(Bloomberg) -- Tyson Foods Inc., the largest U.S. meat producer, wants to get deeper into the snack game.
In its latest attempt to move beyond traditional chicken products, Tyson has put together a team of seven employees focused on snacks. Their goal is to develop a new consumer product to put on store shelves in six months.
Sales of meat snacks have surged almost 30 percent over the last four years, hitting $2.9 billion in 2017, Nielsen data show. Consumers are embracing high-protein products as they cut back on sugar. Tyson is looking to capture some of that zeitgeist.
“We were looking for a way to deliver faster innovation -- new growth, increasing speed,” Sally Grimes, Tyson’s president of prepared foods, said in a telephone interview.
In its so-called innovation lab, Tyson is looking to make snacks by capitalizing on another hot foodie topic: the issue of waste. The team started in January and is developing a protein snack that the company says will utilize ingredients like poultry scraps, spent grain from brewers and vegetable pulp from juicers.
This is Springdale, Arkansas-based Tyson’s latest pivot into packaged products. Known mostly for producing poultry, the company has pushed beyond its roots recently. It acquired sandwich maker AdvancePierre Foods Holdings Inc. last year for about $4 billion, the largest purchase since taking over Hillshire Brands Co. in 2014.
The latter deal brought the jerky brand Golden Island to Tyson, which has also used the Hillshire name to launch a line of meat snacks. The new innovation team, working from a converted conference room in the company’s Chicago office, is trying its hand at in-house product development.
Tyson’s move to packaged products comes as traditional food companies struggle to compete with trendy upstarts like Chobani and Kind Snacks. Over the last three years, the 10 largest U.S. food companies -- giants including General Mills Inc. and Kellogg Co. -- have seen about $17 billion in revenue evaporate as consumers gravitate to newer brands. Still, snacks have proven to be an area of growth.
In addition to developing its own products, Tyson is on the hunt for deals. It’s looking for more “bolt-on” assets, Chief Executive Officer Tom Hayes said on a Feb. 8 earnings call. He said the meat producer wants to be a “modern food company with a diverse portfolio of protein brands.”
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