Surveying the Field: Marketing students' class project supports Terre Foods

By: Austin Arceo, ISU Communications and Marketing Staff
May 22, 2013

When Sandeep Bhowmick arrived in the Wabash Valley after moving from Duluth, Minn., in January, he learned there were some differences he hadn't planned for.

Duluth had more expansive local food markets than Terre Haute. As the assistant professor of marketing at Indiana State University searched the Internet for local food markets, he found Terre Foods. Though the local co-op is in the initial stages of its formation, it didn't take long for Bhowmick to find an area of mutual interest with the new store and his new job.

Students in Bhowmick's marketing research class partnered with Terre Foods to conduct research that covered several different areas for the co-op to gain greater insight about public interest. Four groups of students in the class crafted surveys on topics that ranged from the public's awareness of Terre Foods to how much more people would be willing to pay for food that is grown locally and organically.

"There are not a whole lot of funds available right now for things like market studies, so we're eternally grateful for the opportunity to have this kind of information, especially at this stage of our development," said Lorrie Heber, Terre Foods board member who worked with the Indiana State students. "There's a lot at stake right now."

One group created a 21-question survey that focused on health benefits and the health perception of organic food. They used technology available through Indiana State to organize and distribute the survey over the Internet, collect the data and analyze it.

The group concluded that respondents' education level had significant influence on their responses to their health perception and willingness to spend to purchase healthy foods.

Some professionals and "obviously some college students are very aware of it," said Stacy Clough, junior marketing major from Northville, Mich. "I'm a student athlete and I know that anybody in athletics is going to want healthy organic food at a good price, and obviously this is a good option for this area."

The group also asked respondents if they had ever purchased food from a co-op, to which 40 percent of respondents indicated that they had. A significant number of those respondents who had done so also indicated that they would visit a co-op again, said Ben Ramseier, junior marketing major from Terre Haute who helped develop and administer the survey.

"It's good for Terre Foods for the people who answered no (they had not visited a co-op)," he added, "because ... if at least a percentage of that 60 percent go into the food co-op and have a good experience like the people that said yes, then there would be recurring customers."

Another group surveyed people about price perception, and found that respondents would be willing to spend about five to 10 percent more for organic food, and that many consumers had already visited organic food stores, even though Terre Foods has not yet begun construction, said Stephen Borkowski, a junior marketing major from Dyer.

"I think it was surprising that people were on board with a co-op market," he added about the survey findings, "but (they were) not necessarily willing to buy organic foods."

The students used several multiple ways to publicize the surveys. Most respondents knew the students who were involved in the project, which they admit was a limitation in that the project was not an ideal representative of the population of Terre Haute or the Wabash Valley.

The information is still beneficial, Heber said. Among the helpful information that the organization received was that women with children were the most concerned about buying organic food, and that the $200 cost for a membership in Terre Foods is an appropriate price, Heber said.

"Because it's a class project and because it presents some limitations in survey methodology and in the universe of participants in the survey, we can take the information and learn from it," Heber said. "Are we going to build a business plan around it? Probably not, but what it does is give us a great starting point to gather additional information."

The project was a great opportunity to provide students with the chance to work with a company on an initiative that would have tangible benefit for the organization, something that Bhowmick looks for as a way to help teach students.

"I am much more satisfied in terms of giving them an opportunity to learn from real life business situations," Bhowmick said, "In a sense, at least I could provide greater opportunities to them to be more prepared, which eventually might help them to get an internship or a job."

Terre Foods is seeking about 50 more members to reach 600, at which point the group will work on financing to establish a location for the store, Heber said. The group is already well on the way towards organizing for those next steps, including an updated feasibility study that is underway, she added. The group plans for a member loan drive, which could happen as early as this fall.

Some additional opportunities for partnerships with Indiana State students may also exist in the future.

"They were incredibly easy to work with and very eager to learn," Heber said of the survey students. "I was thoroughly impressed with the work that they did, the surveys that they developed, the questions that they asked, the angles in which they approached the problem, and I think they are to be commended for the work that they did. We thank them."

For more information on Terre Foods, visit www.facebook.com and search for Terre Foods, or visit the company's webpage at www.terrefoods.org

Photo: http://isuphoto.smugmug.com/photos/i-FSXqNrB/0/L/i-FSXqNrB-L.jpg (Submitted photo)Terre Foods logo

Photo: http://isuphoto.smugmug.com/photos/i-7cBB9n9/0/L/i-7cBB9n9-L.jpg (Submitted photo)Terre Foods Cooperative Market needs about 50 more members to reach 600, at which point the group will work on financing to establish a location for the store.

Contact: Sandeep Bhowmick, assistant professor of marketing, Scott College of Business, Indiana State University, 812-237-2012 or sandeep.bhowmick@indstate.edu

Writer: Austin Arceo, assistant director of media relations, Office of Communications and Marketing, Indiana State University, 812-237-3790 or austin.arceo-negrich@indstate.edu

Story Highlights

Students in Sandeep Bhowmick's marketing research class partnered with Terre Foods to conduct research that covered several different areas for the co-op to gain greater insight about public interest.

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