Professor Stefan Hirsch, who leads the Agricultural and Food Economics professorship at the TUM School of Management, discusses his team’s research and teaching priorities. The professorship is located at the TUM School of Life Sciences at Campus Weihenstephan in Freising.
What is the main goal of your current research?
My research focuses on understanding the functioning of competition in food and agribusiness and the strategic actions of firms operating in these markets. Based on empirical industrial economics, we analyze firms along the food value chain to gain insights into the value chains’ economic functioning. As an example, a very relevant topic that we are focusing on is the high concentration in food retailing. In many European Union countries between two and five companies dominate the food retailing sector. This concentration can cause power imbalances and welfare losses in the food supply chain.
The core of the research focuses on companies in food processing and retailing. However, we pursue a holistic research approach that also looks at other parts of the value chain such as the farmer or farm inputs sectors (e.g. fertilizer or pesticide supply). On the other end of the supply chain, we look at consumers’ purchasing decisions, analyzing e.g. why consumers buy specific food products. A very relevant topic that we focus on in that respect is e.g. the increasing relevance of meat substitutes.
In our research, we have a very strong empirical orientation with a direct application to real-world problems. For that, we use econometric methods and large data sets to address relevant research questions. Our biggest goal is to provide relevant findings that support firms but also consumers and policymakers in enhancing the overall efficiency of the food value chain.
What do you aim for students to learn in your classes?
I teach classes in basic economics and agricultural economics as well as courses in statistical analysis and empirical research methods. My aim is to use a mixture of theoretical and empirical scientific knowledge to provide students with fundamental insights into food economics and statistical analysis. This is to give them the skills to better understand real-world phenomena in the food value chain. Gaining empirical analysis skills and an understanding of the agricultural and food sector, students get well prepared for jobs in academia, but also in any kind of institution or firm related to the food value chain. The gained knowledge will provide students with the knowledge to understand the functioning of the processes and actors in that field.
How can working across disciplines contribute to your work?
I pursue a holistic research approach that looks at all actors starting from farmers and farm inputs all the way to the consumer at the end of the chain. Certainly, within the CLSMP, there are colleagues with in-depth knowledge of specific parts of the food supply chain. This detailed knowledge can dock into my holistic view of the entire value chain and significantly contribute to improving the models we work with. And what I also really like about the center is our meetings with colleagues from the different TUM departments, including those who focus on management, life sciences, and bio-based economics. These bridges between life science, management, and economics offer great opportunities to understand the food value chain from a holistic perspective.
What do you see as the social relevance of your research?
We focus our research on responsible food production, which is by default socially relevant since we all need food and we are all involved with it every day. My research aims to provide a better understanding of the food value chain with the main goal to improve its efficiency. Efficiency in this sense relates to using fewer inputs to get the same output. This will save resources and is better for the environment.
We also look at firms’ corporate social responsibility strategies and the relationship to firm profitability. Moreover, we are interested in how food sector firms address the challenges that are involved with the transition to a bio-based economy.
How do you see your work contributing to responsible innovation and research?
We do this by choosing research topics that aim towards socially responsible outcomes. For example, a very hot topic currently is how to substitute animal-based products with plant-based products. One of our main research questions in this respect is, for example, why consumers are still hesitant to buy these products or the reasons why consumers might reduce their meat consumption in favor of alternatives. Given the environmental and health concerns related to high meat consumption, this has very high social relevance.
In general, our research questions aim at doing innovation that can potentially reduce harmful consequences to the environment.