From bean to cube: S Arulkumar of Dhaanya Tofu talks about the making of ‘soya paneer’

A soft launch Tofu is a healthy and versatile ingredient   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

“I have seen people in stores pick up the packet and then put it back, not knowing what it was. I strike up a conversation and explain what tofu is and how it can be used.” S Arulkumar is the Director of Creasion Products Pvt Ltd, which manufactures the Dhaanya brand of tofu. Awareness of tofu, Arul says, is not as widespread as one would think. “Among a certain class, yes,” he acknowledges, “but they are too few in number.” This is one of the reasons that Arul has given his number as the customer care contact. Laughingly he explains how he has received complaints that the product “smells too strong”, “does not taste like paneer” and “falls apart easily”.

S Arulkumar

S Arulkumar   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Arul’s entry into tofu making was pure happenstance. He was a partner in a software company in Chennai, “but was very interested in food, especially in food processing. So I sold my shares and came back to Coimbatore, my home town.” He wanted to produce only what was healthy; “too many doctors in my family to think of doing otherwise,” he smiles. The suggestion to manufacture tofu came from his brother-in-law in the US. “We started in a small way in 2014 and even had our own distribution set up,” he recalls. “From 2016, we began some aggressive marketing and reached out to more cities and stores.”

Arul sources the soyabeans from Indore, Madhya Pradesh. “Maharasthra, Madhya Pradesh and parts of Rajasthan grow large volumes of soyabeans and the Indore market is huge,” he explains, adding that though there are small pockets in Tamil Nadu, the volume and quality are not enough to extract the milk. “Our consideration is the quantity and thickness of milk we get from the beans.”

The team behind the product

The team behind the product   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

The ratio of milk to tofu, according to Arul, is 6:1; i.e. it takes six litres to produce one kilogram. While the production process is similar to making paneer, the main difference here is that soya milk needs to be first extracted. “It’s a continuous process,” says Arul. “Extract the fresh milk — this is mechanised — and immediately convert to tofu.” Soya milk, he explains, has a higher rate of oxidisation than dairy milk. “So it goes bad quickly. That’s why we cannot afford to wait too long.”

While Dhaanya Tofu has a one-month shelf life, Arul says that their experiments show that it actually lasts much longer. “But the taste and flavour changes as it ages and we have enough trouble convincing customers to accept this as it is,” he says wryly.

Where it’s available
  • We have a decent market in Chennai, says Arul, reeling off the other cities where the brand is available: Coimbatore. Tiruppur, Puduchery. In Madurai, Tirunelveli, Theni, Karaikudi, Pollachi, and Kodaikanal, it can be found in a few stores. Outside Tamil Nadu, we supply only to Bangalore and Mysore.

For now, Arul is sticking with firm tofu. “There’s no demand for silken tofu,” he says. “Even in Chennai, it’s quite low.” Compared to paneer, the market share for tofu is only 2-4% and it is sold only in modern retail stores, not in the smaller ones. “Even though we label it as ‘soya paneer’, people still wonder what it is. I have known cases where people have opened the packet and thrown it away because they thought it had gone bad… the smell, you see.” When he gets such complaints, Arul tries to visit the customer, replace the packet and give them tips on what they can do with it.

With more people identifying as lactose intolerant and an increasing interest in veganism, there is a slow growth of awareness. It’s still too slow for Arul, who explains that he hasn’t “even achieved 50% of our existing capacity. We are operating only at 25-30% and there are days when we don’t even manufacture. Since the stock has to be fresh, we operate the plant, manufacture and sell on the same day. We don’t store any.” He’s planning to host an awareness campaign on health benefits and get chefs to create new recipes, and work on road shows, samplings and cooking contest. As a first step to all this, he’s also begun to build a website and is also planning to get onto social media. “Even though we are almost six years old, we are still a start-up,” smiles Arul. He’s also planning to introduce other soy products, “at least soy milk. Other products are still in the R&D stage.”

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Printable version | May 6, 2021 4:26:43 PM |

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