Tyson Foods acquired BRF’s European business in 2019. The move was ‘highly transformational’ providing a ‘foundation to build from’ in the region, Van de Bovenkamp told us.
The deal saw Tyson enter Europe with two processing locations, in the Netherlands and the UK, both of which are supported by in-house innovation capabilities. Products are sold into retail and foodservice channels under the Grabit, Hot ‘N’ Kickin’Chicken, Speedy Pollo and the Sadia brands, in addition to key customer-owned brands. And now, Tyson is launching its name-sake brand into the foodservice channel.
“This introduction of the Tyson portfolio positions us to meet the needs of customers across the continent. This launch of this Tyson brand in foodservice is a great first step,” Van de Bovenkamp continued.
Tyson’s ambitious growth aspirations in Europe should be viewed within the company’s broader internationalisation strategy.
“It's a really exciting time at Tyson Foods globally, especially here in Europe, as we begin our journey of being a sustainable protein leader for our customers and consumers. We have an aggressive growth agenda, including major focus on international markets.”
It’s estimated that approximately 90% of global protein consumption growth will occur outside the US. And while the opportunity in Europe is distinct from the high-growth markets in Asia, which are forecast to account for 60% of this growth, it is nevertheless an important region for Tyson.
“Global protein demand is projected to grow in line with population growth. And most of that - 90 plus percent - is going to come from outside the US. Tyson has aggressive global growth aspirations. We're looking at any and all markets and, quite frankly, you can't be a global, sustainable protein leader without being in Europe,” Van de Bovenkamp elaborated.
“Although Europe's a mature, slower growth region, we have to have a presence here to fulfil our strategy.”
Sustainable protein production
Van de Bovenkamp stressed that sustainability is ‘central’ to Tyson’s strategy globally and in Europe. “Why? Because it's important to consumers.”
So, what does a ‘sustainable protein leader’ look like in Europe?
“Natural resources are finite. We're committed to providing customers and consumers with nutritious and affordable protein options in a way that is socially conscious and environmentally responsible,” Van de Bovenkamp revealed.
“We don't look at sustainability at Tyson in a singular issue-based way. We look at it in a holistic system-based initiative across five, very clear pillars: food service, food safety, animal health and wellbeing, the environment, the workplace and community.
“We use a science-based approach. For Europe, we’re in the midst of writing our five-year strategy and developing very, very specific measurable goals across all of these pillars.”
The launch of Tyson branded chicken products is an example of the company’s sustainable innovation approach in action. All of the products are made from recycled packaging and the ones produced at Tyson’s Dutch facility will be made with 50% bio-based packaging.
Van de Bovenkamp stressed the importance of a system-wide approach because it is important that an action to address one aspect of sustainable production does not have a negative impact elsewhere. To illustrate the point, he noted that slow growth birds have ‘an emotional benefit’ but actually require more resources to produce.
Europe is an advanced market when it comes to customer and consumer sustainability and animal welfare expectations. “Europe is by far the most advanced in this area and more consumers talking about it,” the US executive told us.
Foodservice focus and the challenges of COVID
Tyson chose to launch its flagship brand into foodservice at a time when the channel is facing significant challenges.
The coronavirus pandemic has proven nothing short of an existential crisis for out-of-home foodservice outlets. Tyson chose to push ahead with the launch for two reasons.
“Our strength as a business right now is in food service disproportionately. We're very much committed to that channel… We wanted to make sure we focused our strength and we'll build from there. Cause we certainly have aspirations to be a great partner for all channels,” Van de Bovenkamp explained.
“The customer is at the centre of what we do. We work to be indispensable to them, to find solutions - whether that's changes in package size, changes in assortment or helping them with their e-commerce platforms,” he continued.
Within its own operations – unlike in the US – in Europe, Tyson has been able to avoid some of the most devastating consequences of COVID-19. “The health and safety of our team members, their families, the communities within which they live and within which we operate are a top priority for Tyson,” Van de Bovenkamp stressed.
The company therefore introduced COVID-specific training, safety and hygiene measures across its two European plants. This includes temperature checks on entry, mandatory face coverings and social distancing measures. “I'm happy to report, as of now, of all our team members we have yet to have a positive case.”
This performance is in contrast to many meat processors – the sector has been racked by high levels of transmission and factory shutdowns, notably in Germany but also in countries including the Netherlands, UK and Ireland.
“I think one difference for us versus what you saw in Germany is our plants are further processing plants. They're not primary plus processing plants. So the challenge for us is not the same as it was for some of them, meaning you don't have the same concentration of people for instance,” Van de Bovenkamp noted.
Gearing up for growth: Plant-based and convenience
As Tyson eyes expansion in Europe, Van de Bovenkamp reveals the company has identified a number of areas that it intends to capitalise on.
“We will look at all opportunities and all channels. We’ll do that at a speed and tempo that keeps us true to our promise of being a great partner. A great partner, means being reliable, means bringing safe, great food, bringing innovation.
“Our insights tell us that value-added protein solutions will provide the greatest opportunities. The consumer is challenged with time and, more so than ever, resources. They still expect safe, high quality affordable food.
“Areas like plant-based and convenience snacking would be two examples of places that we'd see growth to very specific categories.”
When you think Tyson, you think chicken. But Van de Bovenkamp said plant-based is ‘very much core’ to Tyson’s strategy and the company has a ‘well-developed’ meat-free business in the US. “We think of ourselves as a protein company because a protein is going to continue to grow.”
Although the plant-based category is ‘relatively small’ he expects it to continue to grow at a ‘rapid rate’ and suggested it is a protein area ‘with the biggest potential’.
While acknowledging the high-growth nature of plant-based, Tyson also believes it will see growth in meat-based. “We definitely believe there's still organic growth in meat-based protein category.”
Innovation and insight will be key to Tyson’s ability to leverage emerging opportunities across the protein landscape, providing the company with the ability to expand ‘across multiple platforms, multiple proteins, and multiple deliveries’.
“That will be one of the primary growth drivers. On top of that is our ability to build brands in the right spots. And that's why we're so excited about this launch, because it's a great steppingstone with a brand that has an 85-year heritage of delivering.”