HAS University of Applied Sciences takes extra step in preparing students for the future

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3 May 2021

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HAS University of Applied Sciences in Venlo has elevated the connection between theory and practice to an art. How this works in practice is explained by Jet van Nieuwenhuizen, education coordinator for the Food Innovation program at HAS University. Together with two alumni, Jenny Peters and Tommie van der Goes, she looks back on their experiences. In order to be able to make an even better match in the future.

Straight to work

Jet van Nieuwenhuizen fully endorses the ambition of the university to be at the center of the field and society. "We want students to come into contact with the field from the first week of their studies and already then organize the first company visit. All assignments and cases also come from practice. And lecturers are expected to have won their spurs in the field they are teaching in, so they can contribute their own work experience and network. By constantly linking theory and practice, the subject matter becomes more relevant and students can apply their knowledge and creativity. She herself worked as a food marketer at FrieslandCampina for the Dutch and German markets and that experience helps her in her current job to make the connection between theory and practice.

"There are always surprises"

Managing Expectations

Jet is going to operate more and more as a kind of broker between company and student. "Now we often still look for assignments in the market, but companies also know how to find us more and more. If a company comes to us with an assignment, we have a good conversation about the expectations. Then we can optimally match the type of company and assignment with the student. Of course, we also look at the complexity; you can expect more from fourth-year students than from first-year students. But we also get great results from students who have only done one block. You have to give young talent a chance and then a client will discover it for himself: there are always surprises among them."

Jet van Nieuwenhuizen, Food Innovation training coordinator

Always surprises

The core of the Food Innovation programme is the development of creative new food concepts. The proprietary Food Innovation model helps to go through such a development process. Jet: "The first phase is Discover, for example, in which you do market and target group research. And the second phase is Ideate, in which you arrive at new solutions. For example, there was an assignment from the Lipzig family's dairy farm, who decided to purify some of their milk themselves. Question was to identify new opportunity areas. On the one hand, the students saw opportunities through the focus on nostalgia; the romance of the past appeared to be a good way to strengthen image and knowledge about dairy. On the other hand, they were asked to reach a younger generation with dairy products. This led to a series of innovative ideas that went far beyond milk, yoghurt and custard. Over ten groups of students got to work and came up with the most diverse ideas, such as dairy bars and dairy with its own granola. That has been a great basis for further exploration for their Zuivel van Nu brand."

Old student Jenny Peters now works at SUN as a product marketer

Easy start

It is great that from the training and the clients the results are evaluated positively, but how do students experience this themselves?
Jenny Peters graduated in 2018 and is now a product marketer at ZON. "I did my professional assignment at ZON and went through the whole Food Innovation model there. From market research, to ideation, to focus group to final product. The question was how to boost vegetable consumption. In the end, I proposed two concepts with my fellow students: a vegetable drink board in a package with fun facts about vegetables and a children's cooking package." In the end, the latter concept was actually implemented, in a modified form. And Jenny was offered a job. "The advantage is that I got to know the company very well through the assignment, but vice versa they also got to know me. That's a nice start from both sides." Jenny is now co-responsible for the online platform Van Eigen Bodem and is able to use a lot of her creativity in that.

"Weekly company visits let you see the whole market"

Ongoing orientation

Tommie van der Goes did his professional assignments just for two professorships of HAS University of Applied Sciences and did research on vegetable innovations. How healthy are these innovations really? A wrap with 50% vegetables as a meat substitute, how tempting is that? And what does it contribute to the daily vegetable consumption of a consumer? The study provided some great insights and made it clear that there is still a lot we don't know. Tommie: "It was a nice wake-up call for producers of innovations with vegetables: we need to help clients a lot more with their product development, so they can really make a difference." Tommie finished his studies in 2019 and now works at Drops, a marketing agency in food and agro, based in Panningen. He experienced the entire course as one big business orientation. "With weekly company visits you get to know the entire market in all its facets, not just producers. So we also went to see a slaughterhouse and a packaging company. That way you get a picture of the total chain."

Old student Tommie van der Goes is now a marketer and concept developer at Drops

More structured and flexible

Because the Food Innovation study in Venlo was still quite new, many companies still had to discover what the study entailed. Tommie: "By now the name recognition has grown, but during my studies I sometimes noticed that companies could not place us properly and had the wrong idea about us." Jet agrees: "Now many clients really know how to find us. They understand that it is more than marketing, but a way of thinking conceptually and innovatively. What is especially appreciated is the fresh look that students bring to the table; they don't see any risks or limitations yet." Still, there is work to be done. Jet: "In the future, we want to seek more structural forms of collaboration. For example, do the exploration with freshmen and zoom in further with senior students and then build on the initial insights. In addition, we want to offer even more free choice to students to decide, based on their own interests, which company they want to do an assignment for."

Choose your own framework

Jenny remembers feeling a bit lost during her third-year "Value by Design" minor, where you got to apply the psychology behind the design of packaging. "The content was barely defined, so I lacked a structure and framework." Yet Tommie actually experienced the lack of a clear framework as an advantage. "It was indeed very free, but it was cool that we were given the space to experiment ourselves with the combination of marketing and design. How can you encourage people to buy with packaging, what plays a role in that? I find that interesting." In the last two years of the study, there is a lot of room for personal interpretation anyway, Jenny and Tommie note. "It is important that you set a clear goal in advance. Otherwise you know a bit about everything and have no focus at all. By defining the framework for yourself, you develop a unique personal profile, with which you can explain to your potential employer what you have studied and what you can add."

Open attitude essential

The HAS alumni have three important tips for companies considering using students for an assignment.

  1. Be proud of your company and talk about it enthusiastically, that is contagious
  2. Be open about the challenge you have, dare to be honest about what you are getting stuck in
  3. Let yourself be surprised and be open to the fresh eyes of students

Jet adds: "Many entrepreneurs tell us how valuable they find it to be able to move among students. It is a different world, which also helps them to look at their own business with different eyes. That gives new energy."

Fancy submitting your issue to students in the Food Innovation program?
Read more about the collaboration opportunities here.