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Groningen PhD students win national Supply Chain Management competition

23 January 2009

In a thrilling final on 22 January 2009, the team of PhD students from the University of Groningen won the title of Supply Chain Team 2008/9. They beat 250 professional teams from companies such as Unilever, Philips, Stork and Friesland Foods.

Since 1 November 2008, over a thousand Supply Chain professionals have been battling it out in the national competition ‘The Fresh Connection’ ( The aim was to save a troubled producer of fruit juices from bankruptcy. Over the course of nine rounds, the teams had to turn the company round and generate as high a profit as possible. The team of young researchers from the Faculty of Economics and Business of the University of Groningen won the title ‘Supply Chain Team 2008/9’. This is an exceptional performance as they beat experienced managers and the competition is a reflection of decisions that companies make in actual practice.

Turbulent markets

The first six rounds were characterized by a turbulent supply and demand market. The teams had to tailor their strategies to this and simultaneously cut costs with production improvements. Based on their average score over six rounds, 28 of the 250 teams were selected for the final in Utrecht.

Time pressure

In the final rounds 1 and 2, the organization of The Fresh Connection surprised the  teams with the introduction of a new product line. Under extreme time pressure, the teams had not only to optimize their existing product lines but also set up the purchasing, production and sales of the new products. The five teams who were best able to take the right decisions quickly progressed to the decisive final round.


The last round of the final was even more tense – only one team would be able to win the new customer and thus possibly generate extra profit. The teams from the University of Groningen, Beaufort Business Partners and CQM teams 1 and 2 were instructed to give a presentation to a hall of 400 managers on why they should get the customer. Whereas all the other teams were bidding against each other to attract the extra client, the strategy of the University of Groningen team was ‘Thanks, but no thanks’. This resulted in resounding applause from the audience. CEO Unilever Peter Ernsting and CEO Refresco Hans Roelofs were agreed: ‘This is a brave strategy’.


The strategy to remain true to the existing customers eventually earned the University of Groningen team the victory. ‘We gave it our all’, said team member Erik Soepenberg. ‘Although compared with the managers we had relatively little practical experience, our enthusiasm and analytical approach finally made the difference.’

The University of Groningen team comprised, in alphabetical order:
Boyana Petkova – Vice President Supply Chain Management
Erik Soepenberg – Vice President Operations
Remco Germs – Vice President Purchasing
Tim van Kampen – Vice President Sales

Last modified:04 January 2018 3.16 p.m.
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