Tyson Foods Inc., recently celebrated the grand opening of its 100,000-square-foot Discovery Center on the campus of its world headquarters in Springdale, Ark.

All 120 members of the company's research and development staff will be united in the Discovery Center, including all of the people who had offices in the former IBP research and development facilities. In addition to offices and meeting areas, the Discovery Center has 19 kitchens and a 40,000-square-foot multi-protein, USDA-inspected pilot plant.

In total, this new facility represents a $45 million investment for the company. Tyson hopes to reap benefits on a number of fronts from this investment, and one thing that they expect to save is time.

Dick Bond, president and CEO, Tyson Foods, said that "speed to market for new products" has improved due to the Discovery Center.

He said that products developed in the test kitchens can go directly into the pilot plant for real-time production. New products won't go to one of Tyson's over 100 production facilities until the initial production run.

Previously, research and development personnel had to spend a lot of time traveling to production plants just to run test batches of products. Now, the whole development process can be compressed and it takes less time from the first idea until the new product rolls out.

Getting new products to market faster can reduce development costs, but it can also make the difference between being the first to market with a new idea or delivering a "me, too" product. Processors, however, aren't the only ones concerned about saving time.

Tyson's consumer research shows that consumers consider themselves to be time-starved and looking for protein choices that help deliver a hot, delicious meal for their families in less time.

3 categories

Tyson has named three categories of products, depending on the amount of time and cooking skill required to make the meal. The first is "Ready Now," which is a fully-cooked item like the Tyson oven roasted chicken. These products can either go straight from the bag to the table or require just a few minutes to reheat.

The next category, "Fast & Flexible," requires 15 to 30 minutes to prepare. Surveys once showed that working wives wanted to be able to put dinner on the table within 30 minutes of arriving home, but now some consumers say 15 minutes is all of the time that they have. A product that is pre-trimmed and marinated or a ground product for use with a boxed taco mix would fit in this classification.

Finally, for the cook who is pressed for time but still believes in a "made from scratch meal," Tyson offers "Homemade with Help" products. Products that are deboned, trimmed, portioned and perhaps individually wrapped fit in this category.

Identifying and meeting the needs of busy consumers is a critical part of Tyson's research and development efforts. Tyson reports that the family dinner is not dead. Despite two breadwinner households and busy family lifestyles, 70 percent of households with children at home eat dinner as a family in the home five or more times per week. To help make this happen, meals need to be simpler and more streamlined.

Dave Hogberg explained that at Tyson's "Meat Case of the Future" the company is looking for specific things in its new products. First, he said that new products must have a meaningful benefit to the consumer, something that they would be willing to pay more for. Second, he said that there must be a benefit to the retailer.

New products need to sell without discounting and require less advertising. Ideally, new products should return higher margins so that the margin for the meat case as a whole improves. Finally, a new product "must deliver a better top and bottom line to Tyson," Hogberg said.

Hogberg cited the new Tyson Trimmed & Ready chicken breasts as an example of a Homemade with Help product that delivers on all three criteria. Consumers have been willing to pay $0.50 to $1.00 more per pound for Trimmed & Ready chicken breasts, and retailers have been able to move the product without discounting. Consumers have a need filled and retailers and Tyson have improved bottom lines, a win-win-win situation.

Culinary influence

Tyson is mixing the culinary arts with meat science and food science at the Discovery Center. Mario Valdovinos, director of culinary services, Tyson Foods, said, "At Tyson flavor rules." Tyson's commitment to blending culinary arts into its research and development process is demonstrated by the training it is giving to 61 members of the Discovery Center staff.

Bond said that Tyson already has four certified culinary scientists working at the Discovery Center and 61 other employees there are now undergoing culinary scientist certification training.

The Research Chef's Association created the culinary scientist certification. Johnson & Wales University and the University of Arkansas are working together to teach the courses to Tyson's employees in Springdale. The classes and the certification process will take 18 to 24 months to complete. Upon completion of the certification program, the 65 Tyson certified culinary scientists in Tyson's employ will represent two-thirds of all of the certified culinary scientists in the world.

Getting consumer feedback, quicker

"The Discovery Center is designed for joint value creation with our customers," said Hal Carper, senior vice president of corporate research and development for Tyson.

"Here our food innovation teams collaborate with customers to research consumer needs, then design and test new products and packaging. We can then produce products on a test basis in a real-life manufacturing environment."

In the sensory testing area of the Discovery Center, Tyson doubled its number of sensory booths from six to 12. The company can now perform sensory tests in a half day something that previously took two days to complete. Quicker feedback can once again improve speed to market for new products.

Cameras and web hook-ups are located throughout the Discovery Center, including in the focus group room. With the help of this technology, customers can view focus groups in progress and ask questions via the web.

Increasing customer collaboration, particularly for foodservice accounts, is another goal of the Discovery Center, according to Bond. Demonstration kitchens are web-enabled so that customers and Tyson salespeople can watch demonstrations, without making the trip to Springdale. Once again, this technology will increase collaboration and cut time out of the development process.

Of the Discovery Center's 19 kitchens, 12 are characterized as "working" test kitchens, and the other seven are used for demonstrations. Each of the kitchens can be set up for any client. Lighting in each of the kitchens can be altered for natural-, foodservice- or retail-type lighting. Foodservice kitchens are designed to match the type of food preparation and cooking equipment that the customer uses.

Tyson's Discovery Center has allowed the company to bring all of its research and development expertise under one roof. Having a pilot plant, test kitchens and all of the staff in one place takes travel out of the product development equation.

Travel means time, and this is another example of how time has been squeezed out of the product development process. Quicker response to a changing marketplace may make the difference between being first to market and being "me, too."