Because my husband has worked at Tyson Foods for many years (well longer than I’ve done anything in my life) I feel like I know a lot about the company that’s one of the major employers in the region we call home.
But I jumped at the chance to learn more when I was invited to join a handful of my fellow bloggers on a tour of the company’s World Headquarters in Springdale, Ark. (I should note I was invited because I’m part of Collective Bias’ Social Fabric team, but no one told me what to write about, or even to write about my experiences.)
I imagine most people know Tyson as a huge producer of chickens, but they are big players in beef and pork, too. Just a couple of stats: the company processes more than 42 million chickens every week, as well as more than 141,000 head of beef and 398,000 pigs on average. The company’s sales in fiscal 2011 topped $32 billion, and the company employs about 115,000 people and contracts with about 6,500 farmers.
Our tour started off on a high note with a look at the executive wing, where it was fun to see all the ways an egg shape could be repeated in decor. Then we wandered the halls looking at the company’s art collection (Don Tyson was a huge fan of western art while his son John has more modern sensibilities) and stopped in at the Tyson museum, a relatively new addition that allows visitors to see how the company began in the 1930s with the first John Tyson driving chickens from Arkansas to market in Chicago, and how it has grown through acquisition and international expansion. You can even pose with a cardboard cutout of Don Tyson — khaki shirt optional.
A Taste of Taste-Testing
Next we got a peek at the Discovery Center, a collection of test kitchens set up to mimic the equipment you’d find in home kitchens, industrial settings and fast-food establishments. The Center also includes sensory testing and focus group areas, which allow product developers to offer taste tests on potential future products and figure out how they might need to be tweaked before being marketed.
We got a taste (ha ha) of this experience by test-testing two products in development and giving our opinions in a focus group, which was a lot of fun. I’m pretty sure the observers on the other side of the mirror don’t usually laugh as much as they did when we were the subjects, but we all had a good time.
After a look at the super-secret (honestly, most of what we saw was super-secret, thus the lack of pictures) test production line in the back of the Discovery Center, we got to watch as some Tyson people tasted the same products we did and talked about our reactions and how they might change the products to suit our tastes better.
We wrapped up with a wide-ranging discussion that included topics like the definition of natural and why FDA and USDA have different definitions, what happens when a food safety issue comes up, what exactly the substance colloquially known as meat glue is and why it’s used and the wide range of products made by Tyson and its related companies, including pizza toppings, pizza dough, taco shells and tortillas, bacon, hot dogs and more. It was really fun for me to see my fellow bloggers’ eyes opened about the company and to learn a few new things myself, as well as seeing a company the size of Tyson open its doors to bloggers.
It was a great day and I hope more companies take steps to welcome bloggers in the future.