Soy Manufacturer Taps Into Toll-free Hotline

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To meet the growing number of people who are interested in tofu but are not sure on how to use it, Vitasoy USA Inc., San Francisco, the largest manufacturer and marketer of soy drinks, tofu, Asian pasta and teas, signed on with Wong Communications Group, San Francisco, to create an 800 number just for tofu. Consumers who call 1-800-EAT-TOFU or 1-800-VITASOY can get recipes and health information on the benefits of a tofu based diet.

"We want to encourage consumers to use tofu," said Nicole McGee, spokeswoman for Wong Communications. "Callers will speak to representatives familiar with the products and can get recipes or answers to their questions."

Currently a total of eight representatives handle inquiries including health/nutritional information, recipes, specific product information, or general information on soy products.

Reps have generally been with the company for more than five years, McGee said, and are familiar with all the products. Training is continual. When new products and reformulations of existing products are released, the company's research and development team provides the necessary updates for reps.

"All claims," McGee said, "are quoted from studies." Nothing is claimed or suggested without the backup of significant data. When requested, copies of studies are faxed to callers.

"Soy has phytoestrogen which for a lot of people which, according to published studies, will reduce breast cancer, reduce cholesterol and will be a good supplement for women who are menopausal," she said.

The 800 numbers appear in ads in food industry trade publications, as well as in industry specific publications aimed at a consumer-based readership. The numbers also appear on the packaging of Azumaya tofu products.

The number of calls per day for 1-800-EAT-TOFU has gone down slightly after the company starting getting e-mailed request for recipes. This comes after the company included the web address on the packaging.

"We made the packaging more mainstream; we added pictures and the website address, making recipes more available," said Ron Dallara, national sales and marketing manager for the supermarket produce division of Vitasoy.

Although the number of call-ins is currently low, with less than 100 calls per day, interest is increasing, said Chiu.

"Calls are expected to jump by double the amount by years end," she said.

"More research is going out to consumers. The company's increase in advertising parallels the increasing prevalence of soy-related articles in the general media.

"There are a lot of people out there with questions about how long the shelf life of tofu is in the refrigerator after it has been opened," Dallara said. "They call after the sale has already been made. Rarely will somebody call our number than go out and buy our product."

Vitasoy USA Inc., markets tofu products which include Vitasoy Natural Soy Drink, Naysoya, and Vitasoy Ethnic Brands. According to Laura Chiu, customer service specialist for the company, the soy drink and Naysoya products are available in supermarkets, while the Vitasoy Ethnic Brands are sold to mom and pop ethnic stores in Chinatown, for example.

The company has also begun distributing New Menu Veggie Burgers with tofu, and mayonnaise and salad dressings which are made with a silken tofu base according to Chiu.

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