Cultivating the Next Generation of Organic Food Industry Leaders | CU Boulder today

Growing up in rural Colorado, Jamie Orth was always attentive to where food came from, but it wasn’t until college that she discovered the wide variety of products available at various grocery stores and chain stores. natural food.

“I was fascinated by the variety and quality of the products, which sparked a deep interest and passion for natural consumer products, especially in the food and beverage arena,” Orth said.

After spending four years in another industry, Orth’s passion for nutrition led her to enroll in the new and unique Natural & Organic MBA course at CU Boulder’s Leeds School of Business in fall 2021.

Three Natural & Organic MBA Pathway students (left to right), Jamie Orth, Zac Salinger, and Drake Swezey, volunteer at the Naturally Boulder Pitch Slam event on October 23, 2021.

“After learning more about organic products and the benefits they offer people and the planet, I knew this was the direction I wanted to take my career,” Orth said.

The growth of the natural and organic industry has been rapid to claim its share of the market. Sales are expected to exceed $ 300 billion by 2023 and $ 400 billion by 2030, according to the Nutrition Business Journal.

At the epicenter of the movement is Boulder, with the largest concentration of natural and organic products companies in the country, according to the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements. Boulder is also home to one of the nation’s leading business schools: CU Boulder’s Leeds School of Business and its famous MBA program, which ranks 38th in the country.

At this intersection, an idea was born: what if Boulder could become the place where future industry leaders are formed?

“We knew so many students were passionate about sustainability but didn’t know how to steer their interest into a career,” said Julie Wagoner, director of operations at Leed’s Center for Ethics and Social Responsibility (CESR). “And that’s where the idea came from to create an MBA course for the natural and organic sector.

Feed the path

To create an unprecedented program that could help launch MBA students into the natural and organic sector, Wagoner and Kristi Ryujin, Associate Dean for Graduate Programs and special assistant to the Dean of Faculty Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at Leeds, enlisted the help of Heather Kennedy, former Kraft and Whole Foods marketing trainer, turned MBA.

For almost a year, the trio worked together to define what the program would look like. In the fall of 2019, it was time to prove that the path could fit into the Leeds MBA program. Kennedy launched a bootcamp event to gauge interest.

A quarter of the Leeds MBA class have enrolled.

I love that this course offers industry-tailored courses and that I allocate my tuition fees directly to the career path I am aiming for. –Jamie Orth

“Today’s MBA student wants a career focused on more than increasing results,” Kennedy said. “The fact that a quarter of our students have registered for the Natural & Organic Bootcamp shows their commitment to working with mission-driven companies that care about their customers, the environment, their employees and their community. “

After the success of the bootcamp, the program began to take the shape it is today. To date, 44 students have registered.

Paving the way for a new career

Leeds Pathways are sets of suggested courses and programs that students can take to hone specific skills and links to a particular industry.

The New Natural and Organic Path aims to give students the traditional MBA knowledge they can apply to an industry that once looked askew at all that was “standard.”

“This industry needs people trained in standard business skills that apply to consumer packaged products, but with an organic mindset.“Kennedy said.

Much of this need is due to an increased interest in natural and organic foods. The market is becoming much more competitive.

Increased competition also calls for new talent. Doug Radi, CEO of Boulder-based Good Karma Foods, sees the addition of the Leeds Lane as a victory for the students and for the companies that might employ them.

“As a company, we have access to high-level, promising and passionate MBA talent,” said Radi, who has started working with the pathway program as it has developed. “We also become a partner and help mentor this talent while they are in business school, creating lasting relationships and impacting future leaders in our industry.”

It was this direct access to companies like Good Karma Foods that prompted Orth to enroll in the program in Leeds.

“As a career change, I realized how important it is to build relationships in the industry while I am a student,” Orth said. “Boulder is teeming with activity in this industry, and CESR has done a great job building strong connections with the local community to serve as a bridge for students. “

In her first year of the program, Orth was already able to participate in some of the extracurricular opportunities the program has to offer and connected with Naturally Boulder, a nonprofit focused on improving the education industry. natural and organic products in the state. .

Orth is still exploring what the industry has to offer and is considering taking on brand manager positions at consumer packaged products companies when she graduates. She hopes to manage, develop and launch brands in the natural and organic space to increase the reach and adoption of these products among consumers.

“I like that this path offers industry-tailored courses and that I direct my tuition fees directly to the career path I’m aiming for,” Orth said.

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