Members of R&D, QA and operations met throughout the product development process to ensure all were following the same path.
"We had face-to-face meetings every three weeks or so to look at the product and its ingredients at the plant level," says Scholtz. "Like any project, we had our issues to work through. But we were able to tap resources from across the company." During final design and initial ramp-up, there was considerable travel time, with meetings held nearly every one to two weeks.
Because the solution they devised is proprietary, team members can't provide details, though Scholtz allows that the project required some customization of Tyson resources.
"Scott is exceptional at addressing process issues," says Alden. "He is a delight to work with because of his can-do attitude. Because of his expertise we were able to find new answers."
To help ensure consistency from the start, QA was included in all discussions. "As soon as the idea was brought into the plant, we would meet and troubleshoot potential problems," says Jodi Free, quality assurance manager, York, Neb.
Because of the products' complexity, the Tyson team also looked to suppliers and outside resources for assistance. In fact, early in the development process, Tyson tapped the expertise of the National Cattleman's Beef Association and the National Pork Board to uncover all of the potential possibilities of their products.
This "external team" was able to explain various nuances of their products while identifying potential pitfalls of certain approaches.
"In working with suppliers, we like to find them at the bench level and ask for a mixture that works with the process," says Alden. "We look for a summary of attributes, drawing on their technologists and chefs."
Quality and consistency continue to be of paramount concern. Because of their geographic separation, the Tyson team relies on digital technology to promote meaningful discourse across state lines. "Since starting production, I send photos to everyone," adds Free.
There is still work to do.
"We want to automate so we can be even more efficient with respect to consistency of shape , that consistent pork chop look," says Scholtz. "We want to make sure the first pork chop to be packaged looks like the 800th."
Packaging, too, has been important to maintaining the integrity and convenience of the products. Packed in four, individually sealed single servings nestled in a resealable, high-graphic stand-up pouch, the product is perfect for the hurried consumer.
"The packaging is a significant marketing tool," says Stout. "The individual portions maintain a fresh product. From a quality perspective, we went for the best packaging solution possible. The back of the package contains cooking instructions for four methods , and recipe ideas perfected with help from Tyson's home economists."
The bags also highlight the nutritional benefits of beef and pork.
Since the products are frozen, the Tyson team says product integrity isn't a problem and the product has a shelf life of "several months."
"We are working with second or third generation products already," says Stout.