Tyson Discovery Center Cooks Up the Future

Tyson's soon-to-be-completed research, development and training facility is a $52 million commitment to continuing product excellence.

By David Feder, R.D., Managing Editor

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Digital Editor's Note: This article is one of three segments of Food Processing's December cover story on its "Processor of the Year," Tyson Foods. Click here to read the feature on the mega-processor's plant operations; click here to access the article on Tyson's business acumen.

Once you make your first billion, it's no longer about getting to the top - it's about staying there. For Tyson Foods Inc., the drive to stay on the top began $26 billion ago, and the company, which released more than 420 new products this year, still is sharp enough to know that staying at the top of the food game comes down to two words: research and development.

This forward-looking septuagenarian is not about to let size or solid success slow down the thinking process, and to that end has broken ground on a $52 million R&D facility, called the Discovery Center, smack in the middle of its Springdale, Ark., headquarters campus. The project team includes Charles Wyche, senior director of R&D, and Bob Love, vice president of R&D, who provides oversight and direction for the project.

But such a center would be just another building without an attitude toward research and development that is dedicated to exploration.


Passion in the process

Hal Carper, senior vice president of corporate research and development, describes Tyson's commitment to detail as springing from a plan of "life-long learning and a passion for food." It starts on the inside, he says, noting that his R&D team treats other company business units as if they were customers. "We are firmly focused on fulfilling the needs of both internal and external customers."

Carper explains that promoting the merger of team play and individual contribution allows team members to "pursue parallel paths, simultaneously rather than being limited by a single, linear path in new product development."

In designing and developing new products from ideation and product development through completion, Tyson combines in-house idea generation with consumer insights. "Key insights come from consumers, retailers, distributors, chain restaurants and foodservice operators," notes Carper. "Consumers and retailers alike expect us to come up with new and innovative products that still deliver on the same promises the Tyson name has come to mean - quality, trusted products I can feed to both family and friends."

One example of this synergy is Tyson's new fajita kits, a packaged line of "quick 'n easy, ready in 7 minutes" fajita dinners that contain not only the seasoned meat and vegetables, but the tortillas as well. Says Carper, "Early on, our focus was around gaining synergy from of some of our existing processes. We had tortilla production in one facility, precooked chicken strips in another and vegetable expertise in a third. At the same time, research showed that consumers wanted involvement in preparation, but not too much involvement -call it 'participative convenience.'"

Other consumer product success stories from Tyson R&D include its "ingredient meats," refrigerated and seasoned chicken and beef used in recipes for casseroles, tortilla wraps, salad and pizza toppings; the award-winning "Southwest Chicken Breast Strips"; and a line of refrigerated chicken, beef, pork and turkey "heat and eat" entrees.

On the foodservice side, examples include Chicken Bites, one- or two-bite pieces of whole-muscle chicken breast meat. Each piece is marinated and lightly breaded. The pieces are consistently sized, individually frozen for easy portioning and available in four ready-to-cook versions and two fully cooked and glazed options. They come in a variety of flavors as well: a spicy "Bites of Fire" flavor, "Homestyle Pepper" and the more traditional "Honey Barbeque."

Tyson also powers foodservice "speed-to-plate" with its new ready-to-cook "CrossFires" fully cooked, grill-marked chicken breast filets. They're pre-seared with crisscross marks and have an authentic flame-grilled smoky flavor.

Tyson's new "CrossFires" fully cooked, grill-marked chicken breast filets provide foodservice operators with a heat-and-serve product designed to taste like it just came off the grill.

No stage fright here

Carper relies on a modified Stage or Phase Gate process, customized to Tyson's needs, to manage new product development.

"Our retail new products team employs a five-stage process," he explains. "In Stage 1, we screen new ideas and identify which ones to explore further. In Stage 2, we assess the ideas via consumer input on needs and frustrations, plus we evaluate similar products in the marketplace.

"The end of this process results in creating several consumer-driven concept statements based on what the consumer wants. These concepts are subjected to quantitative consumer testing to assess the size of the idea. Preliminary financial models developed from the information gathered helps determine if the idea will meet the company's threshold for a new business."

Stage 3 moves the team into testing the product in all forms to perfect it and to gauge how well it performs against the written concept. "The testing includes prototype evaluation, qualitative and quantitative consumer research with the product and possibly product optimization work, leading to a quantitative assessment of how well the product is received by the consumer and how well it delivers the concept," says Carper.

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