Tempting choices: Jean-François Ley of Inseec says a fragmented market offers opportunities
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Ever since the global crisis, when careers in the financial sector lost some of their allure, business students have been developing an appetite for industries that satisfy some of life’s more basic needs. Across Europe, schools that offer specialist courses in food and drink management are extending their scope and increasing their intakes as demand rises.

Inseec, a multi-centre business school with roots in Bordeaux in France, is planning wine marketing courses in Mandarin at universities in Beijing and Shanghai, seeking a partner in California and opening an offshoot in Beaune, in the eastern French wine region of Burgundy.

That throws down the gauntlet to Burgundy School of Business in Dijon, which has been training the region’s wine trade managers for a century and launched its School of Wine & Spirits Business in September 2013.

Meanwhile, the UK’s venerable Royal Agricultural University (RAU) in Gloucestershire, which offers two specialist food industry MBAs, aims to grow from 1,200 to more than 2,000 students within five years.

Jean-François Ley, director of Inseec’s wines and spirits division, says the drinks industry offers fascinating management challenges: despite annual wine revenues of $170bn and another $300bn from spirits, and its global scope, the industry is highly fragmented.

“The biggest spirits player commands only 2 per cent of the market,” says Ley. “The need to build brands and gain market insights is crucial. In this industry marketing is the management process.”

Inseec offers undergraduate training in wines and spirits management, as well as an MBA in wine marketing and management, an MBA in spirits marketing and management and a luxury brand management MBA with a focus on food and wine. The one-year wine MBA has more than 80 participants a year and the spirits course about 30. Both are taught in English, partly in Bordeaux and partly in London.

Given the estimated 3m-3.5m jobs in the wine industry worldwide, with as many as 600,000 in France alone, the number of business school places seems modest. “Our graduates have no difficulty finding jobs,” says Ley.

French business schools are building on historic expertise to lead management education in an industry that includes more than 60 wine-producing countries and where China now ranks fifth in the consumption league table.

Burgundy’s School of Wine & Spirits Business, which has a strong emphasis on research, is the latest development in response to global demand. To complement its long-standing French-language masters in international wine and spirit trading, the school started an MSc in wine business in 2008 and an MSc in wine management in 2012. The one-year wine management MSc, which has an optional six-month internship, costs €11,480.

The number of students at Burgundy rose 30 per cent in 2014. “What I observe is increasing interest from this generation,” says Jérôme Gallo, the wine school’s director. He puts that down to three factors: the industry’s international nature, its annual growth rate of 5 per cent and the “intimate” nature of its products, savoured by the palate but evaluated by the mind.

Bringing home the bacon: RAU students

Graduates of Burgundy’s masters programme in international wine are scattered throughout the industry, creating a network for placement of interns and graduates. Like Inseec, Burgundy is responding to strong demand for wine trade education from China, where the surge in consumption is driving rising production.

The rise of new consuming and producing regions is also a factor behind the expansion at the RAU, says Kanes Rajah, dean of the university’s School of Business and Entrepreneurship. The school offers a full-time or part-time MBA in advanced farm management as well as a one- or two-year full-time MBA in international food and agribusiness and a part-time MBA in business management in the food industries, that can be spread over two, three or four years.

Technology and trade are transforming farming: digital devices measure the fertility of european cows fed on Brazilian soybeans

Prof Rajah says an MBA is not excessive for someone running a farm, because the nature of the food chain is changing dramatically. Markets have become global and farms are bigger. Large-scale industrial farmers take multimillion-dollar decisions every month about production strategies that are vulnerable to weather or political risk. Technology and trade are transforming farming and food manufacturing: digital devices, for example, measure the fertility of European cows fed on Brazilian soybeans.

A college, then, that once trained the offspring of British farmers has become a university where students from diverse backgrounds and places such as Indonesia, Malaysia, China, continental Europe and Africa rub shoulders as they learn how to feed the world.

Many don’t go back to the farms they came from, says Prof Rajah, but 96-97 per cent are employed immediately on graduation – not surprising, perhaps, as while agriculture may account for just 1 per cent of gross domestic product in the UK, the figure is 10-15 per cent in many countries.

Ludovica Leone of Bologna Business School

But globalisation has also opened up world markets to what were once regional specialities. Bologna Business School in Italy has a tradition of training managers for the country’s food industry. Four years ago, drawing on local expertise in producing and marketing Parmesan cheese, balsamic vinegar and salami, it introduced a food and drink track in its MBA. Today that is undertaken by about 15 of the 70-strong cohort and attracts participants from as far afield as Latin America, Asia and Africa. Ludovica Leone, director of the food and wine track, says about half are mature managers from the industry, while the others are typically switching career to pursue a passion, often to launch a business of their own.

SDA Bocconi School of Management in Milan also capitalises on Italian skills to offer a one-year master of management in food and beverage, catering to the hospitality and retail industries. Essec Business School offers a masters in international food industry management in Paris and Singapore, and France-based Kedge Business School offers an executive MBA with a major in wine and spirits management.

It seems likely that with growing interest in food and drink courses, an increasing number of business school graduates will be spending at least part of their working lives in muddy boots or perhaps plying a corkscrew.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017. All rights reserved.
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