- Tofurky has sold 7.5 million vegan-friendly, wheat- and tofu-based, holiday roasts
- Workers at its Oregon factory can produce 6,000 roasts in a 10-hour shift
- READ MORE: Americans warned of dangers of deep frying Thanksgiving turkeys – US Consumer Product Safety Commission reports gigantic home ‘grease fires’
It’s a Thanksgiving holiday tradition as cherished as the corny ‘dad jokes’ and cranky debates it produces around the dinner table: the vegetarian and vegan-friendly ‘Tofurky’ roast.
Every year, the company that makes the tofu- and wheat-based turkey substitute, shifts production from its line of everyday plant-based cold cuts and meats in a mad dash to deliver enough of its trademark roasts in time for the holidays.
Workers make, bake and package 6,000 holiday roasts in each 10-hour shift ahead of the holiday season at the company’s Hood River factory in Oregon.
Approximately 7.5 million Tofurky roasts have been sold since the savory entrée was first invented in 1980.
But the process of mixing industrial quantities of the tofu and wheat ‘masa,’ to wrap around each Tofurky’s interior of wild rice stuffing, isn’t always pretty. Here’s a look inside one factory where the vegan sausage gets made.
A total of roughly 175 workers, 50 at parent company Turtle Island Foods’ Hood River factory alone, leap into production each year to crank out the Tofurky.
Each shift, four people are responsible for making the ‘masa,’ or the dough of tofu and wheat, which is mixed with canola oil, water and savory seasonings for that appropriate autumnal texture and flavor.
Another employee takes on the solitary task of making all the wild rice stuffing at the center of each holiday roast, mixing in breadcrumbs, celery, onion, carrot, leek and other seasonings.
Another lone employee each shift is tasked with assembling the ingredients for the Tofurky’s dry seasoning mix.
The two mixtures are then combined in an industrial procedure inspired by the factory production of Nabisco’s Fig Newton bars: a nested funnel within a funnel that directs the two savory goops into a tube within a tube.
Once cooked and refrigerated the packages are then boxed in a hurry, by anyone on call who is available, into their final consumer packaging for shipment.
A single Tofurky roast with gravy, which feeds about five, retails for $13.50.
’97 percent of our production is at our own plant in Hood River,’ according to Turtle Island Foods CEO Jaime Athos, who took on the role from his step-father Seth.
‘We had challenges around packaging. We were also caught off guard by the huge increases in gluten prices, first driven by Covid and then the war in Ukraine [a major exporter of wheat worldwide],’ as Athos told AgFunderNews this March.
In perhaps the most surprising phase of each Tofurky’s production, the holiday roast is scanned via x-ray to ensure that nothing unwanted or suspicious has accidentally been baked into the mixture.
While no law officially mandates the x-ray step, it’s this extra mile that has continued to make the kneaded dough-like ball of tofu and wheat gluten such an enduring, if quirky holiday specialty.
Athos has said that some have called on the company to produce a gluten-free Tofurky, but dedicated customers are attached to the current formula, even if it doesn’t taste all that much like turkey.
‘I think there’s a little risk in getting too close to the exact eating experience of meat,’ Athos told the Washington Post as part of a recent visit to the Tofurky factory.
‘There’s that notion of the uncanny valley: When something’s close, but not quite, it’s worse than being noticeably away from the goal,’ he added. ‘For us, it’s more about, ‘Does it eat well? Is it a satisfying and flavorful eating experience?’ That’s so much more on our minds than, ‘Is it exactly the same as meat?’