Sponsored content is premium paid-for content produced by the Irish Times Content Studio on behalf of commercial clients. The Irish Times newsroom or other editorial departments are not involved in the production of sponsored content.

All the ingredients for a worthwhile collaboration

Students receive training in business concepts and practice in industry-specific areas such as food policy and agri-economics

The UCD Masters in Food Business Strategy prepares students for the uniquely challenging environment within which Irish agrifood businesses operate. Offered jointly by the School of Agriculture and Food Science, UCD and the Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School, UCD, students receive training in business concepts and practice as well as in industry-specific areas such as food policy and agri-economics.

The course had its first intake in 2014 as the world began to recover from the global financial crash, according to programme director Dr James Breen. “We are now heading into our ninth year,” he says. “The programme is built on the strengths of both schools. The School of Agriculture and Food Science is ranked fifth in Europe and 24th globally by US News & World Report. The Smurfit School was ranked 28th in the Financial Times ranking of leading European business schools. That gave us the ingredients for a very worthwhile collaboration.”

The climate was good for the launch of the programme with new opportunities opening up for the industry. “There was the milk quota removal in 2015 and the Food Harvest 2020 strategy with its very ambitious growth targets. They helped generate renewed interest in the industry. It was an opportune time to launch a new programme to equip graduates for management roles in the agrifood industry.”

The masters programme tends to attract students from three broad groupings. “The first is students from a scientific background in areas like food science, food technology, animal or crop sciences, who want to work in managerial roles in the food industry. The masters upskills them in business areas. It gives them the skills required to go into marketing, procurement and other management roles. That group accounts for about one-third of our intake.”


The second group comes from a business background. “They have done a commerce or business degrees but don’t know a lot about the food industry. The third is very diverse and comes from areas like law, sociology and languages. The common factor between them all is a passion for the food industry. The masters is a gateway to a role in the industry. In some cases they want to start their own business, or they might want to work with a small artisan food company or work for one of the major companies like Glanbia.”

In addition, about one-third of the students come from overseas, mainly from Asia, Europe and the US. “This reflects the high standing internationally of the two partners. That reputation will help students find good jobs after graduation.

“That diversity is very important,” says Breen. “Students from science and business backgrounds bring particular skill sets while the others bring different perspectives. That plays well in the classroom and is a real positive for group work.”

Course delivery is split between the two schools. “The Smurfit School offers modules in marketing, supply chain management, and the other key skills students need for managerial roles in agrifood sector. The School of Agriculture and Food Science modules give students a good understanding of the agrifood industry covering areas like policy, economics, and innovation in agriculture.”

A key element of the course is the group projects which students work on in conjunction with Irish food companies. “The companies come in with a challenge they are facing like growing sales by a certain percentage or a new product launch. A group of students work on that project. The company comes back in at the end when the group pitches its proposals. The groups carry out market research, consumer surveys, organise focus groups, interviews with brand managers and so on, and come up with detailed marketing strategies for product launches, export strategies and so on. We work with leading companies like Cully & Sully, Strong Roots and Kepak. These projects bring together key learnings from the programme and allow students to apply them to real world problems. It’s not a hypothetical exercise.”

This is where the diversity of the students comes into play. “If they come from a food science background, they can help with new product development, business graduates can help with marketing and other aspects, while sociology and economics graduates are very good at collecting and analysing data.”

Interest in the programme remains very strong. “There are still huge opportunities out there for the industry,” Breen says. “These are being driven by global population growth and increasing affluence in developing countries.”

People can learn more about the programme at first hand at the UCD School of Agriculture and Food Science stand at the Ploughing in Ratheniska, Co Laois next week. “This is the first Ploughing since before Covid. We will be promoting all our programmes there. Anyone interested in Masters in Food Business Strategy can find out about it first hand there.”