Expanding the Menu of Growth Opportunities in the Food Industry

Even the largest food company in America isn’t immune to competition from startups. In this episode of Mastering Innovation on Sirius XM Channel 132, Business Radio Powered by The Wharton School, guest Sally Grimes, President of Prepared Foods at Tyson Foods, discussed the different ways the company innovates to stay on top of food industry trends and seize new opportunities for growth.

Tyson Foods combines internal innovation with partnerships formed with like-minded startups. Grimes discussed recent initiatives such as offering plant-based protein options, diverting pulp from landfills in the juicing industry, and making “flash food boxes” for lower income families. She highlighted the recent launch of their Yappah brand, which is a new snack that reduces food waste in the supply chain. Internally, she stressed the importance of a culture of transparency and collaboration so that anyone can feel comfortable proposing new ideas to move the company forward.

An excerpt of the interview is transcribed below. Listen to more episodes here.


Sally Grimes Portrait
Sally Grimes (President of Prepared Foods, Tyson Foods)

Saikat Chaudhuri: Can you remind our listeners about the brands that Tyson Foods has and the products you sell?

Sally Grimes: Absolutely. It’s a pretty exciting time to be part of Tyson Foods. Tyson is the largest food company in America, and we have quite a large portfolio of brands, many I’m sure you’ve heard of. We have a few billion-dollar brands like the Tyson brands you see on chicken, the Jimmy Dean brand, and Hillshire Farm.

We have brands like Aidells Sausage, a more artisanal brand, and Ball Parks Hot Dogs. We also have a lot of emerging brands like Hillshire Snacking, Tyson Tastemaker, Meal Kits, even Nudges Pet Treats: quite a portfolio of protein-packed brands.

Chaudhuri: Tell us a little bit about the latest initiatives. I was reading how you and some colleagues of yours have been really eyeing to disrupt yourself by moving from your traditional focus on meat to non-meat proteins. That seems like quite a radical departure.

Grimes: It’s really about offering choice to consumers. Protein is continuing to expand, and consumers are looking for both animal-based and plant-based protein. So, yes, we’re disrupting ourselves, not necessarily to replace animal-based protein but to expand the repertoire for consumers as they’re looking for choice in their desire for more protein in their diet.

Chaudhuri: I like what you’re doing, because everybody knows that you need to adapt over time to remain relevant, but sometimes I think companies define themselves very narrowly. Instead of defining yourself as a meat company, you’re really defining yourself as a protein company. And that can come from multiple sources and that you have a lot of competence and experience in.

“We’re disrupting ourselves, not necessarily to replace animal-based protein but to expand the repertoire for consumers as they’re looking for choice.” – Sally Grimes

Grimes: That’s absolutely right. I think the other aspect of that — in terms of casting a wider net or opening the aperture — is taking a look at multiple growth models, not only thinking about the categories in which we play holistically but the way we approach the opportunities. We think about more of a suite of growth models versus a traditional approach to how we’re going to grow.

Chaudhuri: What are the growth models that you’re looking at?

Grimes: This is all about the flexibility to match the solution with the opportunity and to expand Tyson’s overall growth capacity. When we think about the suite of growth models, we talk about building, which is something that a lot of us have been doing throughout our careers. This entails thriving in our core categories: well-developed brand-building and innovation processes. But we’re also building by applying those in new ways, like something we’re calling the Tyson Innovation Lab, which is a totally different approach to innovation.

Another [growth model] is buying, M&A, acquiring new capabilities or new brands and creating new economies of scale. Another is investing: we have a Tyson Ventures Group that enables us to invest in early-stage growth opportunities. And then, I think the last one I would probably describe is partnerships. We’re partnering with other brands and businesses like we’ve never done before, businesses that share our values and really bring complementary capabilities to the table. So the theme of all of this is that we’ve stopped trying to use old tools to solve new problems.

Chaudhuri: Tell me a little bit about the Tyson Innovation Lab. Today was an exciting announcement of a new brand that’s intended to reduce waste in the supply chain and in consumption. Tell me a little bit more about that.

“The idea was to inspire people and partners to rethink their relationship with food and how it impacts society.” – Sally Grimes

Grimes: Sure. This all started as we were thinking about innovation and what’s happening in the market today. And we’re seeing a lot of growth, obviously, coming from smaller startup companies. And the typical CPG companies that we’ve competed with in the past are not going to be our biggest competition as we look into the future for growth. So we really took this step back and we said, “What should we be thinking about from a growth model moving forward?” And one of the things that we did was say, “Let’s create the Tyson Innovation Lab,” which is simply tasked with bringing new consumer products to market in six months. So the first brand launched today, called “Yappah,” challenges consumers to rethink snacks for good.

The brand name was inspired by a tradition in the South American Andes called yappah, which refers to that little extra something that a merchant might give to a customer at the farmers’ market, so nothing gets wasted.

The other interesting aspect of the word is that it means “beauty” in Hebrew. The idea was to inspire people and partners to rethink their relationship with food and how it impacts society and define beauty and the forgotten. What we’ve done is leverage partnerships with like-minded food companies to use rescued and upcycled vegetable and grain-based ingredients that might otherwise be left behind.

Think about the juicing industry and all the pulp that ends up in landfill. We’re taking that. We’re also taking spent grain from the beer-brewing process. We’re partnering with Molson Coors on this to take our own chicken breast trim that’s still full of flavor and protein, and combine it with either rescued vegetable puree from juicing or rescued Molson Coors spent grain to create these protein crisps. It’s a brand new snack that launched recently on Indiegogo, which is a crowdfunding platform. You can see it online right now.

Chaudhuri: Fascinating. I’m sure it’s all hygienic and is very, very tasty as well.

Grimes: They’re delicious and a great source of protein, going back to the fact that that’s what consumers are looking for. They’re looking for how to add more protein into their diets, how to have an on-the-go snack for their on-the-go-lives. And here we have a snack that is also good for the environment.

About Our Guest

Sally Grimes is group president, prepared foods for Tyson Foods. She is responsible for delivering top and bottom line growth while reshaping the segment for the future of food. Sally is a member of Tyson Foods’ enterprise leadership team and reports to President and CEO Tom Hayes.

Sally previously served as president, international and chief global growth officer for the company. She came to Tyson Foods with the acquisition of The Hillshire Brands Company where she served as chief innovation officer and president of the Gourmet Food Group. Early in her career, she spent more than a decade at Kraft Foods in brand management, and then transitioned to take Sharpie markers from “commodity to community” as she led the digital transformation of the brand as global vice president of marketing at Newell Rubbermaid.

Sally received her Master of Business Administration from the University of Chicago. Recognitions include being named Fast Company’s “100 Most Creative People in Business,” Ad Age’s “Top Women to Watch,” Advertising Women of New York’s “Game Changer,” Chicago Tribune’s “Top Innovator in Chicago,” and Brand Innovators’ “Top 100 Most Innovative Women in Brand Marketing.” You can find more at @TysonFoods.

Mastering Innovation is live on Thursdays at 4:00 p.m. ET. Listen to more episodes here.