The U.S. Soybean Export Council (USSEC) compiles and shares information about emerging trends with a potential for increasing the demand for U.S.-grown soybeans. April is National Soyfoods Month in the U.S., an initiative that reminds consumers of the nutrition and culinary benefits of U.S.-grown soy, as well as the role soyfoods play in feeding the world. Up-to-date market information also helps keep buyers, processors, commercial end-users and a variety of stakeholders current on opportunities for U.S.-grown soybeans.

Consumer attitudes toward food choices, shopping behavior and lifestyle priorities are quickly evolving. The following trends indicate that soyfoods have numerous attributes that leave them well-positioned to compete in the post-COVID-19 world. Part two of a two-part series.

Readjusted Priorities Pave the Way for Soyfoods Market Growth

As consumers throughout the world realign their priorities, issues such as sustainability, environmental impact, transparency and clean labels are increasingly coming into play. Global food shoppers are exhibiting a renewed interest in value and budget considerations, as evidenced by the fact that international discount supermarket chains like Aldi and Lidl experienced a 10% sales growth from 2019 to 2020.[1]  Germany-based Aldi, tied for the 2020 tenth-largest grocery chain in the U.S.[2], carries a line of soy dairy alternatives. Germany-based Lidl UK, with more than 10,000 stores in 28 countries, announced in 2018 that it supports soy from sustainable, certified sources.[3]

Sustainability: Attitudes toward sustainability continue to evolve. The impact of environmental sustainability on consumer food purchases jumped from 27% in 2019 to 34% in 2020.[4]  Global consumers are expected to seek brands that partner with them in the quest to make positive changes in the environment, and brands that help them make their own lives carbon negative.[5] Three out of four global consumers expect companies to invest in sustainability.[6]  U.S. soybean farmers employ sustainable practices, including reduced tillage, crop rotation and water and nutrient management.[7] The U.S. Soy Sustainability Assurance Protocol (SSAP) is a certified aggregated approach with third-party audits to verify sustainable soybean production.[8]

Environmental Impact: When it comes to climate change and the environmental impact of global dietary choices, a 2011 study determined that of more than 20 animal and plant protein sources, growing soybeans was the most environmentally advantageous way to produce protein.[9]

U.S. soybean growers make a meaningful contribution to the world’s food supply by providing both a reliable source of soybeans required for animal feed for livestock, and soybeans used to produce soyfoods for plant protein consumers. Soybeans currently are the second-largest crop grown on U.S. soil.[10]

More than half of global consumers  (56%)[11] are interested in eating more plant protein. The category of plant-based meat alternatives is expected to expand, with plant-based pork anticipated to make waves in the Chinese market, and plant-based chicken predicted to carve out a niche in the U.S.[12]

Transparency: In addition, transparency is an emerging consumer demand, with six out of ten global consumers saying they’re more interested in learning where their food comes from.[13] This transparency applies to areas such as supply chain transparency, plant-powered nutrition and sustainable sourcing. Among ice cream shoppers, for example, flavor is the most important purchase-driver, but a competitive edge is built by other factors such as non-diary formulations, low-sugar recipes, cleaner labels and ethical ingredients. Product launch numbers for non-dairy ice creams, including those made with soy, have grown by almost 30% from  2016 to 2020 and account for 10% of all ice cream introductions.[14]

Cleaner Labels: As demand increases for products with clean labels, shorter and simpler ingredient lists are desirable, with some brands calling out the number of ingredients on their packaging.[15] Examples of clean labels include soymilk brands that have two ingredients— purified water and soybeans—and tempeh brands made with three ingredients, cultured soybeans, water and brown rice. The global tempeh market is expected to demonstrate more than a 7% compound annual growth rate (CAGR) from 2017 to 2025, driven by the increasing popularity of meat alternatives. Conventional tempeh dominates the market with more than a 55% market share in 2017, but market growth for organic tempeh is also anticipated, driven by the launch of flavored, ready-to-eat products that appeal to time-pressed, health-conscious consumers.[16]

Rebooted Eating-at-Home Behavior May Help Promote Versatile Soyfoods

With more consumers working from home during the pandemic, an enduring increase in cooking at home also may be underway. The phenomenon was already starting to emerge in a recent pre-pandemic global study of home cooking trends, in which consumers reported on the number of meals they personally cooked at home. The number of meals cooked at home increased slightly from 6.5 meals in 2018 to 6.9 meals in 2019.[17]  In the U.S., 60% of Americans report cooking at home more.[18]

Other changing food attitudes include snacking preferences. With 32% of Americans reporting that they are snacking more,[19]  it is not surprising that an increasing number of snack introductions are direct-to-consumer products that can be delivered to the home.[20] Global consumers are showing interest in crunchy and crispy snack textures for both sweet and savory snacks.[21]  Bacon-flavored or dark chocolate-covered soy nuts, soy nut butter and TSP-based barbecue jerky are examples of soy snacks that can be ordered online.

For home cooks, the versatility of soyfoods also makes them a convenient pantry choice. The new homebody economy in Europe offers manufacturers an opportunity; meal kits and recipe suggestions can help encourage consumers to develop new cooking and eating habits.[22]  Look for shifting consumer values and global changes in home-cooking attitudes to create new product and promotional opportunities for soyfoods.

[1] Euromonitor International Top 10 Global Consumer Trends 2021.

[2], “A List of the top 10 grocery chains in the United States,” November 2020.

[3] Chain Reaction Research, “The Chain: Lidl UK Announces Sustainable Soy Commitments,” October 23, 2018.

[4] International Food Information Council 2020 Food and Health Survey.

[5] Mintel 2021 Global Consumer Trends.

[6] Innova Top Ten Trends for 2021.

[7] “Soil Tillage and Crop Rotation.” United States Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service. April 4, 2017.

[8] U.S. Soybean Sustainability Assurance Protocol.” April 2018.

[9] Gonzales D, Frostell B, Carlsson-Kanyama A. Protein efficiency per unit energy and per unit greenhouse gas emissions: Potential contribution of diet choices to climate change mitigation. Food Policy, 2011; 36:562-70.

[10] “National Agricultural Statistics Service.” United States Department of Agriculture. June 28, 2019.

[11] Archer Daniels Midland, ADM, “Top 5 Global Food Trends 2021.”

[12] FoodBytes, Datassentials Annual Trend Forecast Issue, 2021/

[13] Innova Consumer Survey, 2020.

[14] Innova Market Insights, “Flavor is king, but is not the only trend in ice cream.” March 17, 2021.

[15] Innova Market Insights, “Flavor is king, but is not the only trend in ice cream.” March 17, 2021.

[16] Hexa Research, “Tempeh Market,” 2020.

[17] Gallup, “Pandemic Could be Recipe for More Cooking at Home,” January 15, 2021.

[18] IFIC, Food and Health Survey, 2020.

[19] IFIC 2020 Food and Health Survey

[20] Euromonitor International, “Experiential Snacking,” 2021.

[21] Euromonitor International, “Experiential Snacking,” 2021.

[22] Nielsen IQ, “Europeans in lockdown expect the impact of COVID-19 to last another year.” April 8, 2020.