Vegetarian Action

Chicago Soydairy Brings Vegan Treats to Midwest Market and Beyond

By Jim Dunn

In a recent vegetarian magazine article about “Superfoods,” soy was number 6 on the list. The article points to some strong evidence that the isoflavones—the plant estrogens in soy—have powerful disease-fighting properties. Seems that soy is really good for you! So, how is it possible then that Chicago Soydairy’s Temptation Frozen Desserts—French Vanilla, Organic Fair Trade Chocolate, and Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough—taste so good? When I was growing up, the stuff that was good for you—Brussels sprouts, spinach, and such—offered no ‘temptation’ whatsoever.

The secret to Chicago Soydairy’s overnight success is quality and simplicity. All of their products—frozen desserts, soymilks, and their soon-to-be-released retail seitan product line—start with fresh organic ingredients. Then, there is the simplicity part. The only ingredients in their Temptation Frozen Desserts, for example, are filtered water, soybeans, fructose, and sea salt. Having more than once pondered over a food label with 432 ingredients—some of which I used in high school chemistry—I find it reassuring that it’s still possible to create delicious healthy food with ingredients I can count on one hand and actually pronounce.

So, what motivates someone to start a business like this when the competition is already strong? Acoording to Ryan Howard, a food engineering graduate of Purdue University, he saw a niche. Most existing soy products are made on the West Coast with soybeans shipped from the Midwest, and it was pretty clear to him that reducing the fossil fuels needed to transport the raw ingredients would give him a leg up. Unfortunately, the downside to this success-generating plan is that Soydairy products are, at this time, sold only in three states—Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin. The good news is that soybeans are grown in 29 states, and a sound business model should work in most all of them!

Of course, buying local ingredients wouldn’t mean much if his products weren’t incredibly delicious. Not to worry. The reviews coming in are generating some big smiles at Chicago Soydairy. Local restaurants have declared the products winners, and several local grocery stores, including Whole Foods and Fruitful Yield, now carry Chicago Soydairy’s tasty products. With recent interest by health food distributor United Natural Foods Midwest, Soydairy products should become increasingly easier to find.

While Soydairy’s business success has been exciting, Ryan and his team haven’t lost sight of the fundamental reason for the path they have chosen. A vegan since age 15 and a veteran of animal rights protests in the 1990s, Ryan was predisposed toward a career in which food and concern for animals came together. Studying food process engineering, and then putting in time with a major food manufacturer, gave him the skills to eventually go with the Chicago Soydairy concept full-time. As Ryan puts it, “Veganism is what this company, and everyone who works here, is all about. We want to make products that help save animals’ lives while promoting a pro-vegan corporate image.” Well put, and a sentiment that most of us vegans can appreciate.

Bottom line: I have personally tasted Soydairy’s chocolate Temptation Frozen Dessert. I can recommend it without reservation.

Jim Dunn is a longtime VRG volunteer who currently lives in the Chicago metropolitan area. He enjoyed performing several taste tests during his research for this article.