Soy products are experiencing a popularity surge in North America.
People are finding that soyfoods are a healthy, and even delicious, addition
to their diets. But soy entrepreneurs need to find a soy niche that sells.
Vegetarians have long known the benefits of soy. One of soy's more well-known
forms, tofu, is a high-protein, low-fat and no-cholesterol substitute for
meat. But tofu has never been considered a very tasty treat. So the average
person has generally stuck with meat products and only purchased soy sauce
for stir-fry dishes.
Thanks to new and inventive entrepreneurs, soy now comes in a variety of
forms. More products mean more choices for today's mainstream, yet savvy,
Soy cheese, soymilk, soy ice cream, soy flour, soy grits and soy yogurt
are just some of the products you'll find on the market today.
The health benefits of soy are its main selling point. Soy product labels
can now state that there's a link between consuming soy protein and a reduced
risk of heart disease. This claim has been a very effective marketing strategy
and may be the reason for the market's extreme growth.
Soy entrepreneurs benefit from the growth in the industry. But they must
still deal with a competitive market.
Ian Walker is one of the entrepreneurs behind a company that manufactures
and distributes organic and natural foods. Soy nuts (roasted and seasoned
soybeans) are one of their main snack items.
Walker had a university business degree and experience in sales when he
joined up with Jason Dorland about six years ago. Dorland needed business
help selling the peanut butter spreads he had developed. The two then went
into the snack food business.
Nearly everyone who tried the peanut butter spreads bought them. But people
usually only bought them as an occasional once-a-month treat. Walker says
the company needed a higher-turnover product if they wanted to sell in bigger
So Walker and Dorland eventually focused on selling healthier snacks --
the soy nuts that they sell today.
It was a smart move. Shoppers are now buying more soyfood products in supermarkets
and other mass-market outlets than in any other place. That's according to
Walker started marketing the products by giving demos in stores. At first,
he says, they "needed to get people to know what soy nuts were." Now, their
goal is to make people aware of their brand.
Walker points out a specific challenge with selling products in a rapidly
growing industry. "There's been so much press [coverage] -- to the point of
Oprah -- to increase soy awareness. This increased the market potential, but
everyone started making soy products. It's very competitive."
Walker says that he's learned nearly everything through trial and error.
"It isn't such a bad thing...I'm astounded at what I've learned in six years."
Walker says that trying to find the right employees, raising money and
finding time to do everything are also big challenges.
He mentions that anyone considering starting a business really needs to
make a complete commitment. "Make it a full-family decision," he says. "You're
often working until 10 at night. If you're not willing to do that, you won't
Steve Demos is also a soyfood entrepreneur. In 1977, he started a soyfood
company with $500 in start-up capital. He began by making tofu in a bucket
and delivering it to local stores on a small red wagon. Today, his company
is one of the largest manufacturers of soyfoods in the U.S. and has revenues
reaching $81 million.
Demos made soymilk mainstream by cleverly packaging it in appealing milk
cartons to be placed right alongside milk in grocery stores. This method has
been quite successful.
Today, Soyatech says that soymilk is experiencing triple-digit growth rates
in mass-market outlets.
Demos notes that selling soy products has a specific challenge. "Marketing
a product to the American consumer that carries a negative taste stigma to
it has to be the most difficult obstacle to overcome," he says.
"This takes enormous patience and perseverance in product development,"
he continues. But it's worth it. Demos says the greatest perk is knowing that
he's partly responsible for people eating healthier. "The world is far better
off with [this product] rather than without."
The benefits of soy are not just healthier eating. Nonedible soy products
are environmentally friendly. Soy-based industrial products include anything
from wood adhesives, resin removers and cleaners to face cream, conditioners
and candles. These are also experiencing stronger popularity.
Soy entrepreneurs may compete in a tight market, but the successful ones
have stood by their product and have never given up. In fact, soy nuts and
soymilk wouldn't even be around if entrepreneurs never took a risk.
"If you truly believe in your product and concept and you know that it
has a great benefit for people, don't give up when it gets tough," says Demos.
"That's just part of the process, and the process is very long and full of
lots of ups and downs."
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