Tyson Foods has more than 122,000 employees around the world, but it could be a team of seven workers in its new innovation lab in Chicago that hold the key to helping the 88-year old company adopt the startup mentality it is trying to emulate.
“As we think about innovation and what’s happening out in the market today, we’re seeing a lot of growth coming from smaller startup companies, and the typical CPG companies that we’ve competed with in the past aren’t necessarily going to be our biggest competitors as we look into the future for growth," Jen Bentz, senior vice president of R&D for insights and innovation at Tyson, told Food Dive. "And so we had to take a step back and say, 'Well, what makes them successful, and what should we be thinking about from a growth model moving forward?' ”
The idea for the lab came last October when officials at Tyson realized they needed to be better at innovating and do it in a faster and more agile way, or risk falling behind quickly changing consumer tastes and preferences.
The innovation lab team, which includes a food scientist, a brand marketer, a product designer and a Michelin-trained chef, was given a mandate to create and get a product to market within six months. The group is responsible for everything from designing the packaging to creating, launching and marketing products, including the use of social media. It is left largely to run independently from Tyson itself.
So far, the lab has produced two products. The first is a collaboration with startup Flash Food to produce the Flashfoodbox. These include surplus protein from Tyson combined with extra produce, and are sold directly to the consumer. It is currently being tested in Detroit for three months.
The second and newest product is its boldest attempt to follow through on this mission. Tyson's lab has created a protein crisp called ¡Yappah! that incorporates Tyson chicken trim with ingredients that would otherwise be left behind — vegetable puree and pulp from juicing and spent grain donated by beer giant Molson Coors.
¡Yappah! is being test marketed using the Indiegogo crowdfunding platform. The four flavors — Chicken Carrot - Curry Flavored; Chicken Celery - Mojo Flavored; Chicken IPA White Cheddar Chicken; and Shandy Beer Flavored — will be sold at one Chicago store in July. The purpose behind the test, company officials said, is to allow the lab to collect information and feedback about their message, product design, packaging, price points and other data to make changes before it decides whether to expand the product's reach to more locations.
"Crowdsourcing platforms help us to test our innovation quickly and get feedback quickly so the consumer puts their money if they like the concept," Rizal Hamdallah, the head of Tyson's innovation lab, told Food Dive. "That's a very [helpful] 'research tool,' whether this concept is having purchase intent from our consumers."
The lab has three focus areas that tackle larger global issues: food waste, health and nutrition, and food deserts. This was by design. If the company wants to use crowdsourcing as a way to test a product and collect instant feedback, it needs to address food issues that resonate with the consumers most likely to use these platforms.
For now, the company plans to start work on two projects annually, and potentially more if the lab itself grows.
Just like Tyson's lab tests out products before rolling them out more broadly, Bentz said the lab itself is being tweaked and refined for the future, including whether some of its approaches could be applied to other areas of the company.
"We have set up financial goals for the launches, and we’re going to work hard to ensure that they are going to drive growth for our organization, and if they do, then this will just continue to expand from there," Bentz said