In an industry defined by maximizing razor-thin margins, any edge a business can find to boost product sales through legitimate differentiation or by meeting pent-up consumer demand would be viewed as a no-brainer type of move.

One area in which meat and poultry processors have worked to create value within existing product lines has been by defining a “good, better, best” structure within certain lines. Seeing the increasing consumer demand for high-quality eating experiences, Tyson Fresh Meats, a division of Tyson Foods, shuffled its Chairman’s Reserve Premium Pork brand to highlight the best products in the line and launch a new brand: Chairman’s Reserve Prime Pork.

Consumers have become hyper-aware of quality as a differentiation point, explains Ozlem Worpel, senior brand manager, Tyson Fresh Meats, Market-ing, and the brand needed to respond. Tight product quality attributes around on marbling, color and pH are followed to create the Prime Pork product — thus deemed the best-quality pork sold by Tyson Fresh Meats. 

“People want to reward themselves when they eat, and they want the best quality,” she says. “That’s why, even though on our Chairman’s Reserve Premium Pork we have those quality criteria, we tightened those attributes [for Prime Pork] to create what I like to call ‘the heart of the watermelon’ — the best part.”

Processing Chairman's Reserve Prime Pork Product

Until early 2017, that “best of the best” of Tyson Fresh Meats’ pork supply in the Chairman’s Reserve program was placed into the Premium Pork line — a higher-end product line, but one that had a very wide set of qualifications within the product mix. Creating the Prime program helped make products in both Premium and Prime more easily discernible for consumers. This change, however, wasn’t particularly Earth-shattering on the live side of the supply chain, according to Worpel, as Tyson Fresh Meats has always worked with its farmers to raise the highest-quality hogs possible.

“This is not a breed-specific program, so we really did not have to ask our farmers to do anything extra,” Worpel adds. “We had the hogs in the system, we simply tightened the qualifications for the Prime Pork product.”

At the Tyson Fresh Meats Logansport, Ind., processing plant — where Prime Pork is, for the time being, exclusively processed — modifications were needed, but mostly on the employee side of the equation, explains Rick Petersen, complex manager.

“Education on the [attributes] was the biggest hurdle, but the knowledge was already there,” he says. “It was just a matter of realigning everyone, to look at it holistically, as a single brand with product attribute differences, to make sure the right product goes in the right box.”

The Logansport facility used its in-house expertise to bridge this gap, Worpel says, leaning on employees with experience in selecting for quality.

“We have product masters that we utilize for international-bound product — given how strict the criteria is for export,” she explains. “Because [Prime Pork] is our top brand, we have to make sure the criteria are met, and product masters are trained and experienced in that area.”

Katie Swanner, FSQA manager for the Logansport facility, supervises more than a dozen product masters and says the only other change needed came in the form of better lighting at the product master stations.

“It was also a matter of hanging the right light wattage there, because if the lighting wasn’t right, one product master might judge a product higher than another,” she says. The modifications have paid off, with production of Chairman’s Reserve Prime Pork expanding approximately three-fold in the 20 months since it began.

That rapid growth has bolstered the Logansport plant’s employee culture, though Petersen says several projects (such as the creation of an outdoor “Team Pride” area for employees to gather, and improvements in the landscaping and exterior appearance of the facility) have certainly helped as well. Swanner adds that the Logansport team takes a lot of pride in being the sole processing plant for Chairman’s Reserve Prime Pork.

However, as demand dictates, Worpel says the company can add production of Prime Pork easily to its other plants.

“It started here in Logansport, but if we reach a point where we are consuming all the hogs that fit into the criteria here and more growth is coming, our other plants are capable of producing Prime Pork with the same selection criteria and same process,” she says.

Processing Chairman's Reserve Prime Pork Product

Consumer and customer reaction to the changes, to this point, have been positive, Worpel says. One move Tyson Fresh Meats has made to promote the fresh, boxed pork brand was to create a “Certified Butcher Program” around the product.

Through this program, customers are educated on what makes high-quality pork and how Chairman’s Reserve product fits into that realm — how the product attributes contribute to its high-end eating experience. Customers also view tutorials on merchandising the product, and eventually, after they pass a challenging quiz at the end, the store receives marketing accessories and a plaque to display their expertise to shoppers. The hope, Worpel says, is that Tyson’s expertise in pork is transferred through customers to shoppers, and that shoppers start an in-store conversation about quality.

“Premium chains are looking at the product, but there are a lot of traditional chains who want to provide a great eating experience looking at it as well,” she says. “We have put a lot of marketing support behind this brand.”

Marketing and promotional support has also been strong in terms of growing the foodservice side of the business, where targets are aplenty for the high-quality brand.

To that end, Chairman’s Reserve Prime Pork was submitted to the Master Chefs’ Institute and earned the Seal of Excellence from the group after being evaluated blindly against other competitive products on appearance, aroma, consistency, taste, texture and performance claims.

“This is one way to show chefs that this product truly has the merits we talk about,” Worpel says. “The quality is there, and we are doing everything we can to show customers and consumers that what we are saying is approved [by third parties].”

For the Tyson Fresh Meats team, Chairman’s Reserve Prime Pork allows the legacy of the IBP brand and its long-tenured workforce to shine brighter, because of the high-quality product it carries.

“Being the pork expert is very important to us — we are the experts on choosing the right hogs, on production, and on the relationships with our customers,” Worpel adds. Today, the Prime Pork product represents the best of the best under the Tyson Fresh Meats umbrella, and the company is backing it as strongly as it can.

“We do a lot of customer-specific marketing at Tyson Fresh Meats, because every customer is different,” she concludes. “But with Chairman’s Reserve Prime Pork, we are really going above and beyond because the quality is there, and we have a truly unique product that deserves to be supported in the marketplace.” NP

Photos by Brad Bunyea