MBA Supply Chain and Marketing Research Teams

MBA student teams from the Supply Chain Resource Cooperative and Consumer Innovation Consortium at NC State University’s Poole College of Management have worked with NCGT staff and partner entities since summer 2013 to investigate and address food business processes and supply chain issues across the local-to-mainstream food supply chain.  For information on the NC Growing Together MBA program,  please contact Rebecca Dunning, or 919-389-2220.


Sourcing Local Tomatoes to Minimize Food Loss 

Team: John Evans, Randi Meyer, and Audrey Sherk / Spring 2018

Download Poster | Cost Model

In most locations, the availability of a fresh local vegetable or fruit is limited to a few weeks. Yet the demand for local lasts all year. Couple this with the fact that within those few weeks there can be an oversupply of product, which often goes to waste.  This team worked with the Ashley Christensen Restaurants’ commissary kitchen in Raleigh, NC, to examine the economics of sourcing all the tomatoes for cooked products needed by the restaurants from 100% North Carolina sources.

The team created a cost model to examine the effectiveness of purchasing, preparing, and storing the tomatoes for use during the year.  Purchasing 100% seasonal North Carolina tomatoes in season reduces the restaurants’ cost by nearly one-half, will likely reduce on-farm food loss, and keeps their purchasing local.


Scaling up at a Local Grain Mill

Team: Chris Arnett, Siddharth Khandelwal, Brian Neal / Fall 2017

Small and mid-scale food businesses committed to using locally sourced products often face difficult decisions of how to scale their business without losing the close connections and relationships they have with local growers. In fall 2017, the business student team was charged to work with the owner of Carolina Ground, a mill using locally grown organic grains to produce specialty flours, to examine whether and how to potentially scale the mill by purchasing new equipment, or how to best increase the efficiency of the current operations.

The team analyzed the flow of product and information along the supply chain from farm to end customer and made recommendations based on the analysis. Read about their project and results in this NCGT News article.


Transportation Cost Transparency for TRACTOR Food Hub

Team: Jasmin Geisel, Asish Madeti, Stephanie White / Spring 2017

Download Excel-based Tool | User Guide

Transportation costs are a major cost component for food hubs. For this project the MBA team created a decision tool in the form of an Excel spreadsheet that allows staff at the food hub TRACTOR Food and Farms to get a better understanding of the facility’s transportation costs and to allocate its supply of products in the most efficient and profitable manner among its customers.



Project Meatball: The Business Case for a New Product Venture

Team: Chandan Dash, James Hollifield, Lindsay Schilleman / Fall 2016

Download Final Report | Financial Tool

Non-profit organizations and social enterprises working in the food and farm sector often seek to address multiple and sometimes competing missions: for example, supporting the economic viability of smaller-scale food producers, and increasing low-income residents access to healthy, locally-produced foods. The task of the “Project Meatball” team was to examine the business case for non-profit Working Landscapes (WL) to create a locally-sourced and manufactured meatball product, utilizing WL’s existing assets: a certified commercial kitchen, existing relationships with local small-scale beef and pork producers and a collaborating processor, and the availability of local workers. The team examined market and financial feasibility, created a spreadsheet tool for use by WL, and created a supply chain framework to be used by WL and others when examining future business ventures.

Comparing Entrepreneurial Solutions to Local Food Distribution

Team: Graham Givens, Gavin Hough, Abhinaya Rajendran  / Fall 2016

Download Executive Summary  | Poster

Smaller-scale distributors focused on source-identified foods from a “local” geography (e.g., within 50 or 100 miles of consumption) have emerged as a vital component in the building of local and regional food systems. These distributors find their competitive advantage in working closely with local producers, and moving fresh and source-identified product quickly to local buyers. The objective of this MBA team was to examine the feasibility of expansion for a Raleigh-Durham distributor by analyzing potential growth alternatives and the requirements to meet revenue targets, and conducting an initial market analysis to determine revenue potential.

Feasibility and Design of a Direct-to-Consumer Produce Box Program

Team: Caleb Beane, Jessica Craft, Emma Klein / Fall 2016

Download Final Report | Poster

This undergraduate team of three business students analyzed the business case for a new local food box program for TRACTOR, a food hub located in Yancey County in Western North Carolina. The team analyzed competing box programs, conducted a survey with a target hospital workplace where the box would be distributed, and created a product and pricing program.




Seal the Seasons: The Business Case for Expansion into Food Service Markets

seal the seasons report jpg

Team: Chris Dodson, Richard Hamer, Whitney King, Isabella Lou / Spring 2016

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Institutional customers, in particular university food service (dining hall) accounts, are actively seeking sources of locally-grown products. The academic calendar, however, does not align with the summer growing season. Seal the Seasons, a social enterprise located in Hillsborough, NC, and dedicated to creating profitable outlets for local farmers, freezes (IQF) locally-grown product for grocery store sale. The task of this MBA team was to examine the business case for expansion from retail grocery to food service markets. The team examined local market conditions, conducted financial modeling for the institutional market, and made product-specific recommendations.

