The vegan old guard moves seamlessly into the future

A Tofurky sandwich

How longtime food processors stay relevant in the increasingly competitive vegan market. Plus: Can vegans and Paleos coexist?

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How do pioneering vegan companies stay relevant in a suddenly crowded marketplace?

If you’re Tofurky, a plant-based food business founded in the early 1980s, you continue to build out your product line while collaborating to help young companies get their own products to market.

“We have humble ambitions personally but lofty ambitions to change the world,” says CEO Jaime Athos. ”That means we want everybody to succeed.”

Besides, Athos says, the market is expanding so fast that Tofurky doesn’t have to worry about market share. The Hood River-based company is planning for 25% to 32% growth over last year, employee head count has gone from 130 to 190 in the past six months and recent launches include a “ham” roast with a glaze using beer from Portland’s Hopworks Urban Brewery.

Tofurky shares its manufacturing facility with like minded startups and three years ago co-founded a trade group, the Plant Based Food Association, whose 100 members include Blue Diamond Growers and Campbell’s.

Mainstream retailers used to wait and see how vegan products performed at gourmet or natural food grocers. “That’s changed,” says Athos, referring to multimillion dollar accounts with Australian supermarket, Woolworths. “The really big retailers — they want to be market leaders.”

Founded in 1987, organic foods stalwart Pacific Foods is quietly expanding its vegan repertoire. The Tualatin-based company isn’t a vegan company per say but it now features 75 products that qualify as vegan. Several items are new as of last year, including a couple of stocks and six new nutmilks and beverages made from hazelnuts and cashews. 

The demand for vegan and plant-based products has increased significantly in recent years,” associate brand manager Kari Davis says. “We see the vegan consumer base growing and mainstream consumers are incorporating more plant-based options into their diets. 

How does this company compete? “Our development team spends countless hours perfecting new products,” Davis says. “This commitment has resulted in our current portfolio and will keep us relevant.” 

Then there’s Paleo

Can the booming vegan market coexist with  another big food trend, the Paleo diet? (In Portland, think Beast, Lardo, Swine, among other ubiquitous, meat-themed restaurants.)

The regimes aren’t necessarily in contradiction, some vegans say. “It’s about eating intentionally,” says Portland Monthly contributor Molly Woodstock, a vegan who tracks the local scene. Plus, Paleo and vegan diets are rooted in whole foods. “Lots of Paleos put emphasis on grass fed practices,” Woodstock adds. “There’s a bit of animal welfare going on.”

This article is part of a package feature on the new vegan economy that appeared in our May 2018 issue. Read more vegan coverage here.