Sally Grimes on the Future of Food

When it comes to meeting the challenges of feeding the world, the future is closer than you may think. That’s the message that Sally Grimes, of Tyson Foods, Inc., had to tell us about the changing global landscape of food. With an innovative leadership strategy and a forward-thinking attitude about prioritizing the consumer above all else, Sally and Tyson foods are looking to stay at the top of the future food industry.

 How do you want the food industry to change by 2050?

It all centers on the basic recognition that the food industry, or just about any industry for that matter, exists primarily to serve people. We only prosper and grow over the long term if we improve our ability to meet the needs and fulfill the desires of those we feed.

Therefore, the answer on how I want our industry to change is inextricably linked to how I see our world’s people changing. There are clear themes that we need to address over the coming decades, or we will disconnect ourselves from our fundamental reason for existence.

First is the changing scope and scale of what it means for our industry to “feed the world.” There will be over nine billion of us on this planet by 2050. That’s roughly 30 percent more of us to feed with the same or less natural resources than we have today. It is incumbent upon our industry to address the mandate for innovation this reality presents. How will we evolve to feed better food to more people more efficiently than we ever have before? This cannot be achieved only by improving existing models; we’ll have to rethink the networks, systems, brands, and products that are needed to materially expand the scope and scale of our industry’s work.

At the same time, the power of influence in our industry has shifted dramatically to the individual. Technological advances have empowered each of us with so much more information and have fundamentally reshaped the notion of a human network over the last 30 years. Of course, that will only accelerate and evolve over the coming 30 years. While it’s debatable how innovations in the Internet of Things, 3D printing, sharing economy, etc. will ultimately manifest themselves in food, it’s clear that consumers will have more abundant options tomorrow than they have today. The implication of this will be elevated expectations for every person around every food choice, from Suzhou to San Antonio.

That’s the paradox that frames how we must change. The food industry has to provide tailored experiences that are deeply linked to personal value systems at a previously unimaginable scale.

It’s a big challenge, but one that truly matters. We couldn’t be more up for it at Tyson.

Tyson has a new strategy called “from commodity to consumer.” What does this mean for customer engagement in the next 10 years?

The notion of “from – to” is an important aspect of this question and our strategic evolution. It demonstrates recognition of the need for something different – not just a different Tyson, but also a different type of food company.

There are some known conventions in food that our industry has held sacrosanct. You’re either a commodity company or a branded food company. You’re either focused on cost or you’re focused on growth. You’re either business-to-business or business-to-consumer.Sally Grimes, Tyson Foods

These simple conventions have shaped our industry and defined food companies for decades. I believe these conventions no longer apply.

The Tyson Foods of today is a different kind of food company – one that believes that producing the best fresh food makes you a better branded company; one that believes that cost optimization is the fuel for growth; and one that believes that even when you are selling to a business, satisfying the consumer is always the best starting point.

That’s the essence of our transformation. It’s not about consumer focus OR supply focus; it’s about consumer focus AND supply focus. We now have integrated capabilities in supply and demand that perfectly position us to innovate and grow today and tomorrow.

We’re having a lot of fun taking advantage of this different approach to engage more deeply with suppliers, communities, customers, and consumers.

In a future with increased resource constraints, how do you envision a future for meat?

Over the last 15 years, the global demand for meat has increased by over 50%, and growth will remain at or near that pace for at least the next 15 years. Beyond pleasure and function, our need for meat is primal and instinctual. As a company with a fantastic animal protein business, we’re pretty excited about the growth prospects this presents.

We are also humbled by the responsibility that growth creates for companies like ours. The production of animal protein is resource-intensive, and we must continuously figure out how to do more with less. Tyson is committed to respecting and conserving the environment and natural resources we depend on to run our business. It’s one of our core values and we’ve made a lot of meaningful progress that I don’t think we get enough credit for.

For example, at six of our production locations, we have covered wastewater treatment lagoons. Covering the lagoons allows us to capture the biogas generated from them. Biogas is generated by bacteria-consuming nutrients in the wastewater, which then produce methane and carbon dioxide gases. We clean up the biogas by removing some of the sulfur and water and then use the biogas in our plant boilers instead of purchasing natural gas. This practice takes advantage of a renewable fuel source, helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and reduces the amount of natural gas we need to purchase. There’s real social, environmental, and economic value in initiatives like this, and they are a core component of our growth model.

While I expect meat will always be core to our offering, we are also investing and innovating to provide our customers high protein options that don’t include meat.

Are there any unexpected industries that you think might disrupt food in the future?

This is such an interesting question to me, as disruption has become a norm and the borders that were formerly used to define industries have basically disappeared. So, to me, there are no unexpected industries I anticipate will disrupt food.

There are multiple industries that we expect will make meaningful contributions to our global food future; it’s up to us to ensure that Tyson participates in that and adds value versus allowing it to disrupt our model. We spend a fair amount of time in the office talking about the Internet of Food, biotechnology, design, genetics, the quantified self, and other areas from which we see industry-agnostic innovation pushing food forward.

The year is 2035. Describe dinner.

First, we are probably in a much different place than we are right now, as by 2030, an even greater percentage of our world’s hearts, minds, and mouths will be outside of the US. That group will likely be in what today is the developing/emerging world and what tomorrow will be home to 70 percent of our world’s food consumers. This being said, the global dinner experience will have some universal connective tissue, so I’ll try to paint a picture that reflects it.

It’s 7 p.m. and a 65-year-old couple is having dinner together over WeChat. She is out of town on business; he is in an Uber headed home. Both are having meals that were tailored to their individual biometric and nutritional needs by their digital longevity coach and delivered just minutes before. The food is fresh, delicious, and beautiful, but the precious moment of connection is what matters most right now. That perfect food pic and post will have to wait for breakfast.

Read the full feature, The Future According to Women HERE


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Taylor Dennis

Taylor Dennis is a writer and editor based out of Toronto, ON. She is currently a senior editor at Idea Couture.

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Maya Oczeretko

Maya Oczeretko is a senior innovation strategist at Idea Couture.