Tyson Targets C-Stores

Published in CSP Daily News

Foodservice company unveils R&D plant

SPRINGDALE, Ark. -- Tyson Foods Inc.'s gleaming $45 million Discovery Center seems like it could improve convenience stores' share for the world's leading processor and marketer of chicken, beef and pork all by itself.

The 100,000-sq.-ft. facility, which opened in mid-January, is home to the food-science and culinary professionals who are part of Tyson's research and development team. The center, located at Tyson's headquarters in Springdale, Ark., includes 19 specialized research kitchens, a multi-protein pilot plant, a packaging innovation lab, a sensory [image-nocss] analysis lab and consumer focus group capabilities.

The kitchens are equipped to emulate the foodservice operations of different retailers, while the pilot plant is built to mirror the company's processing plants around the country. Roaming throughout is Tyson's research and development team, about 120 strong. More than 50 of them hold advanced degrees, including 11 with PhDs. About 65 Tyson technologists are training to become Research Chefs Association (RCA)-certified culinary scientists. Once they have completed the training, two-thirds of the world's RCA-certified culinary scientists will be on staff at Tyson Foods.

Still for the center to affect Tyson's c-store relationships, the company had to dedicate channel-specific personnel. About three years ago, it created a Diversified Channels division, which includes c-stores, dollar stores and drug stores. In mid-2006, Keith Solsvig joined Tyson from ExxonMobil, where he was foodservice category manager. He told CSP Daily News his mission is to add marketing and product development components to the c-store team.

Solsvig, product manager for diversified channels, said that previously Tyson's foodservice division oversaw c-store business. It was a hobby, he said. They dabbled in it. We've got a great brand but a very small market share.

Through a combination of repackaging established products, developing new products, and marketing products that are ready for the channel now, Tyson aims to boost its 1% share of the channel, Solsvig said. We need to more than double our business, he said.

Currently, Tyson supplies meats for private-label foodservice, packaged goods for the freezer section, and hot case and roller-grill products, which take advantage of Tyson's vertical integration, such as its sausage crepes and Crispitos. The latter feature flavored tortillasgarlic-herb, spinach, sun-dried tomato, tomato basil and honey wheatmade by Tyson-owned company Mexican Original and fillings such as buffalo chicken with Frank's Red Hot sauce, sausage, egg and cheese for breakfast, chicken pot pie, and spicy chicken and cheese. The flexibilitythe flavor of the meat in the sausage crepes can be changedlends itself to private-label specs, according to the company.

Tyson's ability to be different things to different companies is evidenced in its current relationships with c-stores:

La Crosse, Wis.-based Kwik Trip gets boxed frozen chicken products. Dallas-based 7-Eleven Inc. features value-added chicken products such as chicken tenderloins. San Antonio's Valero buys chicken, deli meats and Crispitos. ExxonMobil uses Tyson chicken patties in its proprietary Italian Chicken sandwich. Fas Mart of Mechanicsville, Va., sells chicken wings, Chicken Slenders (shaped like french fries) and deli meats. Louisville, Ky.-based Thornton Oil uses deli meats and chicken filets. Sunoco, Philadelphia, sells Crispitos.

Tyson's innovation focuses on packaging as much as it does on flavor, and this focus will help the company pursue home-meal-replacement success by making a member of a household a mealtime hero, company executives said.

One of the highlights of a recent tour was the no-preservatives, 45-day shelf lifeup from 17for oven-roasted chicken products. The improved shelf life is due to a pasteurization process that uses 87,000 pounds of pressure per square inch. Tyson is also using microwave packaging that ensures crispiness and no cold centers.

For the cold, not frozen, case, there are family-sized portions of microwaveable dinner meats, as well as dinner kits that include meats, vegetables and potatoes.

The key is we [now] have a concerted effort, a dedicated team of people, said Diversified Channels vice president Louis Gottsponer. We have thousands of products which have applications to these channels. How do we customize for them?