As a storied company with an illustrious legacy, Pulmuone’s core values can be traced back all the way to their humble beginnings: Founded in the early 80’s by farmer Won Kyung-sun in Seoul, South Korea, what started as the first organic food shop in the entire country ultimately blossomed into the Pulmuone Company.
Today, the company has expanded into one of the world’s frontrunners of packaged tofu, conquering markets in the United States and Asia with household brand names such as Nasoya, Plantspired, and Wildwood Organic. Innovation and forward thinking has been crucial to Pulmuone’s growth – but as much as the company is moving the needle, it is also staying true to its roots. Mr. Won’s intentional commitment to sustainable and regenerative practices, centering the well-being of communities first, have lived on in Pulmuone since its inception.
The company has no plans of slowing down, and with exciting launches coming down the pike, the PBFA team had the opportunity to learn more about the Pulmuone Company, from its founding to its promising future, for our May edition of our Member Spotlight Series.
Q: Can you tell us a bit more about the history of Pulmuone and the inspiration behind its founding?
A: Pulmuone was founded in 1981 by farmer Won Kyung as a small organic produce shop in South Korea. Often referred to as the father of organic farming, Mr. Won believed in sustainable practices that regenerate the land and the community – thoughtfully grown to deliver wholesome food you can trust. With that commitment, Pulmuone established itself as the first Korean company to follow the LOHAS (Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability) philosophy and entered into the US market in 1991 with the mission to continue nourishing lives through delicious food that empowers health and happiness for all.
Pulmuone was founded in Seoul as a small organic produce shop and eventually made its way international, becoming a household name in packaged tofu around the world. What aspects of your founding, including farmer Won Kyung-sun’s ethos and business philosophy have persisted in Pulmuone today, and how does this legacy inform your company’s values?
“Pulmu” translates to a bellow, an instrument designed to furnish a strong blast of air. “One” represents a place. Just like how a bellow flows in air to keep the flame burning, Pulmuone strives to serve as the catalyst for a better future and sustain a lifelong commitment to health and sustainability. Our core values of trust, passion, and excellence drive our mission to create a healthy future for individuals and the environment.
What do people need to know about Pulmuone’s mission?
Our commitment to wholesome foods is reflected in our core strategies: being plant forward, advocating animal welfare, and promoting healthy experiences. Through these principles, we aim to foster a sustainable and eco-caring approach, ensuring the well-being of both people and the earth.
One of the goals of this series is to help shine a light on the stories and individuals behind the companies. What is your big “why” for working in the plant-based foods industry? Is there a particular cause or fact that you learned that motivated your work and passion?
My name is Ellen Kim, and I work at Pulmuone as the Director of Marketing Communications and Plantspired Brand Innovation. In my six years with Pulmuone, I have seen the organization evolve from primarily offering tofu and Asian products to launching the innovative Plantspired brand. As our business grew, so did our team. In 2018, tofu had a household penetration rate of less than 5%, but now it has exceeded 8%. We offer a range of tofu products, including different firmnesses and ready-to-eat products, and Korean and Asian-inspired products like kimchi, Asian wraps, and flavorful meal kits. In 2022, we introduced our very first plant-based meat under the Plantspired brand in Korean BBQ sauce, and we launched our second SKU in Gochujang sauce this year. Consumers love our charcoal-grilled steak strips with authentic Asian flavors. A new plant-based meat analog is currently in the works.
At Pulmuone, we are committed to providing high-quality food that we would feel proud to feed our family. We strive to deliver authentic Asian-inspired flavors to American consumers while also prioritizing our planet’s health. The privilege of working for a company that embodies these values is truly humbling. All of our offerings are dedicated to not only tasting great but also contributing to the well-being of all living things.
Your company’s diverse product line is rooted in wholesome values that intend to connect the consumer with the Earth. How do you balance today’s high demand for innovation while also keeping your food ‘down-to-earth’, so-to-speak, and wholesomely crafted?
Our innovative approach focuses on crafting nourishing and irresistibly delicious foods fit for busy lifestyles. Our culinary philosophy seamlessly merges Asian-inspired traditions and contemporary cuisine, with flavor taking center stage.
As a Korean-owned company, what Korean food values inspire your menus and how do you thread the rich heritage and story of Pulmuone into your other brands based here in the United States?
Rooted in our 40-year rich history, we are driven by a deep passion for delivering wholesome, authentic Asian flavors you can feel proud to serve your family. Our brands capture the essence of classic Asian-inspired dishes as well as the contemporary appeal of street-style favorites. Furthermore, we are committed to pushing boundaries by offering elevated, plant-based Asian cuisine options that redefine and surpass expectations.
We partnered with The Culinary Institute of America to create “The Asian Plant-Forward Kitchen: Korea” series, a first-of-its-kind curriculum initiative documenting the best of plant-forward culinary traditions in Asia. Watch Now!
What has been the most rewarding moment or pivotal milestone you’ve witnessed during your time at Pulmuone? As a plant-based company, are there any big moments of celebration you’d like to share?
With the #1 market share in tofu, we are proud to be America’s favorite tofu brand. In response to the increasing consumer demand for plant-forward options and Asian cuisine, we introduced Plantspired in 2021—a line of convenient and delicious plant-protein meals under the Nasoya brand. Building on the success of our Plantspired steak launch, we are excited to continue expanding within the plant-based meat category with the upcoming launch of our highly anticipated plant-based chicken.
Based on your experience, what were some obstacles you had to overcome in scaling your business, and what advice would you share with other aspiring plant-based founders?
The pandemic accelerated what was already unprecedented demand for our tofu products. In 2021, we achieved a significant milestone by completing a successful expansion of our Fullerton, California facility, adding 100,000 square feet of space and doubling our tofu production capabilities. Within the plant-based meat category, we invested heavily and spent years of trial and error to achieve the perfect balance of texture and taste while prioritizing clean ingredients. Additionally, as we continue to grow, we aim to expand our presence from the produce section into the frozen aisle as well.
Can you give us a sneak peek into any notable news or exciting product launches in the pipeline for 2023?
We have many exciting products in the pipeline including the launch of our new Gochujang Plantspired Steak, Plant-Based Chicken, Plant-Based Meat Analogs, Asian-inspired Salad Dressings, Asian-inspired Noodle Kits, and more!
Where can we learn more about Pulmuone?
For food service information, please visit our page. We’ll also be attending Expo West 2024, the National Restaurant Association Show, and other industry summits.