Tyson Foods has come a long way since it entered the tortilla business back in 1983. Now its game plan is to continue building up the team and winning over its customers.

By Marina Mayer

Some companies win by luck. Others win by skill and determination.

Either way, for folks like Wayne Beach, winning is the only option.

An avid sports lover, fierce golf player and devoted follower of the Arkansas Razorbacks, Beach grew up competing in sports, so it’s no surprise that he carried his game face off the playing field and into the world of business.

With the help of some dominating performance, Beach and his team have successfully won over the hearts - and stomachs - of some of the country’s top foodservice chains by bringing Tyson’s Mexican Original to the No. 2 producer of tortillas in the nation.

And he’s quick to note that he’s not doing it alone.

“First and foremost, our single greatest resource is the team member,” says Beach, senior director of sales and marketing for Tyson’s Mexican Original, part of the foodservice division of Tyson Foods, Inc., and chairman of the Tortilla Industry Association. “You can buy equipment, you can buy facilities, you can spend money on assets, but our single greatest asset is the team member.”

It’s not everyday that real-world players receive praise and appreciation for a job well done. For the players at Tyson’s Mexican Original, every month is employee appreciation month.

“You can get people to make the worst piece of equipment to run or you could get the best piece of equipment to fail, it’s all about the people,” says Richard Irvin, Fayetteville complex manager. “That’s the biggest thing for us.”

Some of the most reknowned coaches and athletes push the limits and do whatever it takes to win, but for these players of all-star caliber, it just takes teamwork, team building and spreading the knowledge around.

“The chase, to me, has moved from making the sale to assisting people in making the sale,” Beach adds. “If someone I’m helping makes a sale or is successful, it’s like I’m part of that success, too.”

For a company predominantly known for its chicken cutlets, pork strips and prepared beef products, Tyson has become a top performer in the tortilla industry by quietly working behind the scenes over the years.

In 1983, Tyson Foods purchased Mexican Original and set up shop in a 230,000-sq.-ft. facility in Fayetteville, Ark., which at the time only produced 400,000 to 500,000 lb. of tortillas per week. The Springdale, Ark.-based division then converted a Sanford, N.C., warehouse into a production plant in 1990, followed by the building of a new plant in Portland, Ind., five years later.

Today, these three operations and its more than 1,500 employees pump out nearly 7 to 9 million lb. of tortillas per week, including a portfolio of items that range from flavored wraps, press and die-cut flour tortillas and corn tortillas to pre-cut yellow and white corn tortilla chips, pre-fried tortilla chips, taco and tostada shells and flatbread.

“Our core business is traditional Mexican concepts. This includes press-flour tortillas, corn tortillas and corn tortilla chips,” Beach says. “In addition, we have an extensive line of flavored wraps.”

For a number of years, he adds, the core products were the 8- to 10-in. variety, but the portable snack trend prompted Tyson’s Mexican Original to dive into the under 8-in. tortillas to be used in appetizers and other on-the-go menu items.

On the other hand, the overall larger acceptance of Mexican cuisine continues to push the traditional products as a full meal offering, thus creating a demand for 12- to 13-in. tortillas, which are used for burritos and fajitas, among others.

Whatever the product, Tyson’s Mexican Original doesn’t leave anything to chance.

“Whether it’s flavor, strength, flexibility or operational and sensory attributes, we try to remove [the subjectivity] from the manufacturing process to ensure [the product is] something that we can identify, quantify and replicate,” Beach adds. “So it’s not just a new product or a new flavor. It’s really new demands on the product.”

As consumer demands and foodservice trends change over time, the team members at Tyson’s Mexican Original can adapt to any new field of play.

“We will always pursue opportunities for on-trend flavors [or] health-conscious type items,” Beach says.

With new products constantly coming out, Tyson’s Mexican Original has designed its operation to combine versatility with uniformity and consistency. That’s why the company transformed its facilities into high-speed, fabricated operations that combine older equipment that dates back seven to eight generations ago with newer, more tech-savvy machinery.

Consistent Performance
To keep performing at a high level on an everyday basis, Tyson’s Mexican Original created a product development group that’s strictly associated with the tortilla side of the business, Beach says.

This group’s day-to-day functions include interacting with operations, selecting and optimizing raw materials and providing technical assistance to the operations.

As subject matter experts, its dedicated sales and marketing force and a customer development group interact with account managers or sales representatives to identify trends and develop a relevant portfolio of Tyson meal solutions, Beach says. As a result, the company offers a complete line of products for its foodservice customers.

Tyson’s Mexican Original distributes nationwide, however, the primary focus is the eastern two-thirds of the country as well as Canada.

“We do continue to assess and review [our distribution] strategy, which is primarily focused on foodservice,” Beach says. “At some point in time, we will be more aggressive on the retail side.”

In addition, Tyson’s Mexican Original continues to penetrate its markets by building distribution channels to a variety of customers.

For example, it has a complete line of tortilla products for broadline distributors, where its products are shipped to these customers with other Tyson products through the company’s national distribution system.

Meanwhile, Tyson’s Mexican Original is transforming itself into a league of its own.

Although everyday consumers don’t know about the company’s tortilla business, Beach says that only about 5% of its total product portfolio falls under the classical definition of private label. Tyson’s Mexican Original also exports tortilla products to customers in the Caribbean and the Far East.

“You’ll see us participating in the overall protein sector more in Brazil, China, India. That’s where the upcoming middle class is coming from that will move from the more meats and proteins,” says Clark Irwin, vice president of commodity purchasing, Mexican Original and TNT Crust, Tyson’s pizza crust operation.

Some companies rely on luck and others on skill. By working together as a business and partnering with its customers, Tyson’s Mexican Original succeeds as a team.