The Tyson Fresh Meats business is an umbrella for seven brands of premium pork and beef products.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. – A new generation of buyers rising through the ranks of the food retail industry presented a challenge and an opportunity for Tyson Foods to re-think the company’s Fresh Meats brand identity.

The Springdale, Arkansas-based food company entered the beef and pork segment in 2001 after closing the acquisition of IBP Inc. Tyson Fresh Meats, which is based in Dakota Dunes, South Dakota, serves as the beef and pork division of Tyson although the packaging still bears the IBP logo.

MEAT+POULTRY caught up with Kent Harrison, vice president of marketing and premium programs at Tyson Fresh Meats, at the 2018 Meat Conference in Nashville, Tennessee. He discussed the company’s strategy to make the Tyson Fresh Meats brand top-of-mind among today’s multi-generational retail buyers.

MEAT+POULTRY: You were talking about Tyson’s efforts to improve the company’s position from a sales point of view by making its Fresh Meats brand identity clearer to customers.

Kent Harrison: The company used to be, on the beef and pork side, IBP; Tyson bought them in the late 1990s. Because there was such a recognition in the industry of the IBP brand it remains on our box, and it is decidedly a flagship brand that we have.

But the inference that we have from the market is that people still think of it as IBP the company, and IBP is really just the brand [and] the company being Tyson.

The Tyson Fresh Meats portfolio consists of premium beef and pork products.
The Tyson Fresh Meats portfolio consists of premium beef and pork products.

What led us to the “Beef and Pork Experts” is doing regular studies with our customer base and asking them “…what do you view as important with what we bring to you?” And we’ve really seen a transition from the old guard of retail decision makers to the next generation. And they’re starting to say “I know you guys as Tyson. I know IBP is on the box, but I realize it’s Tyson.” That was wonderful for us because that’s what we’re trying to portray.

And then we also said now is the time to really dig in and talk about ourselves as the beef and pork experts. We’ve got some great competition in beef; we’ve got some great competition in pork. Very few bring them together with the exception of one big player. We want to say ‘hey, we’re the beef and pork experts. We give you solutions across the board with the brand, and under this new umbrella we’re the Tyson Fresh Meats team.’

The way it’s positioned creatively and with the logo, it’s now separated from what is the retail chicken presence, which is wonderful but to many consumers and even those who are in our industry that’s about chicken. This [Tyson Fresh Meats] is something much bigger and broader.

M+P: Tyson isn’t just a meat processor anymore. How does the company differentiate its many businesses and functions for customers?

Tyson Tastemakers meal kit

Harrison: We’ve got a number of different business units. For instance, the Tyson Tastemakers is part of the Prepared Foods division, and yet they are produced at our Emporia (Kansas) plant which is under the umbrella of our Fresh Meats operations. So, we really do think of it differently. But with the Fresh Meats, it’s beef and pork and case-ready. So, it really boils down to that fresh, non-enhanced product. Some value-added capabilities out of Emporia, but with things that go into that CPG or consumer fresh foods, then you’re talking about what is our Prepared Foods Division.

Keeping it all straight is not only interesting to the market place — which we want to portray a seamless identity — but to the trade media and to the customer base. What we’re really trying to focus on is that we bring the capabilities of beef and pork to you, but we also have this integrated supply chain where we can connect you to our meal kit family. We can bring Ball Park-infused hamburger patties with different seasonings and spices. We’ve become a lot better at this communication with some of the acquisitions, the biggest one being Hillshire Farms.

Some of the promise in that is we’ve got this fantastic supply of fresh goods, and they’re [the customers] the ones who can use it and turn it into some value-added sausage, some of the Ball Park ingredients that we have, Jimmy Dean with a lot of the pork products that we have.

M+P: What are some of the risks involved with “disrupting” the brand?

Harrison: Two big risks. One is moving ourselves away from that identity of IBP being who we are and making sure that people understand that’s just a brand inside of a larger portfolio of product offerings. It’s our true commodity brand, and so it represents a lot of what we produce, but it still is a brand.

Tyson Foods logo

Back to those decision makers, there’s a generation of baby boomers, and slightly younger generation X decision makers who still connect us with IBP. So, we’re trying to move them away from that into the idea that we bring a much more holistic product offering to them.

The danger, or the risk, is them disassociating from what they used to know. I think it’s worth the risk if you do it correctly as we move into a new generation of decision makers.

The other risk element, I think, to what we’re doing is actually delivering on being the experts. We do have an expertise that’s well-founded in our tenure, in our management and what we do from an operations standpoint.

So, we’re saying in the next six months and the next year into 2019, here’s the list of things that we bring to you that make you believe that we are the experts. The disingenuousness of saying you are the experts without providing expertise — like any good brand — it takes away from that identity if you don’t live up to what you say you are. That’s our next challenge and is a risk.

We have to constantly be not only innovative with products but use our service level — here’s what’s next on the marketing side; here’s what we can tell you about merchandising; here’s what we think is going to happen with consumer insights and how your meat case might be positioned in order to take advantage of that; the omnichannel with online — all of the different things we can help understand for the retailer.