SPRINGDALE, Ark. – As Tyson Foods’ vice president of marketing for deli and convenience-store foods, Eric Le Blanc is focused on alternative markets where previously, the company’s foodservice and retail products weren’t traditionally positioned. In an August conference call, Donnie Smith, president and CEO toldMeat&Poultrythat tapping into non-traditional retail venues is a priority and that the focus extends beyond mini-marts and gas stations. “We also view alternate channels, whether it be dollar stores, drug stores, whatever — to be a great opportunity for us.”


 Eric Le Blanc

“Americans are looking for what they want, when they want it,” says Le Blanc. Many non-traditional retail outlets for food are seeing demand grow in their aisles and at their counters where sales are diversifying to not only lottery tickets and cold medicine, but also high-quality prepared foods.

“Who would’ve thought several years ago, you’d be going to your local drugstore to grab a sandwich,” he says, adding that Tyson brings more to the table for these venues than just chicken. What Tyson offers is an expertise in the area of selling foodservice items in a retail environment. It’s somewhat of a blended approach, says LeBlanc. “It’s really different than classical foodservice and very different than classical retailing,” he says. For most alternative channels such as these, there is a learning curve for the operators and some inherent limitations to what can be offered. Admittedly, Tyson’s specialists are learning alongside the operators of these outlets. Striking a balance between delivering what consumers want and what foods the retailers can handle with a limited production platform is the goal.

The potential for Tyson and other food companies to capitalize on the c-store segment, which according to market research firm IBISWorld, is comprised of about 150,000 locations in the US, is significant. In just the last few years, the profile of the typical consumer of convenience stores has evolved, based in large part on their location. Le Blanc says making the distinction between the demand and products of say, a roadside store adjacent to a highway vs. one that is rurally based vs. one that is in a more densely populated suburban location was an important revelation in Tyson’s strategy to serve them.

“We use the term ‘urbanicity’ to describe these different geographical and demographical distinctions,” he says. Customers shopping alternative markets based in larger cities, for example, tend to be frequented by younger, urban, single males with a surprising amount of food sophistication. Suburban and rural areas tend to attract more females who are often college-educated mothers or even soccer moms, from middle- to upper-income households. It is this category of customer that provides the most upside from a growth potential standpoint. Tyson plans to appeal to this customer demographic as it grows its alternative channel business.

Read more about Tyson’s strategy to grow its business in c-stores, drugstores and dollar store venues in the December issue ofMeat&Poultry, available next month.