Tyson Foods announced that it is partnering with two incubators — one in Chicago and one in California — to help startup food businesses leverage the expertise of the Arkansas-based company and to help Tyson tap into innovative ideas.
Plug and Play, a global innovation platform in Silicon Valley, intends to match Tyson with promising food businesses in the startup community. The company invests in more than 150 companies each year, according to Food Business News. Chicago-based 1871 links nearly 500 digital startups to 600-plus mentors and more than 100 companies, universities, accelerators, venture funds and other organizations.
Tyson Ventures recently bought a minority stake in Memphis Meats, a cultured meat startup in San Francisco. The company has also invested in plant-based protein products through its partnership with Beyond Meat and, earlier this month, announced it would put funds into Tovala, a manufacturer of steam ovens and ready-to-cook foods. Last year, the company bought AdvancePierre, a maker of RTE hamburgers, stuffed chicken breasts, cheesesteaks and other sandwiches, for $4.2 billion.
It's conceivable that a startup business Tyson works with through these incubators could develop the next wildly popular plant-based burger or a ready-to-eat spicy meat snack that sets the grab-and-go consumer segment on fire. Or, it could be a product completely outside the traditional meat and poultry space. With the relationships already established, it's only a few steps from innovation to introduction into the marketplace for a huge company with development expertise and a global distribution network already in place.
These partnerships are also relatively low-risk since Tyson doesn't put a big chunk of money in at the start but builds up the connection through sharing expertise and learns about the food-based ideas already percolating out there. And, since the startups are already working with an established incubator with solid connections, the chances of working with a big food firm are much greater for them than if they were to try and connect on their own with the larger entity.
This approach has been so successful that other major manufacturers are working with incubators or even starting their own. Conagra Brands and Kellogg Co. are involved in a joint project called "The Hatchery" opening on Chicago's West Side this November. That food business incubator will mainly focus on snacks.
Also, Nestle USA invested in an accelerator last summer to encourage new food and agriculture startups, and Land O'Lakes launched an incubator this past July to support the growth of dairy product startups so they can more successfully compete with plant-based alternatives. Chobani runs its own incubator classes and supported seven food startups to take part in its second one this past fall.
Even though U.S. per-capita meat consumption is up this year, more consumers are trying out plant-based proteins these days in order to reduce cholesterol, limit fat and focus on healthier foods. A smart animal protein processor keeps an eye on interesting developments in the industry — regardless of whether they're in the meat and poultry sector and regardless of geographic location — and that's what Tyson appears to be doing.