Wichita Consumer demand for beef has hit bottom and is rebounding, Tyson Foods President John Tyson said Thursday at the Kansas Livestock Assn.'s annual meeting.
"In the end, people still have to eat food," he said.
Tyson Foods, the world's largest poultry producer, merged with one of the nation's largest beef processors when the company acquired IBP earlier this year.
Tyson outlined his company's plans for developing fully cooked, ready-to-eat beef products telling Kansas cattlemen that his visions for beef are the same marketing strategies that made Tyson a household word for chicken.
The company has developed 6,000 variations of poultry-based products in an effort to design a product the customer wants, he said.
"We made it easier for customers to eat chicken," Tyson said.
About half of the nation now has access to fully-cooked beef products, and by March they will be available across the entire country, Tyson said.
"As much as I would like to think people will eat chicken seven days a week, three times a day, it is not realistic. It is not the real world," he said. "But we do know people want products in convenient form."
Tyson's foray into beef this year has come at a difficult time for the beef industry.
Export demand for beef has fallen sharply in the wake of the discovery of mad cow disease in Japan, the United States' biggest beef buyer. Domestic demand for beef has fallen at restaurants after the terrorist attacks curtailed travel.
Tyson Foods saw its beef exports to Japan fall up to 15 percent after the discovery of mad cow disease there, Tyson said.
Falling demand for beef in Japan coincided with the terrorist attacks in the United States, he said. At one point, demand for beef from the nation's restaurants fell as much as 30 percent.
But Tyson said consumer demand for beef is rebounding as people begin traveling again, and noted that sales to Japan had turned around some.
Tyson said that his company was evolving its cattle-buying process into a value-based system.