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eNews from Thursday, April 24, 2008

Plight of the Simple Soyman Highlights National Shortage: Lack of Soybeans Puts Tofu Maker on the Brink

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, The (KRT) -- April 24, 2008 -- Simple Soyman, a Milwaukee producer of tofu, may go out of business if the company can't find the soybeans it needs to make its product.

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"Today I called nineteen different suppliers, from Ontario to Dakota to Ohio to Tennessee," said Barbara Gruenwald, who owns the business with her husband, R. Jay. "Nobody has any." The Gruenwalds thought they had an order locked in with a Wisconsin mill, but when they went to pick up the beans, they were told there was no order for them, Barbara Gruenwald said. The Gruenwalds believe that the problem resulted from a mistake by a mill employee who no longer works there.

The problem is exacerbated by a national shortage of soybeans, because companies in Japan and China are buying U.S. beans, Barbara Gruenwald said.

"The dollar is very low," she explained, and that makes U.S. crops attractive to foreign buyers. On Wednesday, the dollar rose against other currencies, taking back some ground a day after the euro topped $1.60 for the first time.

After all the calls Wednesday, Gruenwald found one batch of soybeans that had been rejected by the Japanese buyer, for a price that is double what Simple Soyman paid for its current batch of organic beans.

Simply Soyman has been in business for 25 years, making tofu from organic soybeans grown in Wisconsin. The company has had eight employees who make and deliver tofu to local co-op grocers and Milwaukee-area restaurants, and to several Madison supermarkets, including Copps, Woodman's, Sentry and Cub.

The Gruenwalds have options that may keep them in business. One would be to switch to non-organic soybeans until a new supply of organic beans can be found. Barbara Gruenwald isn't sure if her customers will want a non-organic version.

Another option would be to stop supplying restaurants and continue to make only packaged tofu for grocers with the current supply of beans. Cutting out bulk restaurant sales will leave them with enough beans on hand to last until August.

The Gruenwalds found a Wisconsin farmer willing to plant a crop of organic soybeans for them, which would be available in November. But the farmer called to say he was having the same problem buying seeds that the Gruenwalds have had buying beans: None are available.

Author: Doris Hajewski, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

To see more of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.jsonline.com. Copyright (c) 2008, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services. For reprints, email tmsreprints@permissionsgroup.com, call 800-374-7985 or 847-635-6550, send a fax to 847-635-6968, or write to The Permissions Group Inc., 1247 Milwaukee Ave., Suite 303, Glenview, IL 60025, USA.

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