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Exotically Named Bean Curd Is a Big Hit (May 8, 2006)

Johnny the Tofu Maker, Blowing in the Wind (Sanwa Toyu Foods)
Brands of tofu with unusual names like "Handsome Tofu" and "Johnny the Tofu Maker, Blowing in the Wind" have been attracting attention on the Internet and around town, not just for their names but also for their exquisite flavor. Though a single pack costs two or three times more than regular tofu, the products have proved a hit at supermarkets and the food sections of department stores. Sales have been strong since the summer of 2005, when a shop selling the tofu opened in the upscale Tamagawa Takashimaya department store in Tokyo, an event that attracted a flurry of media coverage and made the tofu known across Japan.
Handsome Tofu (Sanwa Toyu Foods)

More Than Just a Name
The manufacturer of these uniquely named goods is Sanwa Toyu Foods, based in the city of Koga in Ibaraki Prefecture. The company used to produce low-priced tofu costing just ¥100 ($0.85) for three standard-sized portions in a bid to compete, but sales remained sluggish and its future prospects were bleak. Faced with this situation, company executives decided they needed a way to grab the attention of consumers. And, according to the second-generation president of the company, Ito Shingo, the strategy they hit upon was to give their tofu names that people would remember.

The new tofu is more than just a strange name, however. "Handsome Tofu" is made by wrapping the cake of tofu in a nonwoven cloth and letting water drain into a compartment at the bottom of the package, a process that produces a particularly rich flavor. Exceptional care is taken with the quality of the ingredients, as well. Whole soybeans from Hokkaido are used, and the bittern is made out of seawater from off the coast of the city of Itoman in Okinawa. The sweet taste of the soybeans is immediately apparent when you bite into the tofu. Also, some of the production processes that are usually carried out by machines are done by hand, just like in days gone by, in the goal, says Ito, of making the flavor as authentic as possible. These deluxe tofu brands cost upwards of ¥300 ($2.55 at ¥118 to the dollar) per pack.

The company's search for distinctive ingredients led it to Hawaii, where its attention was caught by a particular type of bittern. The image of Hawaii served as the inspiration for the tofu called "Johnny the Tofu Maker, Blowing in the Wind."

Fried and processed tofu products. (Sanwa Toyu Foods)

The Johnny Effect
When "Johnny the Tofu Maker" was marketed in 2003, it was a hit product with sales totaling about 7,000 packs a day. "Handsome Tofu," meanwhile, sold out on the first day it went on sale at the Tamagawa Takashimaya department store, a success that paved the way for the establishment of Sanwa Toyu's first department store outlet. The popularity of "Johnny the Tofu Maker" prompted Sanwa Toyu to set up a new company called Handsome Tofu, and sales at the new firm are expected to reach ¥2 billion ($17 million) in the first year.

Tofu is widely available in many countries today and is popular for its health benefits. The success of Sanwa's tofu brands is likely to stimulate new ideas and ventures in an industry that until now has been guided by tradition.

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Copyright (c) 2006 Web Japan. Edited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.

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