Tyson aims for the center of the plate

Stuffed chops, seasoned meats and other fresh ideas result from a freshly formed product development team

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Building the team


This particular Tyson team represents a success story in several chapters. First, it's a fresh team, portions of which were assembled in the aftermath of Tyson's acquisition of IBP and de facto union with Thomas E. Wilson brands. So there was the merging of cultures to facilitate. Then there was proximity , a growing challenge in a world of mergers and acquisitions. "One of the biggest challenges was that we [the team members] were in three states," says Don Alden, the project leader, based in Hutchison, Kan.


Through constant communication and apparent glowing respect among members, the team moved quickly. Alden recalls the process as "very informal but focused."


"Our success is due to the mutual respect for each other's expertise and good communication. We are fortunate to have a team that gets along personally as well as professionally," says Stout. "It started as a group of five people , all outsiders coming in. But at no point did I feel like an outsider. I give a lot of credit to Tyson for that. Because of the culture at Tyson, every department opened its doors to us whenever we had questions or wanted to tap their insights. I've seldom seen companies with such a cooperative spirit."


Yet no matter how motivated a team may be, it needs the requisite tools to complete the process. For the Tyson team, talent is only one of those tools. In this case, the team needed to combine insights to leverage existing physical resources.


While new products present new production challenges, installation of a new production line is usually considered the option of last resort these days. More often, companies rely on tapping existing resources in innovative ways. In the case of the stuffed pork chops, the Tyson team encountered challenges heretofore unsolved in the lab and on the plant floor. "There were some definite hurdles with the composition and moisture content of the stuffing's breading," says Stout. "We wanted to make sure the portions were hearty enough but not too big. Cooking time and serving size are related issues. The whole purpose here was convenience."


Just right


"It was easy to get the stuffing too wet or too dry," continues Alden. "We had to get it right. We also tried to limit the use of allergens wherever possible. There's no MSG, and we focused on sticking with natural ingredients." Though Tyson's batter and breading branches were happy to lend their insights, the link to operations also had to be perfected.


"We had no method to stuff the pork chops and had to figure that out with Scott Scholtz, plant manager of the York, Neb., location," says Alden. "And we were limited in the types of equipment we had available. So, all of our flavorings and seasonings needed to be compatible with that equipment."


The best way to ensure the match of ingredients and machinery: "We were involved in development from the outset," says Scholtz. "We looked at the equipment we had and what we could do with it."


Scholtz adds that early insight into team goals made that process easier. "One of the things marketing did right away was come to the plant and give us the whole presentation on the concept and where we were headed," says Scholtz. "It got everyone here excited and gave us a clear view of what was wanted and needed. Everyone in the plant could really feel ownership."


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