In its annual national survey of professional chefs and members of the American Culinary Federation, the National Restaurant Assn. (NRA) zeros in on “which foods, beverages, cuisines and culinary themes will be hot trends on restaurant menus.” The 2012 survey, conducted last year and including nearly 1,800 chefs, noted, among myriad other trends, that the dichotomy of calling for healthy products vs. craving deep-fried delights is especially evident when it comes to kids’ foods.

In the Top Five of noted “Kids’ Meals” trends—kid foods being No. 6 of 223 “What’s Hot” trends cited by the respondents—whole grains figured strong at No. 2, and oven-baked versions of crunch-coated, traditionally fried foods was No. 5. Recognizing this trend to have children “do as we say and not as we do,” when it comes to fried foods, Tyson Foods Inc. released a line of five new, hand-held chicken products, currently limited to school foodservice. The line includes Whole Grain Tempura Nuggets; Hot & Spicy Grilled Breast Fillet; Homestyle Breaded Boneless Wings; Golden Crispy Pattie; and a Lighter. Better. Nugget. The products bring to nine the number of offerings through the company’s Tyson K-12 division, designed to comply with new nutritional regulations for school lunch programs.

The nuggets, available as fully-cooked products in a whole-grain, tempura breading, resemble those chicken nuggets typically served at well-known restaurant chains. They count as a 1oz serving of whole-grain-rich bread and as a meat or meat alternative, per requirements. The Hot & Spicy Grilled Breast Fillet is designed to address other trending concerns, in that it contains no food allergens and is gluten-free.

According to Tyson, all of its newly launched products, as well as many of its existing menu items for lunch and breakfast meals, “already meet or exceed a federal mandate recently handed down by the Food and Nutrition Service of the USDA, notably with lowered sodium levels and the use of whole-grain breading,” as well as new caloric meat and meat alternative requirements.

Prepared Foods learned more about the new line in a discussion with Gary Hamm, Tyson’s senior customer development manager for foodservice government.

PF: Let’s go back to when you were creating these new coated and breaded items. Do you recall any challenges with finding the right coating, coverage—and overall taste after reconstitution?

Hamm: There are always challenges when developing an innovative product. With [Tyson’s] Lighter. Better. Nugget., for example, our goal was to develop a product ahead of the new meal regulations that did not deliver a grain credit, but still had the perception of breading. The nuggets we sell to restaurants are the gold standard in the foodservice industry. Those are whole-muscle and lightly breaded. We wanted to deliver that same type of product, but with a lighter, non-breaded coating and a better nutrition.


“School nutrition guidelines led to breading reformulation at Tyson,” says Gary Hamm, Tyson’s senior customer development manager for foodservice government.

PF: When it came to changing or altering some ingredients, did you work more closely than normal with your food scientists and/or manufacturing groups?

Hamm: At Tyson, we have a well-defined process and cross-functional organization between sales, marketing, product management and R&D. We are one team with one goal, and everyone has a defined role.

PF: Did you learn anything new while Tyson developed the Lighter.

Better. Nugget?

Hamm: More than 52% of all chicken nuggets served in restaurants are consumed by kids under 18, and we want to capitalize on that in schools by ‘upgrading their everyday.’ We know kids love chicken nuggets, and school foodservice directors want to drive average daily participation while delivering nutritious options.

PF: What can you say about supplier involvement in that particular project?

Hamm: We have great supplier partners, but in this case our customers were the best partners. Nationwide, we tested the Lighter. Better. Nugget. against a grilled nugget at several school districts. We used the same all-white-meat, whole-muscle nugget. The only difference was one had the lighter coating and the other had grill marks. We found that kids want breaded chicken, and the Lighter. Better. Nugget. delivers on that [perceived desire]. More than 90% of all students who taste-tested these items preferred the Lighter. Better. Nugget. over the grilled nugget.