Paul Sauder fell in love with tempeh during a three-year stint on the island of Java. The fermented soybean product may be relatively unknown here, but it’s a staple across Indonesia. Now the president of Henry’s Tempeh in Kitchener, Ontario is on a mission to introduce the meat alternative to Canadians.
Marinade it, fry it, bake it, grill it — tempeh is extremely versatile. With its firm texture and hints of nuts and mushrooms, you can slice it for a sandwich, cube it for a stir fry or crumble it as a replacement for ground beef.
Then there are the health benefits. “You’re getting double the protein that you get from tofu and you’re getting six times the fibre,” Sauder explains. And because it’s fermented, tempeh offers a highly digestible form of soy.
Established in 2002, Henry’s Tempeh had been making tempeh from local, organic soybeans for several years when Sauder joined the small-scale operation. However, he saw real potential to grow the business into something much bigger and more efficient.
When the company’s founder retired in 2012, Sauder set out to realize that potential. For help, he tapped the expertise of Bioenterprise.
The agri-tech accelerator provided an in-depth market analysis and connected Sauder with strategic industry partners. Henry’s Tempeh also accessed several Bioenterprise funding programs, including the Accelerating Innovation Research program, which allowed them to partner with Conestoga College to develop new products and design a scalable fermentation unit.
They hired two new employees through Bioenterprise’s Graduate Employment and Mentorship program. Meanwhile, a $30,000 grant from Bioenterprise’s Seed Funding Program helped Sauder scale up operations. “That was a huge step for us,” he says. “It allowed us to get some new equipment and help us move to the next level of automation.”
The results speak for themselves. In 2016, the company moved from a cramped garage into a new 2,400-square-foot HACCP-certified production facility. They’ve doubled the number of employees, quadrupled sales and increased production 10-fold, thanks to a new vacuum seal machine, automated labeler and other efficiencies. Meanwhile, employees Phil Diceanu and Jason Jurchuk bought into the expanding business, creating an equal three-way ownership.
Today, you’ll find their products in Farm Boy, Goodness Me and more than 300 other food retailers from Manitoba to Newfoundland. Meanwhile, discussions are underway with distributors in Western Canada. “Things are really on the upswing,” says Sauder. “Last year we did about $500,000 in sales, and this year we’re on track to completely smash that.”
Clearly, consumers are starting to embrace tempeh — Canada’s soy super food.