NCGT Pastured Poultry Feasibility Study

poultry feasibility study jpg

Team: Lei Lan, Kaitlyn Sutton / Spring 2016

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Increased consumer interest in locally produced and environmentally sustainable meat products has created an opening in the market for North Carolina poultry operators who utilize a pasture-based production model. Poultry Team was tasked with preparing Total Cost of Ownership (TCO), profitability analyses, and a feasibility report to inform Spirit Level’s growth plans. The Profitability Analysis spreadsheet (link provided in report) can be used by other poultry operations to track costs and returns and used as a basis to analyze business changes.


NCGT Shrimp Processing Feasibility Study

shrimp processing study jpg

Team: Corey Kuhar, Linda Lin, Erik Matthia / Fall 2015

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The National Restaurant Association’s annual survey of chefs in 2016 once again (fourth year in a row) placed “locally sourced meats and seafood” as the #1 Top Food Trend. North Carolina fishermen are particularly well-placed to take advantage of this trend, as the NC coast is home to numerous fish species that could be retained within the state for sale to consumers. Shrimp, in particular, present an appealing prospect because of their popularity among consumers. Research on the economic status of the seafood industry in NC consistently finds that an in-state shrimp processing facility is a critical piece of infrastructure that could substantially increase the economic viability of NC shrimpers. This MBA team examined the business case for investment and operation of a shrimp processing facility for an NCGT partner company.

Best practices and metrics for dairy farms transitioning conventional dairy operations to on-farm value-added production


Team: Jazmine Davis, Graham Givens, James Hollifield, Kaitlyn Sutton/Fall 2015

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The North Carolina Growing Together Dairy Team was tasked with two separate projects to assist farmers considering a transition into on-farm pasteurization. The first task was to create a financial tool to assist dairy farmers in organizing their current costs and projecting their costs and sales over the course of five years after their transition. In addition to this tool, the team also created an instructional video and written instructions to assist farmers in operating the tool. The second task was using this tool and market research completed by the team to provide an Asheville-area family with the financial outlook of a transition to on-farm production of whole, non-homogenized milk. The team also created a poster summarizing their findings.

Cost Effective Procurement of Local Strawberries from NC


Team: Michael Hargrave, Swaminathan Kandaswamy, Kamal Sunkara/Spring 2015

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NC Growing Together partner US Foods is a national food distribution company offering more than 350,000 products to independent and multi-use restaurants, healthcare and hospitality entities. US Foods has two regional distribution centers in North Carolina located in Charlotte and Zebulon. US Foods physical structure and business processes align with large volume suppliers and are global in scope. The MBA team was given the responsibility of performing a profitability analysis for the procurement of local strawberries into the US Foods system. Their presentation outlines some of their findings from this analysis, which involved analyzing the costing structure for strawberries and comparing the cost difference between North Carolina Grown strawberries and non-North Carolina grown strawberries. The team visited and conducted interviews to understand the reasons behind the cost differences, possible solutions, and the estimated demand from US Foods customers.

The “Local” Competitive Advantages for Small-Scale Dairies in North Carolina: Profitability Analysis of a Value-Added Product


Team: Gonzalo Alvarez, Krishna Datla, Avaneesh Rajkumar, Ozgun Oral/Spring 2015

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Over the past 20 years the dairy industry in North Carolina and nationwide has undergone considerable consolidation with smaller dairies losing ground to larger facilities able to take advantage of labor-saving equipment and other sources of economies of scale. As a result, there has been a precipitous decline in the number of small-scale family-based dairy operations. Interest in “local food,” including local dairy products, has provided a market opening for smaller dairies with value-added operations. This team worked with a small-scale conventional dairy operation that had begun bottling milk on-farm and wanted to better understand the costs and returns of either expanding the bottling operation or starting an on-farm yogurt operation. The MBA team worked to gather costs and expected sales. Their presentation analyzes returns for the yogurt options, and the excel spreadsheet (spreadsheet use requires some business analysis background) created by the team to make these and the bottling operation calculations can be utilized by other small scale dairy farmers to consider their own on-farm value-added options.


The Good Food Schema: Effects of Compelling Messaging for Locally Sourced Meat Products in Grocery Store Settings

Team: Kaitlin Strahler, Himanshu Agrawal, Rachel Huffman/Fall 2014

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This team conducted an analysis of consumer purchasing behavior in grocery retailers, researching the impact that exposure to local meat cues have on the purchase of other grocery products.  In addition to the survey data analysis, students created a “Look Book” to highlight the impact of product placement and messaging that enhance sales, and an annotated bibliography of the research literature on consumer motivations to purchase source-identified food in grocery store settings.

