Hillshire Farm chicken sausage, Tyson Foodservice
At NACS, Tyson Foodservice launched Hillshire Farm chicken sausage, available in mango habanero, chicken apple, bacon gouda and sriracha jack flavors.

SPRINGDALE, ARK. — Those attending this year’s National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS) tradeshow in Atlanta were some of the first customers to see how the integration of Tyson Foods’ and Hillshire Brands’ food service divisions is playing out. While much of the focus during the two years since the Hillshire acquisition has been on Tyson Foods’ increased presence at retail with such brands as Ball Park, Jimmy Dean and Hillshire Farm, food service represents another significant opportunity for the company.

Kristin Bird, Tyson Foodservice
Kristin Bird, senior vice-president of foodservice channel development for Tyson Foods

“From a messaging perspective, you will see a great example at the NACS show,” said Kristin Bird, senior vice-president of food service channel development for Tyson Foods. “It will be our first external representation and customers will see a whole new positioning to the channel.”

With approximately $8 billion in annual sales, Tyson Foodservice management is focusing on a variety of segments, including commercial and non-commercial restaurants, convenience, health care, lodging, K-12, and college and university.

“We are shifting from Tyson Foodservice to Tyson Foodservice Teams,” Ms. Bird said.

The emphasis on teams represents the company’s efforts to focus its broad portfolio and market insights.

“When you think about the breadth of our portfolio, we really wanted to call out messaging relevant to each group of operators,” Ms. Bird said. “The shift is the elevating and targeting of the messaging. If you are a restaurant operator, we want to make sure you are getting the right solutions for you.”

The acquisition of Hillshire Brands was a natural stepping stone for Tyson Foods’ food service business. Prior to the acquisition, Tyson Foods was focused on selling poultry to operators and introducing additional animal protein options.

“Before they acquired Hillshire, they were broadening to prepared meats, like breakfast sausage, ham, bacon and ingredient meats (taco meat, pulled pork, etc.),” Ms. Bird said. “They were doing this big dramatic shift, positioning the company as a full protein provider. Where they were struggling was with the brands.”

Buffalo Crispitos, Tyson Foodservice
Buffalo Chicken Crispitos, which are rolled and filled tortilla snacks, debuted from Tyson Foodservice at NACS.

Ms. Bird emphasized there is a significant amount of brand equity in the Hillshire brands not only in the business-to-consumer space, but also business-to-business.

“When we start talking to operators about Ball Park, Jimmy Dean or Hillshire, there is an instant recognition,” she said.

While the Tyson Foodservice portfolio features animal-proteins and value-added solutions, it also incorporates desserts and indulgences from Hillshire’s Sara Lee Foodservice business and what Ms. Bird described as “protein carriers.” Brands sold under the legacy Sara Lee business include Chef Pierre and Bistro Desserts.

The Chef Pierre brand has been in existence since 1922 and represents one of the largest food service pie businesses in the United States, Ms. Bird said. The Bistro Desserts line features an upscale dessert line of bars, brownies, Bundt cakes and other indulgences.

Tyson Foods is also one of the leading tortilla and tortilla chip manufacturers in the United States. Acquisitions over the past few years have added bread sticks and pizza crusts to the company’s business.

“This partnership pairs well with our other products,” Ms. Bird said. “We call these items ‘protein carriers,’ and it links back to how extensive our portfolio is and the solutions we can provide. When you look at the doughs, pizza crust and pizza topping capabilities we have, you can really see the strategy coming into focus.”

Bold boneless wings, Tyson Foodservice
Tyson Foodservice introduced its new Tyson Bold Boneless Wings at NACS.

New products introduced by Tyson Foodservice at NACS this year include Tyson Bold Boneless Wings in such flavors as sriracha, garlic, mango habanero and sweet and spicy; varieties of Hillshire Farm chicken sausage that are available in mango habanero, chicken apple, bacon Gouda and sriracha jack flavors; Bosco Stuffed Breadsticks; and Buffalo Chicken Crispitos, which are rolled and filled tortilla snacks.

A unique challenge facing food service manufacturers is meeting the needs of two customers simultaneously: the operator and the consumer. Both are important, but have different needs, Ms. Bird said.

Operators are focused on driving traffic and margin management or cost control. With regard to traffic, Ms. Bird said Tyson’s broad portfolio and sharing of insights give the company an advantage.

“A question we get constantly is what is going on in other segments?” she said. “Our focus on insights and partnering allows us to share knowledge from throughout the business.”

Consumers, on the other hand, are seeking transparency and clean label options, Ms. Bird said.

“Health is another trend, but we are hesitant to say something is healthier, because there are so many definitions,” she said. “We focus on how a solution can make a consumer feel better.”