Cal Poly Agricultural Business students won first place for the second year in a row at a student case study competition, which allowed students the opportunity to address real-world issues currently impacting the food industry.

The team consisted of four seniors –– Carsen Beckwith, Kaylee Earnshaw, Megan Poyar and Brittney Tran –– and was advised by associate professor Richard Volpe. Each student on the team was rewarded $4,000 as a prize.

The National Grocers Association (NGA), a foundation which supports grocers with recruitment programs and professional development opportunities, returned to an in-person format for its annual 2022 Case Study Competition in Las Vegas, Nevada. Every year, NGA chooses an independent retailer and pressing industry issue to use as a subject for the competition.

This year the competition was focused on Woodman’s, an independent supermarket chain operating in Wisconsin and Illinois, with 19 stores total. The company was hoping to be provided with solutions for improving its e-commerce presence and better-utilizing customer data. 

“I didn’t have much knowledge of the grocery industry, so it was really cool to learn the behind-the-scenes operations of a grocery store chain and to also network with members of the industry at the event,” Tran said. “Our basic solution was to implement a loyalty program in order to collect customer data. From there I learned how we could take this knowledge and use it to our advantage to solve complex problems the company was facing.”

Cal Poly was among nine other schools that competed in a bracket-style competition from Feb. 27 to March 1 and, in the end, was up against Auburn University. 

The competing schools are all members of the Food Industry University Coalition, which have programs that relate directly to the food retail sector. The other schools competing against Cal Poly were Arizona State University, Cal Poly Pomona, Findlay University, Fresno State, Niagara University, St. Joseph’s University and Western Michigan University.

After researching solutions and ideas, the student teams from each school presented their findings to a panel of judges, executives from Woodman’s and NGA Show attendees. 

The Cal Poly team had begun preparing for the competition during winter break and worked on the prompt throughout the winter quarter. 

Team adviser Volpe hosted an internal competition in which four students in the senior project course Agribusiness Consulting (AGB 463) prepared solutions. 

“My senior project class is designed to produce a team for this competition,” Volpe said. “I have about 20 students from four to five groups and each develops a proposed solution to the case study prompt.”

The winning team in the class competition were the ones selected to advance to represent Cal Poly at the NGA competition.

During preparation for the competition, the team spends more time practicing mock Q&As than the actual presentation, according to Volpe. 

Volpe said “lines can be memorized” but she wanted her “team to be ready for anything once the judges ask their questions.”

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