Supply Chain Analysis for Grower-Based Distributors: Feasibility of Bagged Frozen Produce for Sale in Grocery Chain Retailers


Team: Ambica Pilli, Bhavna Narang, Dinesh Gopalakrishnan, Phil Sloate/Fall 2014

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There is a great deal of interest by grower-based distributors in utilizing excess local product to freeze and bag. The issue is whether or not the operation would be economically feasible. The student team conducted a consumer web-survey to measure potential consumer demand, interviewed store managers at three grocery retail chains, and conducted a profitability analysis for investment and operation of a freezing/bagging operation at two different grower-based distributors in North Carolina: Feast Down East, and Pilot Mountain Pride.

Pilot Mountain Pride Cost Analysis; Feast Down East Cost Analysis (costs/return analysis spreadsheets)

Scaling a “Local to Local” Solution: Supply Chain Analysis for Delivering Local Fresh Produce to Local Grocery Stores


Team: Mike Maher, Sebastian Naskaris, Rego Pudakadan, Keith Smith/Spring 2014

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The “local to local” distribution model uses the food hubs’ comparative advantage in aggregating source-identified product while taking advantage of centralized distributional efficiencies in the grocery industry. The cost-to-serve model generated for this project was used by a food hub to calculate the relative costs of various distributional options to reach a set of grocery stores. Results for this example indicated that if the hub expands to more than six stores, it should use a combination crossdock and backhaul arrangement with the regional distribution center to serve its customer stores.

A Crossdock Consolidation Center for Sourcing Local Foods

consolidation center

Team: Kate Hamilton, Kate Howie, Crista Wagner/Spring 2014

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Demand for source-identified local products from small and mid-sized family farms continues to grow.  A major challenge is cost-effectively aggregating and distributing properly cooled product from field to market. This project addresses this issue with an applied analysis of a small- scale infrastructure entity, a Crossdock Consolidation Center (CCC).  This entity consists of loading docks and coolers for aggregating and storing product, and provides an aggregation/cooling point from which wholesalers can collect product. It does not function as a marketing/distribution center, as typical food hubs do, and thus the cost of building and operating the facility is much lower. A CCC is a distinct type of infrastructure that could be ideal additions to rural areas, allowing small/mid-scale producers to consolidate product without the costs (investment and operating) required by a full scale food hub.

Local + Sustainable Seafood: The Competitive Advantage

local +sustainable seafood

Team: Indranil Chaterjee, Kelly Colleen, Jessica Newsome/Spring 2014

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This project involved two primary stakeholders: 1) Grocery retailer, an NCGT project partner who is seeking to source NC seafood; and 2) Seafood suppliers, mid-scale fish houses with relationships with small and mid-scale fishermen located along the central coast of North Carolina. The central coast was chosen because this area has been the worst economically affected due to large scale closure of its fish handling facilities.  One team output was the creation of a “seafood portfolio” that contained a set of recommended local wild-caught and aquacultured species for the grocer to carry, and which was based on the following three principals: utilizes the biodiversity of fish species in NC; avoids supply disruptions due to regulatory shifts; addresses growing consumer demand for local.  The approach allows the grocery retailer to vary its local seafood offerings by season, based on the assumption that this will build shopper interest in discovering new and novel seafood and aquacultured offerings.

ECO Farmer Age and  IT Software Research


Team: Angel Cruz, Hannah Frank, Kellyn Hulsey/Spring 2014

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Grower-based distributors such as Eastern Carolina Organics based in Durham, NC, seek to build value-chains between producers and final consumers. Decision-making within the entities along a value-chain are based on the entities mutual interests to be competitive in the market-place, while simultaneously building value for all members along the chain. This team analyzed two issues related to the sustainability of value-chain partnerships:  the maintenance of a satisfied and consistent producer-supplier base, and the efficient management of information within the distributor. Using a survey fielded by telephone, the team collected and synthesized information on ECO farmers for the years 2004-2013, finding that farmers are dedicated and plan to continue to work with ECO in the value chain, and that the average age of farmers supplying to ECO has fallen over time, in direct contrast to USDA figures that have long-shown a troubling rise in the average age of farmers. The MBA team also investigated the availability of inventory software for grower-based distributors, finding a distinct lack of usable software in the marketplace.

Maturity Models as a Diagnostic and Resource Mapping Tool for Food Hubs

Team: Regan Hale, Neal Ronsenberger, Jacob Rutz/Spring 2014

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maturity modelChanges in consumer demand favoring local foods have proliferated in recent years. Desire for traceability and “food with a face” has led to the emergence of new methods of local food distribution in the form of Food Hubs. This MBA team sought to identify, with advisement from successful operators, consultants, investors, and others, Food Hub critical control points and operational success and challenge trends; use these observations to assess where the needs for technical assistance in Food Hub operations lie; and synthesize these observations through the creation of a chronological chart outlining trends in Food Hub operations. The team used a Maturity Model framework to organize its work. Maturity models focus on identifying weaknesses and strengths of companies at different stages of development and serve as benchmarks for comparison.