Teaching local food service industry to use Ontario soybean products

During the next several months, stories highlighting the significant economic impacts, innovative projects, and leadership of Greenbelt Fund grantees will be appearing in some of the province’s most read agriculture publications, including The Grower, Ontario Farmer, Better Farming, and Country Guide East. We’ll be celebrating the success stories by publishing them here as well.

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Sol Cuisine President Dror Balshine in the company’s Mississauga plant.

Teaching local food service industry to use Ontario soybean products

A Mississauga company used an education campaign to gain greater demand of its products

When Sol Cuisine wanted to increase the use of its Ontario-produced tofu in food service and institutions, it realized it needed to show them exactly how to use it.

The resulting education campaign has helped increase reach of the Mississauga company’s high quality tofu into universities, health care and long-term care homes, as well as its use of Ontario-grown soybeans.

Sol Cuisine’s challenge was to educate the supply chain from purchasers and distributors to chefs, on how tofu from Ontario and Greenbelt-grown soybeans could be put onto the menu in a realistic and economically feasible way to help serve the growing demand for vegetarian and vegan foods.

Targeting food service

"Sol Cuisine convinced institutions to try tofu, but they had no idea what to do with it," says Kathy Macpherson, Vice President of the Greenbelt Fund. "Sol Cuisine showed them how to use it to complement existing menus within cost parameters. They’ve done an incredible job."

Chef Rafael was hired by Sol Cuisine to develop delicious new recipes using locally made tofu. The program targeted food service operators and showed them how to incorporate tofu into a variety of recipes while providing Chef Rafael with opportunities to talk to staff and students about where the soybeans were grown. Recent collaborators include Ecosource, Halton Healthcare, Ryerson University, the University of Toronto and York University.

The Greenbelt Fund helped get the program off the ground by investing $59,000.

"We developed 30 recipes for Aramark, of which five were chosen to be rolled out in five universities and now across the country," says Sol Cuisine President Dror Balshine.

Sol Cuisine started in 1980 as a co-op that wanted to create high-quality organic tofu for the only three vegetarian restaurants that were then in Toronto. The company now sells everything from veggie crumbles to meat alternatives across Canada, the U.S. and some internationally.

Growing local economies

"I’m really excited about the growth and discussion about local food economies," says Balshine. "We have the ability to create a beneficial environment where everyone knows what’s growing here and what opportunities are available for farmers in Ontario."

With support from the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) the Greenbelt Fund is investing in the agri-food system, not just in the Greenbelt, but, across the province. It connects people throughout the food supply chain and provides funds at critical points to encourage more use of Ontario-grown food. At nearly two millions acres of protected green space and fertile farmland, the Greenbelt is a catalyst for strengthening the viability of agriculture across the province.

"We have always purchased our ingredients locally, but working with the Greenbelt Fund has refocused our attention to the local food economy and communicating and selling product within," says Balshine.

Sol Cuisine relies on farmers to produce food-grade, non-GMO organic soybeans in order to fill this need in Canada.

Sol Cuisine sources their soybeans locally, within 215 km of the facility in Mississauga. According to Balshine, the company’s soybean purchases have increased by 18 per cent since the launch of the SOLocal Protein Project in 2013.

"I encourage farmers to research food processing companies in their area, find out what they need and see if there is potential for collaboration,” suggests Balshine. “It’s a great synergistic opportunity."


 

The Greenbelt Fund’s goal is to create systemic change to permanently increase the amount of local food consumed in the province. For every dollar the Fund has invested, seven more dollars in Ontario food has been purchased.