Convenience. That's the name of the meat game. Now it's up to companies like IBP to provide consumers with the kind of products they're demanding.

To capture a piece of this market, IBP created the Thomas E. Wilson brand of consumer-ready and value-added products last spring. "We're trying to put out a high-quality, consistent product for consumers at a reasonable cost," says Gene Leman, IBP's chief executive officer for fresh meats. The initiative is a full meat-case-replacement program for fresh pork and beef.

IBP started business in the 1960s and quickly introduced boxed beef to the industry. Its next priority was vacuum packaging. By the 1990s, the traditional commodity packer moved on to processing pork, ham and other products. The next step was to add additional value to its pork and beef products, which is where Thomas E. Wilson comes in.

Leman contends IBP's progression to consumer-ready products is equal to the boxed beef introduction. "We believe our Thomas E. Wilson products are the next great generation of value-added products," he says.

IBP offers 40 different pork cuts including tenderloins, bone-in and boneless pork chops and ground pork. It also produces individually frozen boneless pork chops, and some frozen beef products.

Currently, IBP produces 5 million to 6 million pounds of consumer-ready products per week at four plants.
Research indicates that 70 percent of today's consumers don't know 'what's for dinner' at 4:30 p.m., and 80 percent spend less than 45 minutes preparing a meal," says Jack Dunn, president of IBP's Consumer Branded Products Group.

To reach those customers, IBP is offering a new line of pre-cooked products. These include two varieties of pork roasts and five beef entries – pot roast, sliced roast beef and gravy, beef in barbecue sauce, sliced smoked brisket and beef sirloin roast.

A new $25-million, pre-cooked product facility is set to open at the end of August in Council Bluffs, Iowa. This 85,000-square-foot facility is located next to IBP's existing consumer-ready fresh meats operation. The pre-cooked products have been test marketed in Indiana and Michigan since last August.

"They are the No. 1 refrigerated entre in those markets," notes Dunn. "Our strategy is to make Thomas E. Wilson the brand of choice in every category in which we compete." The Thomas E. Wilson cooked products are proving how important value-added products are to a person's lifestyle. "Consumers are willing to pay up to $7.99 a pound for a roast," says Dunn. "In this case, we cook it for 12 hours and the consumer microwaves it for five minutes."He sees convenience being a necessary product trend.

IBP is targeting two consumer groups with its cooked products:

  • Today's Cleavers: Families that hold traditional values and view dinnertime as a focal point of family life.
  • Frenzied Families: Slightly younger than the Cleavers, with a more frenzied lifestyle. For this group, getting dinner on the table is the toughest challenge.

"These segments make up 70 percent of today's pork and beef dollar purhcases," says Dunn. " We're providing fresh and cooked meats for these groups; merchandising, packaging, everything focused on them."

IBP is moving ahead full steam on its production and marketing plans even with the company's sale to Tyson Foods. Being sold to Tyson should be an advantage in IBP's consumer-ready quest, as Tyson's expertise in producing and marketing consumer-ready products is well established. The goal is to eventually take the Thomas E. Wilson product line nationwide.

"We believe we can do everything in pork that the poultry industry done in chicken," says Dunn. The bottom line is besides consumer convenience, we're adding more value to pork products, which builds consumer confidence."

It all comes down to branding. " We're a branded culture; there's a tremendous opportunity to provide this branding, quality and safety assurance in meat." adds Dunn.