The Famous Tofurky
In 1995, the Turtle Island Foods expanded its product line to include a tofu-based meat alternative called “Tofurky®”. Seth’s motivation for “inventing” Tofurky products was simple. “For many years my vegetarian friends and I struggled with what to eat at Thanksgiving. We shared many epic failures and disappointments. There was the stuffed pumpkin that was ok, and the “gluten roast” which had three pages of instructions, took all day to prepare and could not be cut with a chain saw.”
Turtle Island Foods teamed up with The Higher Taste, in Portland, Oregon to create a turkey alternative, which they named "Tofurky®". This prototype was a complete holiday meal, and consisted of a stuffed tofu roast, 8 tempeh drummettes (apparently a Tofurky® had eight legs) and a pint of nutritional yeast gravy. This rather large package (3.5 pound box) had a hefty price tag of $30.00. Stores were skeptical but the few that carried it that fall were wildly successful. Customers wrote long, passionate letters to us. "I've been waiting 20 years for this product. Now I don't have to feel like a second class citizen at the holidays!" From this experimental beginning, the “tofu turkey” Tofurky® recipe was modified to make it smaller and more marketable.
A remarkable 500 Tofurky Feasts were sold that year, including several to reporters from the Today Show and other network news organizations who could not believe such a product existed. The texture, flavor, timing and name of Tofurky® propelled the modest company to market success and mild cultural infamy.
Free press secured the success of the quirky Tofurky® brand. Starting in 1999, popular television and radio shows began to use the name Tofurky® liberally, including Ellen DeGeneres, The X files, Conan O’Brian, Jay Leno, NPR radio to just name a few. Free press proved to be a beautiful and useful thing to Turtle Island Foods. Seth says, “The funny name worked to our advantage. I have never been a ‘straighten up and fly right kind of guy’. Humor worked instantly with this product, and, after working my butt off for 15 years I was gratified to see our new brand take off. I mean, I did not even move out of my tree house until 1991, so the ’95 success was joyous. ” The brand’s success was fully realized in 2001 when the following question appeared on the television show Jeopardy! – Brand name of the tofu Thanksgiving dinner from entrepreneur Seth Tibbott. And, while no contestant actually got the question right, such national brand recognition was priceless. In the fall of 2007 it was estimated that the Tofurky® brand received an estimated 1.5 million dollars in free publicity on network TV.
In 1997 Turtle Island Foods looked to the traditional turkey industry for inspiration and ideas on how to sell Tofurky® beyond the fall Holiday seasons. Knowing that vegetarians like to eat sandwiches just like everyone else, deli slices were the next product developed. This natural line extension became an overnight success.
Turtle Island Foods introduced Tofurky Jurky in 2000 and Tofurky Sausages arrived on market shelves in 2003. Both quickly became category leaders.
Why all this success with a funny fake turkey product? “I think it comes down to a combination of a great product and a funny, catchy name!” reflects Seth. “We like to laugh here, sometimes at ourselves, but we always strive to offer the most delicious, uncompromising taste and textured products imaginable made from simple, natural ingredients that you don't need a chemistry degree to understand.”
Did you know?
Tofurky has been featured on Ellen, The X files, Conan O’Brian, Jay Leno, NPR and more.