Sally Grimes
Sally Grimes, ‘97, spoke to Booth students at a visit to the Kilts Center in October.

Food for Thought

Tyson Foods executive Sally Grimes, ’97, shares how data and insight unlock smarter marketing for the food leader.

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When Hillshire Brands was acquired by Tyson Foods in 2014, Sally Grimes, ’97,—then president, gourmet food group and chief innovation officer for Hillshire Brands—wasn’t quite sure how to feel about it.

It wasn’t until she learned about the heritage of Tyson and how it could “make a material impact on the world’s food system” that she had a change of heart. “Food fulfills our most basic needs. We’re going to need a lot more of it in the future, and I want to be a part of addressing that challenge,” said Grimes, now the group president of prepared foods for Tyson Foods. She shared her insights during an enlightening presentation at Booth this October on behalf of the James M. Kilts Center for Marketing.

All the numbers supported Grimes’ decision: as the world’s population continues to grow 1 percent every year between now and 2030, there will be one billion additional mouths to feed. Tyson Foods is one of the world’s largest food companies, employing 114,000 people and delivering almost $40 billion in annual sales. Grimes said the company sits in a unique position at “the intersection of opportunity and capability,” giving her and Tyson the potential to make a big difference.

As Grimes said, one of the major issues facing Big Food was a “failure to acknowledge the new playing field and the use of old tools to solve new problems.” This was evidenced by top-25 food manufacturers losing 300 basis points of market share to smaller food brands. The game has changed and it is time for big food companies to step up, said Grimes. She thinks Tyson is in a good spot to lead, and shared that in 2017, its core retail product lines have outperformed all of retail food and beverage dollar growth.

A big growth insight came early in her Tyson tenure: research revealed that one-third of eating occasions are in the morning and that 55 percent of them aren’t meals. They’re morning snacks. In that data, Tyson saw an opportunity to disrupt the traditional breakfast paradigm launching “untethered” morning innovations like Jimmy Dean Simple Scrambles and Stuffed Hash Browns.

Grimes showcased another innovation fit for modern eating, Hillshire Snacking, Tyson’s follow-through on their mandate to “take bigger risks with smaller servings.” The protein-packed, single-serving containers—which attendees were treated to following Grimes’ presentation—are Tyson’s answer to the “snackification of food.” The product’s “Welcome to Fancy Snacking” ad campaign included a spot that Grimes showed during her presentation, featuring a faux maître d’ inviting real-life passersby behind a velvet rope to receive a Hillshire Snacking item from an equally dapper waiter standing inside the World’s Fanciest Vending Machine.

Going forward, Grimes is helping Tyson Foods find its way amid the burgeoning “brick and click” business model that allows consumers to order online and pick it up at a store location. “In the future, screen space will be just as important as shelf space,” she said. It’s imperative that she help Tyson “raise the whole company’s digital IQ.”

Towards the end of her presentation, Grimes stressed the importance of using advanced modeling and analytics to help achieve more-agile ways of working. “The successful marketer has to be a people-centric problem solver,” she said. “Be empathetic and insightful. Understand the real problems and define them well, and work thoughtfully to find new solutions.”

—By Blair Fischer
November 16, 2017