NFMW 2019: Celebrating Entrepreneurship at Farmers Markets

      Posted On: August 4, 2019

This National Plant-Based Foods Company’s Best Launch Pad? The Farmer’s Market

How Hodo went from farmers market favorite to national powerhouse

National Farmers Market Week is finally here, and we are highlighting one of the many examples of entrepreneurs who started at farmers markets. Hodo is a perfect example of how farmers markets can stimulate economic growth in local communities and give small vendors an opportunity to learn, grow, and thrive. 

In celebration of National Farmers Market Week 2019, FMC is focusing on how farmers markets foster entrepreneurship and serve as incubators for small and independent businesses. By providing a low-barrier to entry, maximum return on investment, and immediate feedback on products, farmers markets function as an innovation lab for new farmers, food producers, and various small businesses.

For years, Hodo’s products were available exclusively at San Francisco Bay Area Farmers Markets. Starting with one stand in Silicon Valley, Hodo’s Founder and CEO Minh Tsai expanded Hodo’s reach to 16 markets around the Bay Area. As of Summer 2019 – the company’s 15 year anniversary – Hodo has grown to 4,000 retail stores, with ready-to-eat, plant-based products unlike anything else on the market. Hodo accomplished this independently, as an original-founder-owned-and-operated business. The company is perhaps best known as the tofu supplier for Chipotle’s sofritas. However their products are also served at lauded restaurants across the country like Michelin-starred State Bird Provisions, Nightbird, Mister Jiu’s, Commis, Benu, Lord Stanley, Superiority Burger, and Daniel. Hodo has also received rave reviews from the New York Times and Bon Appetit Magazine.

 The special characteristics of farmers markets empowered Tsai to develop these clean, artisan-quality products and bring them to market. This nexus Hodo found was truly transformative for the company and for tofu and yuba in America, as Hodo re-introduced these 2,000 year old, original plant-based proteins to this country.

“Farmers markets serve as a unique launch setting, facilitating direct engagement with retail consumers and chefs. Those who shop at farmers markets are often curious and are advocates for fresh ingredients, clean products, and have discerning tastes. Engagement at the farmers markets created opportunities for Hodo to test new products, educate consumers and chefs, and build long lasting relationships based on the premise of food with integrity,” said Tsai.

This rich, supportive community of peer businesses solving the same challenges, working on the same issues, was invaluable. Farmers markets attract investors with the right mindset for an artisanal product – slow growth to start, ensuring quality as the company scales up. Hodo’s earliest investors were early customers of Hodo.

For National Farmers Market Week this year, Hodo will be celebrating at one of its original farmers market locations: The Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture (CUESA). At the CUESA Market to Table Demo Classroom at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market in San Francisco on Saturday, August 10th, Chef Kim Alter of Nightbird will create a dish with Hodo products. Chef Kim Alter is passionate about whole plant cooking, and about utilizing the whole soybean, “seed to stalk” as she says, showing the full range of versatility of the different forms of the soybean. So even though Hodo has made it big and has outgrown solely selling at farmers markets, it’s clear that they will never forget their roots.