The Supply Side: Tyson Foods pushes new restaurant-inspired foods

by Kim Souza ([email protected]) 770 views 

Springdale-based Tyson Foods continues to grow its higher-margin value-added business by introducing food innovation from concept to retail launch in its Discovery Innovation Center. The company’s goal is to bring restaurant-quality food into the home.

Ty Baublits, vice president of portioned protein innovations at Tyson Foods, leads a five-person cross-functional team with experience in meat science, culinary, sales, marketing and finance. The group worked to launch new retail lines of fresh meat products offering convenience, quality and culinary expertise.

Baublits said last summer, the team began creating products that could be delivered to retailers in time for the summer grilling season, which kicked off on Memorial Day (May 27). Typically, the timeline for bringing a new product to retail can take three or more years from idea to launch. But the urgency to get branded products to market in time for summer grilling prompted near record time for the launch, which happened in about half the normal time.

Chandler Steele, a senior manager of fresh meats innovation and a member of the innovation group, said product ideas often start on a whiteboard where they blend consumer insights with global flavor profiles. The company has said the product innovation process included trial-and-error and customer taste tests.

After narrowing down the winning flavors, the group went on the road to pitch the products to retailers last fall.

Aside from flavors, the group also looked at reimagining traditional pork loin and beef shoulder into other cuts. Added value can be created when cutting a pork loin into flavored and marinated pork griller steaks, chimichurri-flavored medallions, and chops seasoned and marinated in trending flavors like garlic and herb. The same is true for beef shoulder, which is typically a roast. Tyson reimagined the shoulder as sirloin fillet cuts enhanced with Southwest ranchero marinade and seasoning or steak bites flavored with garlic butter.

Steele said there are five enhanced chicken products using breast and thigh cuts covering a range of flavor profiles from spicy to savory. Baublits said products with this culinary expertise have formerly only been developed for food service and restaurant customers. He said Tyson Foods saw gaps in the retail market at a time when consumers were eating more meals at home. For those reasons, his team focused on bringing restaurant-inspired products to retailers.

Steele said there has not been much innovation in flavor-enhanced fresh meat outside pork loins and occasionally a southwest or Italian-flavored chicken breast. She said Tyson Foods also wanted to bring smaller package sizes to retail, a departure from the traditional tray pack sizes the company produces at scale.

Because the quality control of enhanced products is higher than that of traditional processing, Tyson Foods must ensure that each run of the flavored chicken, pork and beef is consistent. For that reason, the company chose one plant in Emporia, Kan., to produce all 16 cuts. Typically, poultry processing is separate from fresh meat, but Tyson Foods is blending the processing with the products to control costs. Steele said a group member is present at the plant when introducing a new product. She said the group worked with plant management over the past year, gearing up for the product launch.

Baublits said early sales are up tenfold, and when their modular display cases are reset, the products will be available in hundreds more stores.

The higher-margin products are expected to be immediately profitable for Tyson Foods. They also help retailers who can offer restaurant-quality cook-and-eat meals that take less than 25 minutes to prepare, according to the Food Marketing Institute (FMI). FMI reports that economic conditions continue to impact Americans’ shopping and meal choices, with 43% of Americans cutting back on restaurant meals. Of meat eaters buying restaurant meals less often, 75% try to recreate restaurant-type meals at home.

Baublits said Tyson Foods’ new products fill that consumer need. Also, as 73% of Americans make one or more changes to meat purchases to save money, the smaller package sizes of the new products fill that need.

The company also hears from retail customers that consumers want variable package sizes. He said Tyson Foods has worked to keep the price down on new products, but the margins are better when repurposing cuts and adding flavors that resonate with consumers.

“As price-conscious shoppers look for ways to continue enjoying their favorite proteins, they are cooking more at home,” said Rick Stein, vice president of fresh meat for FMI. “With shoppers including meat in nearly 87% of home-cooked meals every week, they are looking to meat to make occasions special, the opportunities to provide great choice, taste, and value continue to grow.”

Editor’s note: The Supply Side section of Talk Business & Politics focuses on the companies, organizations, issues and individuals engaged in providing products and services to retailers. The Supply Side is managed by Talk Business & Politics and sponsored by Firebend.