David Knibbs, owner and managing director of The Tofoo Co
Chloe Shakesby

The Tofoo Co: How the meat-free market has "grown beyond expectation"

In the last four years, the meat-free market has seen a massive increase in both sales and production.

One of the UK’s largest tofu producers, The Tofoo Co, earned more than £1m in January this year, which is more than it generated in the entirety of 2016.

Bdaily spoke to David Knibbs, owner and managing director of The Tofoo Co, about the rapid expansion of the meat-free market.

How did The Tofoo Co. get started?

My wife Lydia Smith and I bought a small artisan tofu business in North Yorkshire in 2016 which made the best tofu possible from an old Japanese recipe.

Our vision was to launch an exciting new tofu brand using this fantastic Japanese technique to show the world that they too should love tofu.

We wanted a brand that could be stocked within major UK retailers that made high quality, handmade tofu accessible to all. In October 2016, The Tofoo Co. was born.

How has the company progressed in the last four years?

The Tofoo Co. has grown beyond our expectations.

We bought the business before the “blue planet” effect had accelerated, and I am sure people’s changing habits have had a role to play in our amazing growth story.

Our turnover in January 2020 exceeded £1m. This is over double our turnover in January 2019 and surpasses the turnover generated in the whole of 2016.

While Naked Tofoo will always remain our best selling product, NPD such as our Crispy range launched in 2019 and our Sizzler range in 2020 has a part to play in growing the Tofoo brand.

How has the meat-free market changed in the last four years?

The meat-free market has really taken off in recent years; there have a been a number of fast-food brands who have helped shine a light on meat-free alternatives, the rise in popularity of Veganuary and more generally, consumer attitudes and celebrity endorsements of tofu and plant-based diets has all helped the rise of the meat-free market.

However, we do know that Tofoo is not only growing faster than the tofu category but also the chilled meat free market, which would suggest that’s more than people’s changing habits.

We suspected that people would fall in love with tofu if they had the opportunity to buy a really great product - we wanted to introduce a new type of brand to the meat-free category that would appeal to a younger audience and that stood out from the traditional brands that were already available.

I’m proud to say that The Tofoo Co. has proved it’s been able to do that - Tofoo is now the number one tofu brand in the market and Naked Tofoo is the best selling line in the whole of the chilled meat free market.

Why do you think the meat-free market has expanded so rapidly?

For a long time the meat-free market laid dormant; it was perceived as quite dull and tasteless with very limited choice for consumers.

Meat-free food is now so much more than this. Its growth has been driven by a number of factors including environment and health, and a demand from consumers for better tasting food.

Taste is a huge part of the Tofoo experience; we have concentrated on making sure people understand just how tasty tofu is and how versatile it is in everyday meals.

People are taking greater control of their diets and what they choose to put inside themselves.

There’s been a sharp rise in veganism, vegetarians and flexitarians which has resulted in lots of new, exciting brands and products being launched into this rich and diverse growing area, making it one of the most dynamic sectors to be in.

Many products on the market are meat replacements. But our aim is not to mimic or replace meat - tofu is a valuable addition to meal times and to a multitude of diets, not just those who follow meat-free or vegan lifestyles.

Eastern diets have contained less meat for thousands of years and tofu has long held an important place in those diets.

This is now being seen in modern day UK diets with increasingly more people using our ‘Naked’ tofu to make a host of meat-free meals.

Tofu is hugely accessible for everyone, from students and families through to those who prefer fuss-free, quick cooking.

One thing we’ve identified in the four years of trading is that the Tofoo consumer base is very diverse.

Tofu is an ingredient for everyone and as we state on the side of every pack, Tofoo is perfect for flexitarians, carnivores and real foodies - as well as veggies and vegans!

How environmentally and economically sustainable are meat alternatives compared to meat?

The Tofoo Co. has a strict soya bean sourcing policy. Our bean guarantee means that all our soya beans are organic, GM Free, and come from a sustainable source.

We detail the full, Tofoo ‘bean to block’ story on our website so everyone can see exactly where their meal came from!

We hand make all of our Tofoo in Yorkshire in small batches by following a traditional Japanese recipe to give it a better taste and firmer texture.

Part of this recipe is using Nigari as the coagulant - most other brands use Calcium Sulphate (also known as Plaster of Paris) whereas Nigari is a natural ingredient extract from sea water.

Because our Tofoo is firmer than others, there is no need for consumers to press our Tofoo before eating.

It’s also packed differently with very little liquid to drain meaning it can be cooked or eaten straight from the pack with no fuss.

What’s next for The Tofoo Co.?

We’re very excited about the future and whilst we can’t reveal all of our plans, I can say we’ll be expanding the distribution of The Tofoo Co. range so it’s available to more people nationally and to continue to build our range of products.

Ultimately, we want to make Tofoo as accessible to as many people as possible.

Plus, we want to continue to spread the message that tofu is a wonderful, healthy ingredient for everyone.

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