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

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.

Cornell University’s Food Industry Management Program (FIMP) is part of the Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management in the S. C. Johnson  College of Business and has been educating students and food industry professionals since 1958. The program offers three ways to educate about the food industry:

  • Traditional courses resulting in bachelor's, master's, and Ph.D. degrees;
  • Research focused on high-priority issues facing the food industry; and
  • Executive education for industry leaders.

This trifecta of learning opportunities makes the Cornell FIMP program unique and has produced graduates who today are abundant throughout the food retail and food industries. FMI has a long history of working with Cornell in addition to the FIMP, including partnering with Cornell University’s Department of Food Science, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to develop the FoodKeeper, a database of food safety and storage advice to help shoppers maintain freshness and quality of foods.

I recently spoke with two faculty and staff members of Cornell’s FIMP program, Edward McLaughlin, Robert G. Tobin Professor of Marketing, and director of FIMP and Bill Drake, senior extension associate and director, executive education of FIMP and asked them for some insights on the future of the food retail workforce.

McLaughlin started by pointing out the main issue food retailers face around workforce today, saying, “Retailers have watched with forlorn as some of the best college graduates have gone to other industries after graduation. Most recently, graduates of our program have chosen careers in finance or emerging ecommerce or technology ecommerce companies or even with experiential retailers over traditional food retail and food industry roles.”

“Retailers need to be realistic about the career paths they offer and look for ways to enhance them,” said McLaughlin. “For example, the employee that started working in your store at the age of 16 could benefit from exposure to the opportunities that exist at your headquarters, many of which they are never even aware of.”

Recruiters for the food retail and food industry today are looking for graduates with more than just a set of background knowledge. McLaughlin and Drake regularly survey recruiters about the traits they are looking for in new hires and report that, “Analytical skills, such as spreadsheet modeling, coupled with a track records of leadership and strong communications skills,” repeatedly come out on top.

On the flip side, when it comes to attracting newly graduated talent, McLaughlin and Drake advised food retailers to, “Develop a credible story and strategy for differentiation. Students graduating today want to know how their career path is going to look and what opportunities are going to be offered to them. It’s not enough to know the standard career trajectory. They want to know the challenges and opportunities a career in food retail is going to offer. Are you looking to expand omnichannel? Will you be pushing the limits on fresh merchandising? Will they be able to exercise their creativity? Graduates want to know the prospects ahead.”

For current professionals in the food retail and food industry, McLaughlin and Drake stressed the value of life-long learning. “Our Food Executive Program July 14 – 19, 2019, for example, has been going on for 55 years and regularly attracts professionals mid-career to help them adopt new perspectives and skill sets in the food and consumer products industries. We’re honored to have FMI’s president and CEO, Leslie Sarasin, speaking at the event this summer as she has for many years.”

Learn more about the upcoming Food Executive Program and Cornell University’s Food Industry Management Program.