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Tofu Goes Mainstream in America, Thanks to Big Meat’s Covid Crisis

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Consumption of tofu is associated with lower rates of cancer, including the risk of dying from breast cancer, and cardiovascular disease without affecting thyroid hormone levels.

LARISSA ZIMBEROFF: The coronavirus made American meatpacking plants even more dangerous than usual, with outbreaks forcing shutdowns that in turn led to producers euthanizing livestock. Consumers suddenly found themselves in empty meat aisles, searching for protein. Enter tofu. Made from soybeans and little else, the plant-based protein— like the growing field of faux meat—has been in ascendance among Americans. In the U.S., it’s historically been a niche product, while popular in much of the rest of the world. Now, more American shoppers are giving it a second look.

A prime beneficiary of this pandemic-driven trend is Pulmuone, a South Korea-based food maker boasting a 78% share of U.S. tofu sales, with brands like Nasoya, Wildwood and Azumaya. Jay Toscano, Pulmuone’s executive vice president of sales, said three of its U.S. plants are going six days a week. Sales are so good, he said, that Pulmuone has been forced to import tofu from South Korea to meet demand.

The Plant Based Foods Association (PBFA) reported all plant-based sales during the third week of March, the beginning of most shutdowns in the U.S., were up 90% compared with the previous year, and still 27% higher a month later. Based on Nielsen data for the four-week period ending March 28, tofu sales were up 66.7% over the same period in 2019. Sales were still up by 32.8% in May… Sales of tofu in the U.S. were $363 million last year.

Consumed in Asia for more than 1,000 years, the top-selling form of tofu is water-packed. Dasha Shor, global food analyst at Mintel, said it’s “a viable alternative for price-sensitive, health-conscious consumers seeking to add more protein to their meals”… Dr. Michael Greger, who runs the nonprofit nutritionfacts.org, said tofu is preferable to other parts of the meat-alternative sector. “Tofu has 40% fewer calories than popular plant-based burgers,” he said.

“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.” Authors of a 2019 analysis of scientific studies said they found potential support for “current recommendations to increase intake of soy for greater longevity.” And compared with other meat alternatives, Tofu is arguably a bargain. One pound of Beyond Meat ground “beef” sells for $8.99 versus 14 ounces of tofu (just shy of one pound) retailing for $2.99. SOURCE…

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