Tyson Plants Reflect 'Most Admired' Reputation

Tyson's heritage remains in evidence despite super-sized growth.

By Mike Pehanich, Plant Operations Editor

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With such stunning expansion of its production capability, replicating best practices where practical and possible becomes of paramount importance.

"From a quality standpoint, we ask what we can do better and differently," explains Bond. "We work hard to get sharing [of best practices] between all of our facilities."

Maintenance practices are a case in point.

"We have a team installing a highly advanced maintenance program," says Bond. "Maintenance people used to work crisis to crisis. Now we emphasize predictive maintenance. We plan their work orders daily. Today they do a better job of preventing crises from an equipment, plant and team standpoint."

With the diversity of plants now under Tyson's wing has also come a broader range of plant solutions.

"We also shuffle people from our pork plans to our poultry plants, from poultry to beef…and cross-fertilize in this manner. We get an interaction of shared knowledge," says John Tyson.

The Tyson heritage, it seems, thrives through growing pains.

Case history: Tyson's Fayetteville complex

For generations, Tyson's strength seemed to reside in specialization. Like Col. Sanders of Kentucky Fried Chicken ads, Tyson knew how to "do chicken right." But the company's production excellence already is proving to be one of its strongest assets as it re-creates the pork and beef businesses in the value-added mold it used to revolutionize the poultry industry.

A huge part of that success involves cost control and improving productivity and efficiencies through automation and better yield. Tyson spent $486 million in capital expenditures in fiscal 2004. Most were directed toward cost savings and income-generating projects. The company anticipates savings exceeding $63 million annually to emerge from the investment.

At Tyson, all investments must prove their worth. That includes investments in people.

"I've been with the company 15 years, and the production team members I've worked with have received pay increases virtually every year," explains Richard Irvin, a complex manager who oversees several Tyson prepared foods plants, including the Fayetteville (Ark.) complex. "We continue to lower our cost of production. We had 2,000 people in 1991 at five facilities in three locations. We're producing 60 percent more volume today with 200 fewer people than we had then. That is mostly due to automation and efficiencies. If you look at our labor rate times the hours put in, our [cost of production] is as good or better on a per-pound basis every year."

  • Built in 1965; Tyson purchased in 1983
  • 229,000 sq. ft. on 367 acres
  • 750 hourly workers, 75 management
  • Makes 295 products under multiple brand codes
  • 21 active lines
  • Average weekly production: 4.1 million lbs.
  • Freezer capacity: 12 million lbs.
  • 1 million man-hours (14 years) without a lost-time accident
"We have taken jobs that are tough physically and automated them," explains Bond, noting the company has automated poultry and pork operations extensively over the last three years.

The flip side of Tyson capital investment has been plant rationalization. Since 2002, Tyson has closed and consolidated seven plants. Among the major moves has been the consolidation of operations in Fayetteville. In October 2004, Tyson closed a plant that had come with its purchase of Mexican Original Inc. in 1983 and streamlined the management structure at three other facilities, creating the current Fayetteville complex.

The purchase of Mexican Original, then a small corn and flour tortilla processor, had been the first Tyson further-processed venture outside of protein products. Tyson has worked its value-added magic from that base of Mexican staples, creating products that couple tortillas and taco shells with poultry and other meat protein items along with beans, starches and vegetables.

Tyson today provides both components and complete Mexican meals for both the foodservice and retail channels. Products include (heat pressed) tortillas, tacos, chips and flatbread. Poultry and beef also are processed here. They go into products in the growing "kit" segment of the business – meal packages, such as chicken and beef fajita kits, containing multiple prepared components designed to prepare and mix easily for a good-as-fresh meal.

"Tyson's kit business is growing faster than the industry average," says Darrell Froud, plant manager.

Inside the plant

The Fayetteville complex is comprised of a three-line area for the manufacture of tortilla and corn chips; a post-pasteurization packaging room with an adjacent USDA freezer; a USDA-governed meat area consisting of a raw meat cooler, raw meat processing area and a cooked meat processing area; an 11-line flour tortilla processing room; and a 5,800-sq.-ft. freezer and freezer tunnel. Two ammonia refrigeration engine rooms power the plant's extensive refrigeration needs.

One highlight of the plant is its post-pasteurization line. The line processes ingredient meats for individual sale and for inclusion in the successful line of Tyson kit meals. "It's almost like a retort process," explains Irvin. "The product is recooked in the bag. You can safely keep the product refrigerated for 90 days."

Corn chips are staples at the Fayetteville complex, and the facility meets demand with baked and pre-fried corn chip lines.

Tyson uses several different food-grade corn varieties for the line and produces chips in three colors. High quality raw ingredient, free from cracks, breakage and aflatoxins, is a must. Optimum moisture retention is 12 percent.
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