• Kyodo

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A Kyoto-based tofu maker is poised to make inroads into the U.S. market on the back of the strong popularity of its products in Japan and health-conscious American consumers.

A brand of tofu named Otokomae (Handsome Guy) that created a sensation among young Japanese when it appeared in July 2004 made its full-fledged U.S. debut Friday at a Japanese supermarket near New York.

Shingo Ito, president of Otokomae Tofuten Corp., based in Nantan, Kyoto Prefecture, plans to sell his unique brand of tofu that boasts a big kanji character for “otoko” (male) on the package at Japanese specialty stores first before hitting regular supermarkets.

The company shipped some of its tofu products to retailers on the West Coast last year.

It is still uncertain whether the tofu, made with Japanese-grown soybeans and more than twice as expensive as regular tofu in the United States, will win over American consumers.

“I created my tofu with meticulous attention to ingredients and techniques,” Ito said. “I am confident that health-conscious Americans will love them.”

Ito’s tofu, which are flown from Japan to be on the shelf the day after it is made, sells for $1.99 to $6.99, compared with 110 yen to 320 yen for the same products in Japan. A regular block costs about $1 to $2 in the U.S.

Through Sunday, Ito will lead in-store demonstrations himself, aiming to sell 2,000 packages of tofu in three days. He sold several dozen Friday morning alone.

Fans give high marks, saying “it is much richer with a stronger soybean flavor than regular tofu.”

One of the products, Johnny, is sold in a shallow, surfboard-shaped package, distinguishing it from the usual square containers. The design is intended to allow consumers to eat the tofu, as soft as yogurt, directly from the container using a spoon.

“I use several times more soybeans than regular tofu to create the rich taste. I am sure Americans can taste the difference once they try my tofu,” Ito said.

He also said, “I will also consider manufacturing my tofu in the United States once I have firmly established a sizable customer base.”

“It tastes very authentic,” said shopper Soula Giannakaris, a 34-year-old employee of a pharmaceuticals manufacturer who lives in Edgewater. “I don’t think it’s expensive considering the fact that it’s flown from Japan.”

“The otoko tofu is attracting a large number of housewives at the Takashimaya department store in Tokyo’s Futagotamagawa as well as at supermarkets. I hope American housewives as well will fully taste my products,” Ito said.

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