Chipotle, Tofutti Expand Offerings to Spread Tofu Fever to the Masses
Tofu is making a new bid for mainstream status in a US market that has begun to embrace or at least examine more closely every better-for-you proposition that comes along.
Chipotle has been testing tofu-based menu items, for instance. Meanwhile, Tofutti, the venerable brand of tofu-based frozen novelties, is bidding for diversification by entering the market for tofu-based ersatz pizza cheese.
Sofritas are "shredded tofu braised with chipotle chilis, roasted poblanos, and a blend of aromatic spices," as Chipotle said, which the chain began testing in seven San Francisco Bay Area restaurants in February. Soon it expanded the experiment with organic tofu to all of California, and Sofritas now account for 4 to 5 percent of sales in the state, according to Bloomberg Businessweek.
"We're expanding the Sofritas test to include our restaurants in the Pacific Northwest this month, and we're considering adding additional markets this fall, when we expect additional supply to become available of our tofu," Steve Ells, founder and CEO, said during a recent earnings call, according to the magazine.
But while Chipotle keeps ringing up year-to-year sales gains as it celebrates its 20th anniversary, and is continuously hailed as the face of the fast-casual restaurant boom in the US, one that is occurring while traditional fast-food chains suffer, it's unclear whether even this brand successfully can peddle tofu anywhere outside the overly health-conscious, open-to-experiment Golden State.
For one thing, overall sales of tofu in 2011 were down slightly from 2008 levels, according to Soyatech. And while appreciating the organic and natural sourcing and overall philosophy about foodstuffs at Chipotle, most of its customers remain committed carnivores.
Tofutti may face an even steeper battle. The small, publicly held company has experienced ups and downs over the last 30 years in promoting its products as the best-known national brand of tofu-based desserts. It also has diversified into soy-based cream "cheeses" and other dairy-analog products over the years.
Tofutti founder David Mintz is gearing up to launch an effort in "dairy-free" pizza cheese. "Almost every single ice-cream company is hurting because of the financial climate," Mintz told brandchannel. "But pizza is going through the roof. More than nine million people in America can't have dairy now. And we're taking advantage of that."
Mintz might have a hard sell to booming brands like Domino's, but perhaps he knows something about 'tofizza' that we don't.