PAC members help Canadian tofu processor spruce up its retail packaging to grow new export markets
It’s safe to say that going vegan has never been easier than it is these days—thanks to a plethora of tasty and flavorful meatless meal alternatives enabled by the culinary versatility and growing popularity of tofu—a long-enduring southeast Asian food staple derived from soy bean curds packing a healthy protein content rivaling that of many meat products at a fraction of the calories, and without high cholesterol risks and other associated health threats.
Widely acknowledged as a viable meat substitute in many popular North American-style dishes, tofu has long overcome its early consumer perception problem in North America as being a bland and tasteless filler food, according to Jess Abramson, vice-president of sales and marketing at the fast-growing soy processor Sol Cuisine Inc. in Mississauga, Ont.
“That perception certainly is not correct at all,” Abramson asserts. “Be it soft or firm, raw or cooked, tofu definitely has its own taste, smell and texture—with large differences in each of these properties dictated both by the particular soy bean used to make it and the manner in which the tofu is made.”
By any measure, it is made in a very fine manner indeed at the company’s 11,500-square-foot production facility located about a 30-minute drive west of Toronto, which employs 20 people to turn out a growing range of organic, wheat-free and gluten-free Halal- and Kosher-certified vegetarian burgers and breakfast patties.
According to Abramson, the plant has capacity to make 7.5 million veggie burgers per year, along with 4.5 million units of vacuum-sealed firm tofu blocks that can be used as a main protein ingredient across a wide variety of modern recipes traditionally relying on meat—amounting to nearly two million pounds of product combined.
“We really are tofu-obsessed,” Abramson told Canadian Packaging during a recent visit to the neat-and-tidy, HACCP (Hazard Analysis And Critical Control Points)-certified Mississauga facility, relating the company’s origins tracing back to 1980.
Originally called Soy City Foods, the company started out trying to fill an existing void in the Toronto vegetarian restaurant business landscape created by the absence of a reliable supplier of fresh high-quality tofu, relates Abramson, soon after expanding into the foodservice industry and, eventually, the retail sector.
In 2002, Soy City joined forces with Second Nature—a Toronto-based veggie burger producer primarily supplying high-school cafeterias in and around the city—to form the aptly-called Sol Cuisine.
“Sol is the Spanish word for ‘Sun,’ but we also hold it to stand for ‘Sustainable,’ ‘Organic’ and ‘Local’—the three core values that have guided us for over 30 years,” says Abramson, claiming the company to be the first Canadian manufacturer of organic tofu—sourcing its whole soybeans from a farm in Ripley, Ont.
“Working with this farm helps ensure our continuous access to the precious, organic, Non-GMO (genetically-modified organisms) soybeans, which are farmed sustainably and purchased for a fair price,” explains Abramson.
“Because of our colder climate, Ontario-grown soybeans actually contain a higher protein content and hence are considered to be among the best in the world,” says Abramson, adding that offering a largely gluten-free soy product to the vegetarian food market—along with appealing texture and taste profile—has enabled the company to cultivate a strong brand loyalty among its main customers and consumers.