By: Cynthia Brazzel, Director, Member Relations and Advocacy for the Western Region, Food Marketing InstitutePSU Image

In 2017 FMI welcomed food retail University and College programs to become full-fledged members so they could access the research and resources of our association. At the same time, our University and College members offer our retail and wholesale members an important opportunity—access to career enhancement and life-long learning opportunities as well as access to an incoming talent pool of graduates. We’ll be profiling each of our University and College members to showcase their programs and how they can help advance food retail industry professionals.

Portland State University, home of the Vikings, first established the Center for Retail Leadership (CRL) in the 1990s and around the same time started the Food Industry Leadership Certificate (FILC) in response to industry demand for a pipeline of talent. The Center has evolved as the industry has changed and today prides itself on being the testing ground for innovation in retail. Today’s program is called the Food, Beverage & Goods Leadership Certificate and provides undergraduate students with an educational foundation in the field of food distribution, marketing, and management. 

I recently spoke with Jennifer Nolfi, executive director of the CRL and learned more about the program and what she’s seeing in the future of the food retail workforce.

The Proving Ground

The Center for Retail Leadership at Portland State University is rewriting the story of retail. By that they mean they, “unite students, industry partners, and faculty researchers behind a singular vision: that retail is the place where ideas come to life; the moment of truth for innovation, where concepts meet customers and needs meet solutions,” shared Nolfi. In other words, they are the Proving Ground for the retail industry to experiment with ideas and discover solutions.

Nolfi shared, “We are committed to providing experiences outside of the classroom that support our students and industry partners. In addition to sponsored student immersion programs at the Private Label Manufacturers Association, we offer a variety of initiatives that facilitate valuable connections and opportunities, including student groups, quarterly retail events, a podcast, monthly coffee chats and our pop-up experiment.”

Pop-Up Experimentation

Retail is a sensory experience and the Center’s collaborative pop-up series with leading brands creates a physical manifestation of The Proving Ground. Nolfi shared that these pop-ups, “give partners real-time market insights, and inspire staff and students to reimagine the future of retail with a hands-on approach.”

From my previous experience working with a CPG manufacturer I can attest to how valuable these micro experiments can be. The chance to test a new product, a new display, technologies and more as a retail experience with educational professionals is a real value-add not only to the students, but to the participating industry leaders as well.

The Career Path of Tomorrow

There’s a lot of talk in the retail industry about changes in our workforce, and when I asked Nolfi what’s she’s seeing, I found her response follows closely with findings in our U.S. Grocery Shopper Trends and Food Retailing Industry Speaks research. She shared, “We are seeing job titles and responsibilities focused on the consumer experience. We are moving from omnichannel to consumer-centric.”

Nolfi continued, “There are also a lot of jobs that require data analytics skills in order to better understand the consumer—how, when and why they shop—and better inform strategic business decisions and storytelling. Analytics is becoming more present at all levels and disciplines throughout PSU’s business curriculum.”

Learn more about Portland State University’s Center for Retail Leadership: