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|Articles - September 2012|
|Monday, August 27, 2012|
Page 1 of 3
BY MATT WERBACH
There was no way Seth Tibbott could have known how far his original $2,500 business investment would take him. He couldn’t have foreseen the large company headquarters in the old Diamond Fruit Cannery in Hood River. He certainly couldn’t have imagined his operation expanding into a brand new LEED-certified building on the shore of the Columbia. Television appearances on America’s most popular networks and shows were laughably implausible.
Tibbott did know how to find a niche in the business world. As an environmentally conscientious vegan, his lifestyle was not the most popular during the Reagan administration. Being different wasn’t a problem; it was a financial opportunity. Today the independent, family-owned company he started in his home kitchen is once again heading into unchartered waters, but the past is acting as the guide for the future. As Tibbott begins to loosen his grip on the tiller steering his life’s work, his stepson, Jaime Athos, prepares to take the helm.
Turtle Island Foods, the makers of Tofurky and many other vegan products, began in Forest Grove at the Hope Co-Op Cafe in 1980. A couple years later, Tibbott moved into a tree house in Husum, Wash., and continued to hone his tempeh-making skills. This fermented-soybean food, which originated in Indonesia, wasn’t the most obvious stroke of product-development genius at the time, but Tibbott has always relied on instinct and intuition over any kind of formal business education.
“In my personal life I was vegan, but they called it ‘pure vegetarian,’ and I was messing around with soybeans to get my protein,” Tibbott says. “I like tofu but sort of fell in love with tempeh and saw that no one was making it.” Over the course of the past 32 years, Tibbott, his family and his company, which now employs about 80 people, have built Turtle Island Foods into an entity that competes with the world’s largest food producers. The company’s gross revenues exceeded $20 million in the past year, and since the beginning they have insisted on using whole, largely organic and non-GMO ingredients.
Tibbott and his company have battled the likes of Kellogg’s, ConAgra and Kraft with increasing frequency in recent years as the larger companies compete for their share of the growing vegetarian and vegan market. One of the key factors in their ability to remain in the fight during the ongoing David versus Goliath-style battle is the inextricable welding of Tibbott’s personality and style to the Turtle Island brand. The founder is gregarious, quirky and quick, with an insightful, witty reply to almost any question. The compelling, intertwined life story and company story of Tibbott and Tofurky has been featured on Oprah, Jeopardy, Fox News and many other programs. Beyond the millions of dollars in free advertising, these appearances and the buzz around Tofurky have helped the company to establish a presence where it often requires big money to buy in.
“In some ways, as a social phenomenon, the idea of Tofurky is bigger than the actual product and the company,” Athos says.
The company has done a lot to capitalize on the free publicity. The name, website and even the packaging reflect Tibbott’s lighthearted outlook. “I see the whimsy and playfulness that Seth brings to the picture as being so fundamental to the company,” Athos says. The unique narrative draws curious consumers and those who enjoy knowing the face behind their food. The 38-year-old successor doesn’t plan to rebuild himself in the founder’s image, though. Instead, he will allow Tibbott’s story and the company’s well-established identity to remain, while Athos works from his methodical, scientific background to continue to grow the business.
Tuesday, February 25, 2014
BY LINDA BAKER
An intellectual property attorney by day, 48-year-old Stoll Berne attorney Tim DeJong is a singer and guitarist by night.
Thursday, February 27, 2014
Our 100 Best Companies project turned 21 this year, so pop open the Champagne. Our latest survey gives us plenty to cheer.
Tuesday, February 25, 2014
BY BRANDON SAWYER
A conversation about the event-planning industry with sales directors from McMenamins and the Portland Art Museum.
Tuesday, March 04, 2014
BY DEBRA RINGOLD | GUEST CONTRIBUTOR
How can we strengthen the performance of institutions charged with teaching what Francis Fukuyama calls the social virtues (reciprocity, moral obligation, duty toward community, and trust) necessary for successful markets and democracy itself?
Friday, April 04, 2014
BY ERIC FRUITS
The rapidly rising cost of higher education has left even the smartest researchers and the wonkiest of wonks wondering what’s happening and where’s all that money going. More and more, prospective students—and their families—are asking: Is college worth the cost?
Tuesday, March 11, 2014
BY MARK BLAINE | OB BLOGGER
The publisher of the Emerald Media Group moves on, leaving a cutting edge media group that depends on business acumen for its survival.
Thursday, March 20, 2014
BY JASON NORRIS | GUEST BLOGGER
I don’t think anyone can (or should) remember what it was like to get things done without the internet. This milestone in technology has certainly benefited brick-and-mortar companies and subsequently launched a new era of businesses.
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