NASHVILLE, TENN. – Tyson Fresh Meats, a unit of Tyson Foods Inc., developed a “virtual butcher shop” called “What the Cut” that enables retailers to educate customers about different cuts of case-ready meats.

Information about specific cuts of meat, recipes and nutrition information can be accessed by scanning a QR code on a package of a specific cut or by going to the website, Users also can create an account in What the Cut and connect it to their Facebook, Instagram or Pinterest social media profiles to save recipes and create preferences such as cooking methods or preferred cuts.

“Our first version of this looked like a bunch of sticky notes up on a wall, and then went to a prototype,” said Kent Harrison, vice president of marketing and premium programs for Tyson Fresh Meats. “We started talking about how this could be implemented, and then of course, you’re going to get to the branding and the naming. It’s an area that we’re dedicated to, and I think it will continue to proliferate, grow and turn into different things.”

Currently, Tyson can customize the branding of What the Cut to a retailer’s specifications, or it can serve as an out-of-the-box solution.

“We’re willing to take it and re-skin it — meaning rebrand it entirely under their name or work with them to call it something else and then we can isolate that particular version of it for that particular retailer,” he said. “I think that’s where the real benefit will come for the retailer, but for smaller retailers who are just looking for a solution that they can implement quickly and easily the What the Cut version is perfect for them.”

Tyson Fresh Meats promoted What the Cut during the 2020 Annual Meat Conference held in Nashville, Tenn., March 1-4. Harrison discussed the details of the software and how it evolved with MEAT+POULTRY.

M+P: How did the software evolve into a tool for Tyson’s retail partners?

Kent Harrison: This started out as something we were calling the Virtual Butcher, and then realizing that was a generic description of things, we’ve just finished the programming portion of it and are ready to start working with a retail partner.

We’re trying to do more for our retail partners. With the labor shortages, getting people for running meat departments or if you’re in a case-ready program altogether – you don’t have anybody necessarily that can talk about the cuts.

So, the Virtual Butcher program was ideal for the millennial cohort and the Gen Z cohort as they grow up and learn about meat. We decided to call it “What the Cut” and of course it’s a tongue-in-cheek reference to what those generations like to type on their phones and the “WTF.” Surprisingly with Tyson being a very conservative company they said “yeah, that’s a fine name to go with,” and we really like it.

M+P: Walk us through how this is supposed to work for the consumer and how is the retailer supposed to introduce this technology?

Harrison: We’ve designed it so that it can come out of the box as What the Cut if they want to use that name. But we also would say to retailers that we’ll gladly take what is this foundational software creation and re-skin it if you want it to be for your business and still have all of the components be available.

You call it something else; you can call it “Retailer XYZ” and we’ll help you with that development albeit that would be with a business relationship on the product side. But the core component then would be through the labels themselves on pack, being able to use your smartphone to use what is just QR code technology that allows you then to immediately in front of the meat case bring up information on that cut of meat; look for alternatives; look for associated recipes. Then have [the consumer] become a frequent user and sign up as a subscribed member so that we can then use that information to ping them with notifications to let them know when there are excellent opportunities at the buy side at the retailer.

M+P: Tyson has patents pending and What the Cut isn’t live yet.  When can we expect to see this technology in action?

Harrison: Our goal is to have it in market before the long weekends in May. Knowing that in the United States no matter what we do with Easter, no matter what happens with the weather, that seems to be the official launch period for grilling season. So ideally, we will be talking to retailers over the next two months and we have a partner on board – I won’t be able to tell you who at this point – that deals with our company on a case-ready product basis. And we bring this as a solution for how they can communicate to their consumers.

M+P: Let’s bring this back to the Power of Meat presentation. It sounds like meat and poultry have image issues. Is there any way this technology can help retailers address consumer concerns such as nutrition?

Harrison: We are working on a program called “Progressive Beef,” and it’s a license program with our feedlot providers and that’s probably the least sexy part of our business. Cowboys can be made to look romantic. But when you're in animal agriculture…

M+P: Cows, not so much?

Harrison: Yeah, cows by themselves, not so much. So, we think that’s one of the focal points for where the bad perception comes. So, progressive beef has three pillars focusing on animal welfare, food safety and sustainability. With that in mind, what we envision as we build up the amount of our herd that goes through that program – by the end of this year we’re going to be at about 45% or somewhere between 40% and 50% – how could we take  product identified under that program and integrate the messaging about that into the What the Cut app or that retailer’s version of the What the Cut app. If that’s the technology component that speaks to those consumers who are the most susceptible to infiltration of negative media, then let’s give them the alternative story so at least it’s a balanced approach to allowing them to choose what their reality is.