Competition draws student teams from across California and the West
Student teams from business schools and universities from across California and the West convened at the UC Davis Graduate School of Management this month to go head-to-head in the 2nd Annual Food & Ag Business Challenge—with $6,000 awarded to the top competitors.
Six teams of three students, including a team of UC Davis MBAs, put their collective experience, knowledge and skills to work on a 100+ page case study focusing on a real-time business issue facing Driscoll’s, the world’s largest berry company and lead sponsor of the challenge.
Over the course of the two-day challenge, students had about 15 hours to research, develop and present an action plan to a panel of industry executives from Coca Cola, HM.CLAUSE, E.& J. Gallo Winery, ofi, BioConsortia and Driscoll’s, who judged the teams’ final presentations.
After a walking campus tour, students enjoyed an opening reception Friday evening with introductions by Dean H. Rao Unnava, followed by dinner and keynote speakers from Driscoll’s who introduced the case challenge and fielded questions from the students.
Driscoll’s Senior Director of Sales and Operations Planning & Quality Operations Hua Huyhn set the stage, explaining that the pandemic caused a significant shift in the market.
“Forty-four to forty-five weeks out of the year, we don’t have enough supply,” said Huyhn. “And when the global pandemic hit in March of 2020, people started to work from home. People were no longer going out and buying lunch…We can see from our consumer data that people were adopting healthier lifestyles...and including more berries into their breakfast, snacks, salads—and the demand is not slowing down.”
Then students buckled down and got to work, preparing for a late night.
The Berry Challenge
Their challenge: assess the vulnerability of the current Driscoll’s supply chain operations and make recommendations on how to improve the distribution network to reduce the time it takes to deliver Driscoll’s berries to customers, regardless of geography.
Much caffeine, pizza and snacks later, by early Saturday morning they were ready to pitch their solutions.
The students’ recommendations included weather-tracking systems, hydroponics farming and 3-D printing widgets to decrease the pace of ripening fruit.
In the end, the panel of judges awarded third place to the UC Davis team of Lucas Haskins, Gordon Chang and Nathaniel Morrison, tied with the team from the University of California, Berkeley. Both teams earned $1,000. The University of California, Riverside, team placed second with $1,500 in prize money. The judges awarded the Colorado State University team first place and $2,500.
“The Food & Ag Business Challenge organized by the Graduate School of Management (GSM) team is such a fantastic opportunity for the students to dissect challenging business problems through collective thinking,” said Sukhpreet Sandhu, an intellectual property and innovation manager for HM.CLAUSE, who served as a judge.
HM.CLAUSE is a long-time corporate partner of the GSM, sponsor of the challenge, custom executive education client, and hires UC Davis MBA students for internship and career roles. The global ag firm specializes in the breeding, production and sales of vegetable seeds.
“I was impressed to see the cohesion and teamwork of all the teams,” said Sandhu of HM.CLAUSE. “The presentations were well organized, thoughtful and we saw some out-of-the-box thinking.”
Industry Immersion Experience
For the UC Davis team, the Food & Ag Business Challenge offered yet another opportunity to meet and network with corporate partners and peer students as part of the interdisciplinary Food & Ag Industry Immersion experience at the GSM.
"As we approach graduation from the MBA program, we were grateful to have the opportunity to work together on an intriguing business challenge for one of the leading companies in the food and agriculture industry,” said UC Davis MBA student Nathaniel Morrison.
“Also, we were glad to act as “unofficial hosts” for the other business schools, showing them around our campus and sharing with them the great opportunities for learning and professional development we have received here at the UC Davis GSM."
Mark your calendar for the third annual UC Davis Food & Ag Business Challenge scheduled for April 5-6, 2024.