FoodTech Startups- Tofu Meat (Part 2)

Elon Musk comes along, and he’s like, “Make a sexy car that people want to drive.” Similarly, the vegan movement is reshaping food consumption. It's a robust industry that has seen a widespread shift from dairy to plant-based alternatives like meat, cheese, and butter, driven by health and environmental concerns. I recently had a conversation with a FoodTech startup in Yamaguchi-ken, which, despite its modest size, specializes in tofu meat and has been recognized with the top prize at a Vegan fair.

This enterprise originated from a renowned tofu shop. As the aging owner contemplated shutting down, the future proprietor of TOFU MEAT saw an opportunity. Eager to learn from the experienced tofu master, he started to craft tofu meat, blending tradition with innovation.

The rise of supermarkets and mass-produced tofu has put small, specialized tofu shops at risk of extinction. In the past, Ube city had 40 to 50 tofu shops, but their numbers have dwindled significantly. Saken Kaneuji, the head of Kaneuji Foods and a tofu producer, planned to retire and hoped to pass on his expertise and equipment. Fortunately, in 2016, Hideo Murakami purchased Kaneuji Foods Co., Ltd. By 2019, he had transformed the business with his innovative concept of "TOFU MEAT," rebranding the company under this new vision.

Murakami's firm quickly gained recognition, securing second place in the 2021 "Eatable Japan Deliciousness Award National Competition" and the 2023 "Japanese Treasure" world competition.

Contrary to what many may think, Murakami didn't have a long history in this industry. His background was in different fields. Born in 1976 in what is now Onomichi City, Hiroshima Prefecture, he initially joined an auto parts company after university and later moved to a car dealership in Ube City. By 2014, he was managing a shared office space.

Murakami reflects, “Ever since I was a student, I've aspired to start my own business by the age of 35, though I didn't have a specific plan. Eventually, my path became clear when I met the right people.” Meeting the old tofu shop owner seemed like destiny, marking the start of his entrepreneurial journey in the world of tofu meat.

How is TOFU MEAT produced, and are there any special techniques involved? Moreover, where are the ingredients sourced?

Their tofu is made from locally sourced soybeans, adhering to Kaneuji Foods' long-standing commitment to avoid additives or antifoaming agents, using only natural bittern.

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Additionally, their tofu meat, surprisingly, doesn’t carry the typical soybean scent. A study by the Prefectural Industrial Technology Center revealed that its N-hexanal content – a compound linked to the soy odor – is 95% less compared to traditional soy-based meats. This significant reduction enables the product to be free from added fragrances and seasonings, making it versatile enough even for desserts. In contrast to soybean meat, which often needs rehydration, tofu meat is innovatively designed for direct use from the freezer, simplifying the cooking process. It’s also formulated for long-term frozen storage, which boosts its export potential.

When inquired about his motivation, Murakami responded, “My primary interest wasn’t profit; I was captivated by the opportunity to learn from a master with profound knowledge dating back to the early Showa era, encompassing everything from business strategies to lifestyle.” Under the daily guidance of the seasoned tofu maker, Murakami began producing traditional tofu every day. The original shop utilized a unique centrifugal fresh-squeezing technique, rare in Japan, contributing to its exceptional taste. After overcoming several challenges, they finally reached a satisfactory standard of quality.

Daily learning with old master of tofu

During the research and development phase, what were the major obstacles faced?

The company faced several challenging tasks, notably ensuring the product was entirely free of animal products to meet vegan and halal standards. This required a meticulous selection of ingredients. In addition, it was crucial for the product to be additive-free, maintain quality even when frozen, possess a chewy texture similar to meat, and eliminate the typical soy odor associated with tofu and many soy-based products. Tackling these challenges was a formidable task, but the company managed to successfully address each issue.

However, this innovative approach to tofu meat initially led to disinterest among traditional tofu manufacturers. Furthermore, the lack of established business connections hindered sales. This situation presented a unique challenge, as the business had only inherited expertise and equipment. Fortuitously, at the Kyushu Vegan Festival, the head of the event noticed this uniquely crafted tofu. They proposed an inventive idea: 'Why not explore vegan cuisine using this tofu?' This suggestion marked a turning point, leading to a strategic shift in how the product was marketed, focusing on its alignment with vegan products. Below photos of different dishes.

In fact, I also tried cooking with tofu meat at home. I received 3 packages and experimented with different dishes such as dumplings, tacos, pasta pepperoncino, and curry. It has a textured taste, and I found it easy to blend with many ingredients and spices. Another thing was that it was easy to digest. Usually, dumplings are made with pork or chicken, and I'm unable to eat a lot, but by using this tofu meat, I could eat more. For the ones residing in Japan here is the link where you can buy. it The 3 packages can last for a month which is very economical.

What is the core message you want consumers to understand about the heart and soul of your company?

Following their success at a local event in Yamaguchi Prefecture, which celebrated undiscovered regional specialties, and our strong showing in the subsequent national competition, TOFU MEAT’s journey took an exciting turn. The delayed 'Treasures of Japan' global contest in Singapore in August 2023 was a significant milestone. Here, the tofu meat Moussaka dish earned the runner-up spot. This recognition led to a consistent stream of international business inquiries, prompting us to strategically shift from in-house production to outsourced manufacturing to meet the growing demand.

The heart of TOFU MEAT lies in adaptability and intuition. The founder, Murakami, emphasizes flexibility and learning from each experience over strict planning. This approach has been instrumental in navigating challenges and achieving success.

At its core, TOFU MEAT is dedicated to enabling a unique and personalized culinary experience through innovative and exciting tofu-based flavors. Taking pride in creating entirely new ingredients that seamlessly blend into various global food cultures. Their primary aim is to share these inventive culinary solutions far and wide, pushing the traditional boundaries of tofu usage.


Photo credit: Tofu Meat

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#foodtech#japan#tofu meat#vegan
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