The coronavirus pandemic and meat supply crisis led Americans to look for protein alternatives. Consumers passing through the empty shelves of the supermarkets started buying products that they didn't even know existed.
Tofu, which is made from fermented soybeans and contains lots of the plant-based protein has been increasing in popularity in the US during the crisis.
According to data from market research company Nielsen, tofu sales were up 66.7% in March 2020 over the same period in 2019. In May, sales were still up by 32.8%.
The biggest tofu producer in the US - Pulmuone is boasting a 78% share of sales, with brands like Nasoya, Wildwood and Azumaya. Pulmuone said the sales were so good that the company has been forced to import tofu from South Korea to meet demand.
Tofu has been consumed in Asia for more than 1,000 years.
Dasha Shor, the global food analyst at Mintel, told Bloomberg that it's "a viable alternative for price-sensitive, health-conscious consumers seeking to add more protein to their meals."
Tofu "has long been maligned [in the US], and wrongly so," said Michele Simon, executive director of Plant Based Food Association. "It has a reputation of being a tasteless food that people don't understand."
In 2019 the sales of tofu in the US reached $363 million.
Dr Michael Greger, from nutritionfacts.org, said: "Tofu has 40% fewer calories than popular plant-based burgers".
"Consumption of tofu and other soy foods is associated with lower rates of cancer—including the risk of dying from breast cancer—and cardiovascular disease without affecting thyroid hormone levels."
The sudden popularity of tofu can be related to its price. Tofu is much cheaper when compared with other meat alternatives.
Tofu producers House Foods and Hodo Foods confirmed they also see an increase in sales. Both companies plan to expand manufacturing capacity during next year.
Even companies that produce tofu alternatives are reporting sales growth.
Christian Stroud, COO of Foodies Vegan, the manufacturer of Pumfu, a tofu-like product made from pumpkin seeds said his sales increased by 50%. The company had to hire a special team to manage sales calls.
"If our sales continue, we will ship over $1 million in Pumfu this year," Stroud said. "Buyers were contacting us because they were having shortages getting tofu," he said. "It was a perfect opportunity to seize the moment because of supply chain problems."
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