January 26, 2009

Project offers students taste of business world

by Christi Mathis

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Southern Illinois University Carbondale business students recently got a taste of what awaits them after graduation thanks to a partnership with Symrise, the world’s fourth-largest flavoring and fragrance company.

Students in the New Product Development class of John Summey, associate marketing professor and distinguished teacher, got hands-on experience developing new soup flavor concepts while working with members of Symrise’s marketing team.

The SIUC students didn’t actually get cooking in the kitchen. Rather, they analyzed trends, selected flavors and ingredients, designed packaging and developed marketing strategies for their new soup concepts based on the platforms selected.

The partnership between Symrise and the business college came about in large part because of Adrian Yong, a three-degree alumnus of SIUC now employed as senior market research analyst for Symrise. Yong earned his Bachelor of Science in marketing in 1996 and his MBA and a concurrent master’s in agribusiness economics in 2000. He has maintained close ties with Summey since graduation and when the opportunity to work with MBA students arose, Yong was quick to contact his former professor.

The students presented their initial soup concepts via conference calls to a panel that included Yong; Emmanuel Laroche, Symrise vice president of marketing and sensory consumer science; Mitchell J. Dingwall, senior product development chef; and Joe Scott, product development chef. Then, during fall semester finals week, the students presented their concepts to Laroche and Yong on the Carbondale campus.

“It’s a win-win situation,” Yong said about working with the SIUC students. “They provided Symrise with a fresh perspective. At the same time, there’s the potential for future benefit because someday the students could find themselves employed by a business in need of a new fragrance or flavor and they’ll remember Symrise.”

The project was clearly a hit with SIUC students as well. Emily Craske, an MBA student from Anna, said she enjoyed the practical, real-life approach.

“I really enjoyed working with an actual client,” Craske said. “They wanted an outsider’s perspective and we were able to provide that. When we asked for feedback, they expressed what they liked. They recognized and thanked us for our hard work. They gave us constructive criticism because they wanted us to do our very best and wanted us to succeed.”

Just as in the business world, the students made professional presentations, answered rapid-fire questions and used teamwork and effective communication to illustrate their research, concepts and proposals. Symrise officials responded with critiques, suggestions, product feasibility information and advice that the students incorporated for their face-to-face presentations to the Symrise representatives. As they took extensive notes during the presentations, it was apparent company officials were impressed with the information about the flavor industry the students collected and were pleased with their “platforms.”

“The biggest challenge is sorting through data and recognizing what is useful and making assumptions where appropriate,” Laroche said. He said the Symrise team was “very impressed with the innovative and creative student presentations and the processes and methods they used.”

Maryon King, associate marketing professor and distinguished teacher, supported the collaboration as well, recruiting students to research the flavorings industry and produce a competitive analysis to accompany the flavor platforms.

The project isn’t finished just because the class ended for the semester. Symrise will take the ideas to its business units, synchronizing them with customer needs and priorities. So, it’s just possible that someday, the fruits of an SIUC class project could be in your soup bowl.