Hundreds of thousands of pounds of Midwestern soy is processed for food in a small factory in Hutchinson. This factory sits behind one of the Midwest’s largest grain elevators.
Since the 1960s, this soy manufacturing plant, which was bought by Kansas Protein Foods two years ago, was run by a multitude of owners. KPF is one of a few manufacturers in the U.S. that processes both spiced and plain textured soy protein for the wholesale market.
The company, under one owner or another, has processed the U.S.-grown bean for wholesale human consumption for more than 60 years. Then, like now, they put the product in 25- to 50-pound boxes and bags and sold it wholesale around the world.
Last year, the plant’s new CEO decided to sell this all-vegan food in the consumer market. Several months ago, factory heads went to work deciding on packaging, flavors and a name for this all-new consumer product. A little under two weeks ago, the company launched its retail Kansas Kitchen line, which debuted on Amazon. In the coming months, it plans to place the items in local stores.
"It is a meat replacement, or it can extend your meat," said Buelle MacArthur, the plant’s general manager. "We produce textured, plant-based ingredients forfood manufacturing companies, food service operations and re-packers."
The Kansas Kitchen line is available in plain, as well as chicken, sausage and taco flavors. The consumer product does not contain any artificial flavors or colors and is both kosher and halal certified.
"We manipulated the flavors and reduced the salt," said Laura Francisco, Kansas Protein Food’s sales manager.
Once these four flavors are off the ground, the plant hopes to introduce its ’bakon’ and chorizo flavors, which are a part of its wholesale line.
"We’re hoping this will take off, and we can expand the business," Francisco said. "This is a cost-effective, sustainable product."
KPF is a subsidiary of Kansas Ethanol, out of Sterling. Mike Chisam serves as the CEO. As the company grows, so does its workforce. Currently, the plant employs just under 25 people but plans to continue to increase its staff.
According to the Plant Based Food Association, meat alternative foods allow for companies to reference in their marketing the type of animal-meat and form the product looks and (supposedly) tastes like, be it nuggets, strips or burgers. The one stipulation is the package must be clearly labeled with a qualifier stating the product is plant-based, meatless or vegan.
"The plant-based market is hitting its stride," MacArthur said. "We can adjust our (either wholesale or retail) product to the market."
Kansas Protein manufactures textured vegetable protein wholesale products that can be tailor made. In the future, the company hopes to do the same in the retail market.
PBFA confirms that U.S. retail sales of plant-based foods have outpaced total food sales during the pandemic. They also report plant-based meat sales are increasing rapidly while animal meat sales are declining. The plant-based meat category is worth more than $800 million, with sales up 10 % in the past year. According to PBFA, plant-based meat now accounts for 2% of retail packaged meat sales.
"The largest market for plant-based foods by sales volume is plant-based milk (almond or soy) at over $2 billion, with plant-based meat approaching $1 billion in 2019. Tofu (a soy-based product) was about $128 million in 2019," said Michael Robbins, a spokesman for PBFA. "Tofu sales will continue to grow as consumers continue to diversify their diets with plant-based food options."