Category Management Standards & Higher Education

By Daniel P. Strunk


Early in this decade The Category Management Association (CMA) released standards to govern the evaluation of industry talent. These standards enabled companies to take an objective look at their category management personnel and conclude through certification how they compared to industry expectations. This unique third-party review enabled companies to establish more precise development plans for employees. In addition, the CMA standards enabled training organizations to align their current curriculum to the industry criteria and to develop new courses where gaps existed. The release of the CMA Standards served to improve the professionalism of the industry.

Implications to Education

In 2010 category management was truly being taught on 3 college campuses in the country as part of food marketing or retail programs. Publication of the CMA standards spurred curriculum growth in a variety of schools. Currently 4 schools are utilizing the standards effectively and have had their curriculum accredited by the CMA. Those schools are (in alphabetical order) DePaul University, University of Arkansas, University of Texas at Tyler, and Western Michigan University. Several additional schools are in the process of developing curriculum and intend to have their course work accredited. These schools are (in alphabetical order) Northwood University, University of North Alabama and Xavier University in Cincinnati Ohio. All of the previously mentioned schools are actively involved in the Category Management Association’s Higher Education Council.   The CMA Standards have enabled schools to review their courses and to either strengthen exposure of the subject matter in existing classes, or build new curriculum to serve proper talent development needs. Given the talent need in category management today, universities need to focus their attention on developing undergraduate students to be considered for employment in the consumer packaged goods industry.

Standards and Curriculum

There are 10 core competencies defined in the CMA Standards for category analyst, and these are the foundational skills upon which category management careers are built. The CMA Professionals must be proficient in the following: Industry Knowledge, Category Management History and Process, Pricing Analytics, Assortment Analytics, Excel and PowerPoint Skills, Syndicated Scanner and Panel Data, and POS Data. These competencies can serve as the foundation for development of category management curriculum for universities. In 2012, DePaul University in Chicago used the category management standards at the foundation for a 3 course program designed to provide students a working knowledge of category management.

Work Ready Students

Using the CMA Standards for CPCA, DePaul University has developed 3 integrated courses to prepare work ready talent. DePaul’s Category Management Program requires their industry partners to be actively engaged in class ensuring that best practice is integrated into curriculum. The courses in the DePaul Program are:

  • Science of Retailing – This course focuses on the collaborative process of category management and utilizes retail partners like Walmart, Sam’s Club, Walgreens, 7-Eleven, Roundy’s-Mariano’s, Ace and True Value to teach student the particulars of category management from the retailers perspective.

  • Principles of Category Management – This course requires students to learn the category management process while develop category reviews using current data sourced from their retailer partners and a number of the program’s consumer packaged goods partners such as Pepsi, Campbell’s Soup, MillerCoors, 3M, Red Bull and many others. The students work with technologies and data management solutions provided by such companies as Nielsen, JDA, Category Management Knowledge Group, Learning Evolution and Interactive Edge. The focus of this course is to provide students with the ability to analyze data, develop a comprehensive category review and the skill necessary to present the direction indicated expertly. These presentations are made to a panel comprised of executives from the participating retailer, manufacturer, technology and solution providers.

  • Cases in Category Management – is the capstone course and focuses on students evaluating current business opportunities that exist for DePaul’s retail partners for manufacturing partners. The opportunities or “Cases” are developed each term, never repeated and use current data to explore a business opportunity. The students work in groups and their solutions are provided to a panel comprised of executives from the participating retailer, manufacturer, technology and solution providers.

The student experience is as follows:

  • Students take Science of Retailing in their junior year and follow that with an internship for one of the retail or manufacturing partners, providing 400 hours of work experience in category management.

  • During their senior year students take the Principle and Cases classes, most students work part time in the category management area, with a program partner.

  • When finished students have secured 400-700 hours of on the job experience, 100 hours of in class lecture and have taken industry training at the Category Analyst level from Learning Evolution and The Category Management Knowledge Group.

Truly these students are prepared to go to work.

Application of Curriculum

This model is particularly helpful when you build a new program, such as the University of North Alabama is currently in the process of accomplishing. Several other schools with large existing program are utilizing the standards to improve their coverage of category management in current courses. Schools such as Northwood University, Western Michigan University, University of Arkansas and The University of Texas at Tyler are prime examples of this use of the standards. All of these schools have the mission to produce work ready talent. The CMA standards have made that task far easier.

If you have question please email [email protected]