmers Market Coalition apply for grants to receive additional funding.

“The most important thing I learned was how to communicate with people if you push their boundaries,” Kuhns said. “Sometimes if you just present something, like well we’re going to try to do something that’s way over your budget, they are just going to shut down. So you have to figure out how to talk to them about like this isn’t in your budget, it’s out of your comfort zone, but we have a plan to help you get there.”

The competition provided the students with real-world experience.

“I think a lot of times people have really impressive resumes, but that’s just words on paper,” Kuhns said. “Things like this give you real-life skills that you can definitely apply or show. So if an employer wonders why you would be the best choice, having an actual example of something you’ve done kind of takes you to the next level.”

“It was a chance to learn about something that I knew nothing about and then potentially solve an issue,” said Drew Cox, an agribusiness management senior from Princeton, Missouri.

“I learned how to work effectively in a high-stakes group environment,” said Emma Boase, a graduate student studying agricultural and applied economics from Palmerston North, New Zealand. “I also learned to be able to present something you may not necessarily be an expert on in a manner that relates to the client.”

The students are all part of MU’s National Agri-Marketing Association. The team members encourage students of all majors to become involved with this competition and similar ones.

“All students should get involved in case study competitions as it gives you a unique set of skills that are incredibly useful in both your studies and the workforce,” Boase said.

“I think that this is something that people don’t recognize goes on and there’s a lot of opportunity, not just for ag business students, to be a part of this.” Cox said.

Kuhns said she wanted students to see the value in becoming involved on and off campus.

“This is the stuff that really makes your education well-rounded.” Kuhns said. “You won’t regret it in the future.”

“If you really want to do something, especially something like this, where you can put together a team and really represent the university well, go to the higher ups in whatever department you’re in and just ask.” Stichnote said. “Utilize the connections of the university to gain experiences that you wouldn’t get any other way.”

The Division of Applied Social Sciences sponsored the team’s expenses related to the competition.