Team Food Forward

A group of Cal Poly agricultural business students partnered with the nonprofit Food Forward to create a marketing strategy to combat food insecurity.


Cal Poly students are partnering with a nonprofit focused on distributing surplus fruits and vegetables to those experiencing food insecurity to create a marketing plan, which they will present later this month at the National Agri-Marketing Association’s (NAMA) competition.

On April 24-25, a group of seven agricultural business students on the Cal Poly NAMA team will travel to Kansas City, Missouri, to present their marketing campaign to a panel of industry judges and will compete against 30 university chapters from across the nation. Each team will present their detailed marketing strategy for a chosen product or service, and one team will be selected as the winner.

NAMA is a national organization for agricultural marketing professionals and includes more than 3,500 college student members. Cal Poly’s NAMA chapter has competed in the national competition every year since the 1980s and is the winningest school in the competition's history, having won 12 times. Last year, Cal Poly’s NAMA team placed in the top 10 for their marketing plan featuring a robotics company that manufactures a harvest aid for fresh table grape and blueberry growers.

This year’s team selected the nonprofit Food Forward as their client for the marketing competition. Based in Los Angeles, Food Forward is the largest independent urban-based produce logistics organization to specialize exclusively in fresh produce donations in the country. Last year, Food Forward recovered and distributed more than 87 million pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables to people experiencing food insecurity across California and in neighboring states and tribal lands – enough food to feed hundreds of thousands of individuals five servings of fruit and vegetables each day.

Agribusiness lecturer Lisa Cork selected Food Forward as this year’s client after meeting a representative at the International Fresh Produce Association conference last fall, recognizing that working with their nonprofit could help increase connections with grower-packershippers in California. Cork, who has worked in produce marketing for more than 35 years, emphasizes that the purpose of the project is to provide students with realworld marketing experience that connects them with the community.

“The students are so engaged in the goodness of this work. The opportunities we are seeing for Food Forward are so exciting,” Cork said. “One of the goals of this project is to increase Food Forward brand awareness among California’s grower-packer-shippers.” By increasing fresh produce grower awareness about Food Forward’s mission and how they redistribute donated fruits and vegetables to over 240 food insecurity agencies, the goal is to increase the volume of direct donations received and be able to get donations to recipient agencies faster.

Students on the team started working on the project at the end of fall quarter and traveled to Los Angeles in early January to tour the Los Angeles Wholesale Produce Market, meet Food Forward’s team and tour their Produce Pit Stop, a large, refrigerated warehouse space that receives then supplies the fresh produce donations. For students to better understand produce grower donation opportunities, they held dozens of interviews and conducted a survey of more than 400 grower-packer-shippers across California. Information from these findings will be revealed in the marketing plan they will present later this month.

Megan Dixon, a third-year agricultural business major, said she is inspired by Food Forward’s mission and is looking forward to meeting with their board of directors and executives following the competition to share their completed marketing plan. “Food Forward is providing dignity to those experiencing food insecurity so they have access to fresh produce,” she said. “The insight we have gained from our primary research is going to change everything that they do. My goal with this project is to create a plan we are proud of and that we think will make a difference.


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