If they could pull you aside and talk about the future, Edward Walker and Andrew Wilks would utter one simple word: tofu.
The two businessmen from Silver Spring, Montgomery County, see big things coming for tofu, a protein-rich, custard-like food derived from soybeans.
And they're coming to Carroll to try to make that vision a reality.
Walker and Wilks, who run Litetrends Co. Inc., plan to produce "second-generation" tofu in Eldersburg.
The company has developed a process that gives raw tofu a flavor, texture and consistency similar to that of meat. The process results in a ground-beef-like productthat can be used to make pasta sauce, sloppy joes, chili and pizza topping.
"Right now, no one in the U.S., and possibly no one in theworld, is making a product like this," Walker said.
Litetrends hopes to be up and running in the Eldersburg Business Park in October. After three years, the company plans to employ 40 people.
To help with the process of getting off the ground, the company has applied for a $395,000 federal grant through a program administered by the state Department of Economic and Employment Development. The grant requires that 51 percent of the jobs made available by the company must benefit low- and moderate-income households.
That's good news to county administrators, who have watched the jobless rate in Carroll morethan double in the past year.
"There is more of a pool (of low- and moderate-income workers) out there than there was last year," saidWilliam Jenne, business development manager in Carroll's Department of Economic and Community Development.
"Hopefully, this will help fill that gap."
On Tuesday, the County Commissioners will conduct a public hearing on the company's application for the grant. The hearing is scheduled for 4 p.m. in Room 300 of the County Office Building, 225 N. Center St. in Westminster.
The grant would come in the form of a federal government loan that the company pays back to the county.
"It's a win-win situation in many respects," Jenne said.
The company plans to produce its product for large, institutional clients, such as the Marriott Hotel, which, in addition to its hotel operations, provides food service to hospitals and universities.
Tofu is hardly new, but typically has been available only in health-food stores and other specialty shops. No one debates the nutritional benefits of the food. It's cholesterol-free, low in fat, high in protein and can be made to contain little or no salt.
Taste appeal, however, has been another story.
"It hasn't been palatable," Walker said.
The key to Litetrends is a 14-step procedure the company developed at the University of Maryland at College Park, under the TechnologyAdvancement Program.
Small companies are selected to participate in the 3-year-old program, referred to as a "business incubator." Thecompanies are given staff, equipment and technological support to use in getting their businesses off the ground.
Litetrends is one of30 companies in the program, which has produced five successful ventures, Walker said.
The company's view that the future is bright for second-generation tofu isn't without basis, Walker said.
From 1979 to 1989, the market for second-generation tofu products burgeoned from $3.5 million to $60 million, Walker said. The raw tofu market has grown from a $30 million to a $90 million business during the same period, he said.
"Tofu is definitely a growth industry," Jenne said. "It's been considered a trendy food. . . . But it's becoming more mainstream, and this company wants to capitalize on that."
Walker said he and his partner are well aware that they are planning to bring a meat alternative into one of the state's primary beef counties.
However, he maintains that the company doesn't pose a threat to thebeef industry.
"This is really for people who, perhaps on the advice of their physician, have already decided to look for a product like this," he said.