Kent Harrison is VP of marketing and premium programs for Tyson Fresh Meats.
Jon Springer: Welcome to the Breakroom, Kent. Let’s begin by telling us what VP of marketing and premium programs does at Tyson?
Kent Harrison: This is a position that touches every facet of our business operations at Fresh Meats. My team and I are responsible for providing marketing support for Fresh Meats’ go-to-market positioning as “the Beef & Pork Experts.” We’re also responsible for all boxed beef and boxed pork brands, our Chairman’s Reserve Premium Meats and Open Prairie Natural Meats; our Portioned Protein Innovations, or case-ready and value-added products; international sales; and foodservice sales.
Our efforts span across multiple distribution segments: retail, foodservice, manufacturing and e-commerce. We have a separate BBQ marketing initiative that provides content and marketing support across all of our promotional areas as applicable.
The marketing team at Tyson Fresh Meats strives to be a dynamic force for our sales and operations teams, identifying and providing solutions for consumer and customer needs, driving incremental demand and charting a strategic course for long-term program and product line success.
In the words of Tyson CEO Noel White, 2020 has been the most “volatile and uncertain” period for Tyson in 40 years. How did COVID change what you did in your role?
Working from home is a whole new experience for me. I miss the richness of interaction with other team members in a face-to-face setting. I’ve found that we are every bit as effective operating in a remote working environment, but it takes added effort and new approaches to create a positive, engaging team culture. Luckily for marketing, most work can be done in the world of digital communication, which has helped.
It has helped me to recognize the hard work and sacrifices that happen every day with team members at our production facilities and their work to help feed the world. A renewed perspective on the importance of the little things in the lives of the people with whom we work, while understanding that our health and happiness should not be taken for granted.
The health and safety of our team members is our top priority, and we take this responsibility extremely seriously. The world has changed, but our focus on this commitment remains the same.
You’ve been in the meat biz for some 25 years. How did you choose this career?
I was lucky! Coming out of the University of Saskatchewan, I took a sales training role with Cargill Meat Solutions in High River, Alberta. I had a degree in marketing/finance, so five years into my career I jumped at the chance to work in a marketing role when we started promoting premium beef programs across Canada. My early experience led to roles with higher levels of responsibility and a move to the U.S. Cargill was a terrific company, but in 2008 I was given the opportunity to move to a position with Tyson Fresh Meats and I could not be happier with that decision.
Generally, what are a few things that things distinguish the stores and food retailers that do a good job selling lots of meat from those that could be doing better?
Our best partners in selling premium beef and pork or value-add products are the ones who recognize their position in the market at the banner level and how that translates into their offering in the meat case.
Being different from the competition is more important than competing on price with every single item. Understanding your consumer and what they are looking for in the meat case, and working to provide them with the right brands and products, supercharges results when it is married to a consistent and comprehensive communication strategy in-store and through social/digital interaction.
Retailers who see the best results concentrate on more than commodity pricing and work with us to use our program and marketing support so that they stand out in their local marketplace.
We’re seeing a lot of innovation in plant-based alternatives to meat out there in the market. How do you folks at Tyson view this trend?
At Tyson Fresh Meats, we see plant-based protein alternatives as another consumer option. The “flexitarian” movement with consumers has created opportunities in this area, but we also see strong continued demand and growth potential for traditional animal-based protein sources.
Protein is the key here. Tyson is a protein company. As the world population grows, the demand for protein will only continue to increase. As a company born and headquartered here in the U.S., Tyson recognizes that safety and efficiency of our beef and pork supply is better than anywhere else in the world. Great tasting beef and pork will always have a prominent spot on plates of consumers.
Favorite NHL team? Calgary Flames. Favorite player? Wayne Gretzky—none before or after can compare.
Best-kept food secret in Dakota Dunes, S.D.? The menu at Kahill’s Chophouse. Not much of a secret, but they have the best steaks.
Best piece of business advice you’ve ever gotten? Don’t do your job; get the job done!
Now that Eddie Van Halen has passed away, who’s the world’s greatest living guitarist? Carlos Santana.
Guests are arriving for a cookout. What’s the one meat you want on your grill? Open Prairie Natural Angus strip loin steaks. An inch thick and closely monitored for just the right doneness level.
2. Plant-based meat alternatives are a small but growing market.
Total store plant-based meat alternative sales were $760 million in 2019 and grew 11.8%. They are mostly an occasional choice, driven by perceived health benefits, being a good source of protein, being something different and for environmental reasons. Blended vegetable/meat items, such as mushroom burgers, have a higher and greater cross-population appeal, and can be a bridge to the societal and health benefits people look for while keeping meat on the plate.
3. Time-saving solutions drive meat and cooking appliance choices.
While the number of weekly home-cooked meals dropped to 4.5 over 2019, dinners containing animal protein increased to 3.9. Newer cooking appliances, including the Instant Pot and air fryer, continue to make inroads in both ownership and being used to prepare meat and poultry.
4. Influenced by healthy and ethical living, production claims remain popular.
Shoppers would greatly welcome protein content on-pack as well as tips on superior nutritional choices that do not cost more and are equally tasty. Organic, grass-fed and no-antibiotics-ever offerings saw robust sales gains, but overall trust in such claims is only moderate. Building trust in and understanding of claims is key to continued growth, particularly given the importance of production claims to those looking to reduce their meat/poultry intake due to animal welfare, environmental or health concerns.
7. Supermarkets remain meat powerhouses with some gains in online meat sales.
More than half of shoppers primarily buy meat and poultry at supermarkets. Forty percent of shoppers have ordered groceries and 19% meat and poultry online, up from 14% last year. Processed meat, chicken and ground beef are the most likely meat items in online baskets.
9. Transparency of animal welfare is important for majority of consumers.
Sixty-eight percent of shoppers feel it is important for grocery stores to provide transparency into how and where livestock was raised. Shoppers most want to see information on-pack, followed by a brand’s website or social media.
10. Sustainability concerns impact meat and poultry choices.
Nearly half (49%) believe if done properly, animal agriculture does not have negative impacts on the planet. Environmental sustainability is affecting protein choices. While 34% of consumers believe raising livestock has some or a lot of negative impact on the planet, this belief is much stronger among younger generations. The industry has an opportunity to improve the availability of unbiased environmental impact information to educate on steps taken to protect the planet.