Food and Agribusiness - Harvard Business School MBA Program

Food and Agribusiness

Course Number 1911

Professor Forest Reinhardt
Spring; Q3Q4; 3 credits
28 Sessions

Course Overview

The course will provide a survey of the global food and agribusiness system. While studying the management problems of farmers, processors, branded consumer goods manufacturers and food retailers, we will consider consumer trends, technological advances, public policy issues, food safety, and risk management. The pervasiveness of food and agribusiness makes the course suitable for future consultants and investment bankers in addition to those who have a direct interest in the industry; it may also be of interest as a general management course due to its integrative, cross-functional approach and emphasis on strategy. The course may also appeal to students with interests in political economy and business-government relations, since the firm's ability to capture value is affected by regulatory institutions at the national and global levels.


The structure of the course may evolve before the spring semester, but a likely outline is as follows:

The Agribusiness Value Chain
The module provides insight into the typical challenges faced by players in the value chain from input suppliers (seeds and "traits", machinery) to food manufacturers (how to adapt to powerful retailers and increased scrutiny of nutritional attributes) to retailers and consumers (from apparently short-term fads such as 'low carb' diets to long-term changes in demographics and eating habits).

The Global Food Industry
What was once the most local of industries is becoming global. We study the forces causing the industry to evolve and the responses of firms (vertical integration, acquisitions, alliances and partnering) and countries (subsidies, tariffs, self-sufficiency) to these changes.

Food Safety and Environmental Sustainability
Food recalls get a lot of visibility but, at least in developed countries, food is plentiful and remarkably safe to eat despite the distances much of it travels. However, outbreaks of "Mad Cow" disease and other food safety scares have heightened consumer sensitivity. Traceability has become an increasingly important factor in food production. In addition, more and more consumers are asking where and how their food is produced, and companies are being judged according to their environmental impact. In addition, growers confront problems of land scarcity and water shortage, and the challenge of feeding nine billion increasingly prosperous mid-century people may be significant.

Risk Management
The global food system is prone to shocks from weather and fluctuating demand. We will study how firms seek to control risk through the use of the futures market, diversification, and integration.

Current Issues
Every January, nearly 200 executives come to the HBS campus to discuss newly written cases on current topics (e.g., nutrition, obesity, the political economy of agriculture and trade, labor issues, food safety, organic and natural foods). The MBA course will include some of these fresh cases. It is expected (but not guaranteed) that many of these cases will feature, as a guest, a senior executive from these companies.

Course Requirements

The course is offered on a 28 session plus exam basis. There may also be a modest, but graded, group project for which time will be allocated during the course.