As Meat Sales Drop, Tofu Sales Spike

The humble soybean curd is selling faster than ever.

fried tofu

@junepinzon via Twenty20

The Plant Based Foods Association reported that all sales of plant-based proteins were up 90% in the third week of March, and it was still up 27% a month later. Kroger told Bloomberg that tofu sales in its 2,800 supermarket locations increased 9% during the pandemic, and Wegmans said tofu sales were double this year compared to last year. VegNews reports that during the COVID-19 lockdown, tofu sales were up 81% in the United Kingdom.

Tofu makers have been feeling pressure to keep up with demand. House Foods, a Japanese company with production facilities in California, has experienced an 8% increase in demand. South Korean-owned Pulmuone said three of its U.S. plants were running six days a week. A company executive told Bloomberg, "Sales are so good that Pulmuone has been forced to import tofu from South Korea to meet demand."

Why Is Tofu Suddenly Even More Desirable in North America?

There are numerous factors at play, but the most recent surge in interest is likely because it was consistently accessible during the pandemic when meat was often at a shortage, and it is much cheaper than both real meat and other, more highly engineered plant-based proteins, such as the Impossible Burger or Beyond Meats. As Bloomberg pointed out, "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." That's a big difference, especially if you're buying it on a regular basis or feeding a family.

Other factors that were likely already changing people's perceptions of tofu even before the pandemic struck were a growing awareness of the sad state of industrial agriculture and the horrendous conditions in which animals are raised; concern over food and worker safety at processing facilities (which has definitely increased during the pandemic); more interest in vegetarianism and veganism from a health perspective; and hard-hitting documentaries that inform and inspire people to make dietary changes.

As a devoted tofu fan, I am delighted to hear this news. Even though I sing the praises of fancy plant-based meats and do believe they are crucial players in the transition away from the environmentally-damaging meat-centric Western diet, they remain highly processed products that are high in calories and additives – not the kind of stuff you want to eat every day. Tofu, by contrast, is a simple yet nutritious, minimally processed food made from soybeans, water, and a coagulant – usually nigari (magnesium chloride) or gypsum (calcium sulfate). (Learn how to make it here.)

In my years of experimenting with tofu, I've come up with a favorite way to cook it. I wrap it in a clean tea towel, weigh it down with a can of tomatoes or something heavy for 20 minutes or so, then cut it into cubes. I toss them in cornstarch, then fry in vegetable oil until crispy and golden on all sides. I add these to whatever stir-fry, pad Thai, or fried rice dish I'm making and they stay crispy, intact, and delicious.