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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Any successful dish relies upon the proper blend of ingredients. For the recent launch of Tyson Foods' Individually Fresh Frozen line, that blend included the adoption of new corporate cultures and a fresh approach to the center of the plate.


The Individually Fresh Frozen line represents a full menu of value-added beef and pork products, including Beef Medallion Roasts, Lemon Pepper Pork Chops, Beef Flat Iron Grillers, Center Fillets, Breaded Pork Chops and Stuffed Pork Chops. Although each of the line's specially-seasoned entrees is a departure from more run-of-the-mill frozen meat products, the Stuffed Pork Chop is especially noteworthy. Certainly, any food professional can appreciate the focus required to create a stuffed meat product containing the appropriate balance of flavors and ingredients. Add to that the mechanics involved in developing and processing the stuffing, as well as the ever-present and ever-pressing challenge of achieving product consistency, and you get some idea of the Tyson team's challenges , and accomplishments -- despite the hundreds of miles that separated some of its key players.


Despite -- or perhaps because of -- the product's unique nature, the Stuffed Pork Chops went from concept to marketplace in about five months. The product is now enjoying a successful West Coast rollout.



First things first


It's important, of course, to have vision, and at Tyson, recently ranked by Fortune magazine as one its most admired companies, vision begins with the consumer.


"We first had to identify who we were targeting and what it was they needed," recalls Mike Stout, director of marketing, frozen foods division and point man for the product line.


Because it's common knowledge that many consumers crave convenience and quality, preferably in the same product, targeting that particular segment may have seemed like a no brainer. But to better tailor its product development efforts, Tyson surveyed some 800 consumers representing 20 markets. The research was vital, because former incarnations of a similar concept (outside the Tyson purview) hadn't performed to expectations. In-depth consumer research, which focused on qualitative data and concept optimization, helped the team focus on issues that were unclear in earlier efforts.


"Two years ago, we fell into the lack-of-differentiation trap by not providing the additional value needed to drive interest and sales of this underdeveloped category," says Stout. "Past entries were not branded, often of poor quality and they lacked support, which ultimately resulted in their demise."


Eventually Tyson initiated another go at the concept, with Group Vice President of Consumer Products John Lee this time applying some of his own perspective on vision.


"He gave us direction and we set ourselves to retrench and re-launch as soon as possible," recalls Stout. With renewed inspiration and better insights, the team was ready to create the new line of products , products that Tyson now believes are certain to enhance consumer perception of frozen meats.


"Beef and pork have been largely commodity-driven rather than value-added," adds Stout "Consumers have had some major disappointments; quality and consistency among them."


The Tyson team was committed to ensuring this new line was no disappointment. Since today's hurried consumer freezes two-thirds of all fresh meat within the two days of its purchase, team members reasoned that providing them with single-serve cuts of meat, individually vacuum sealed and requiring no thawing, would be the perfect product to meet their needs. And recognizing that the average consumer's knowledge about different cuts was fairly limited, informed mostly by restaurant visits and vague translations of those experiences in his own home, the development team realized that their success would rely heavily on value and flavor excitement. But there were challenges.

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