soyfoods and summer grilling

The world’s consumers aren’t eating words, but they are paying closer attention to food product claims—words like functional and sustainable. Soy foods are on-target ingredients that meet consumer demands. U.S. Soy and the soy foods industry are well-positioned to compete as consumer behavior evolves in response to factors like inflation, global warming and ideas about health and nutrition.

Fueling the Wellness Quest

COVID-altered health attitudes continue to affect food choices. As part of their efforts to stay healthy, consumers are increasing their preference for natural food and drinks. In fact, the natural food and drinks market is forecast to rise to $361.3 billion by 2031, growing at a CAGR of 11.44% from 2022 to 2031.[1] Soy-based beverages include soy milk, with some brands containing only two ingredients— organic soybeans and water. In the U.S., approximately 63% of adults say the ingredients of food and beverage products they buy have at least a moderate influence on their decision.[2]

Products with simple, recognizable ingredients appeal to consumers seeking clean-label products. Motivated by gaining potential health benefits, nearly half of “clean eaters” defined that term as referring to foods that are not highly processed, as well as fresh produce, organic and simple ingredients.[3]

Traditional soy ingredients can be positioned in ways that address evolving food attitudes. For example, increased life expectancy in the Asia Pacific region is being accompanied by health attitudes that focus on disease prevention.[4] A rising number of the region’s consumers want to boost their intake of healthy nutrients in foods with health benefits. Areas of opportunity include product innovation featuring functional foods, fortified foods, and traditional ingredients.[5] As such, fermented soy foods such as miso and products like fortified tofu can help meet these changing demands.

As cholesterol-free proteins, soy foods have prominent attributes that appeal to health-conscious consumers. Soy offers options of stand-alone complete plant protein choices, like edamame. One cup of frozen prepared edamame provides 18 grams of complete protein and 8 grams of dietary fiber[6] that easily can be added to salads, pastas and side dishes.

 Budget-Tightening Invites Experimentation

Rising prices have affected consumers and food service professionals alike. In Europe, 44% of respondents in a recent survey named rising prices as a top concern.[7]  A growing number of consumers have altered their shopping behavior and actively look for more affordable retailers and brands.[8] Additionally, E-commerce is here to stay. It has been forecast to account for half of global retail’s growth by 2025, with the U.S., China and Mexico predicted to experience the highest growth.[9] E-commerce presents consumers with easy-to-source and simple-to-store soy foods like canned soybeans, roasted soy nuts and TSP (textured soy protein, also called TVP or textured vegetable protein).

While value considerations influence food choices, protein still plays a prominent role in trendy diets and popular comfort foods eaten at home and away from home.[10]  Expanding protein options on the menu help U.S. restaurant operators address rising product costs and supply chain shortages. Versatile soy foods also offer opportunities for restaurant menus that make protein swaps to capture the interest of adventurous diners and budget-conscious patrons alike.[11] Think of entrees such as tempeh piccata.  New beverage spins could feature sparkling soy milk, made with seltzer and flavored syrups. Soy nuts, too, offer a crunchy option for crusting meats and seafood, or adding to happy hour snacks.

Naturally salty ingredients and salty desserts are a trending taste among U.S. restaurant-goers,[12] creating menu opportunities for traditional soy ingredients such as miso. Examples from menus around the world include red miso caramel lattes and red miso olive oil cake.

 What Indulgence Looks Like in a Time of Economizing

In the current economic climate, consumers scrimp so they can splurge, and treat themselves with accessible indulgences.[13]  These indulgences include convenience food products like frozen entrees that can replace going out for a restaurant meal, or snack items that offer the chance to try new flavors. More than six in ten consumers of world cuisine consider themselves adventurous in trying new foods.[14] Frozen meals featuring globally inspired entrees may offer potential opportunities for soy-based product innovations. Ingredients like flavored tofu products also have branched out with variations such as curry, yuzu, Mediterranean and tomato. This year’s fall and winter flavor previews include citrus varieties such as blood orange, which has grown 18% on menus in the past four years.[15]

 Reshaping Ideas About Sustainability

World consumers have an evolving social conscience that embraces various takes on sustainability. Product claims, including sustainably sourced and carbon neutral, are emerging as key words on E-commerce search engines.[16] As many as 20 to 25% of global consumers have altered their product choices for environmental reasons, and also look for sustainably grown products and foods with environmentally responsible packaging.[17] In Western Europe and Australasia, the plant-based claim for food products has experienced more than 100% growth. In North America, plant-based label claims increased by 46.2% last year.[18]

Soy foods and beverages such as soy milk can help meet shifting demands of worldwide consumers with whom the most popular sustainable actions include making nutritious, simple and frugal choices.[19] Minimally processed soy foods made from high-quality, sustainably grown U.S. Soy[20] should appeal to informed consumers on several levels. Complete proteins contain all nine of the essential amino acids (ones the body cannot produce itself) in amounts needed by the body.[21]   Research continues to report on the beneficial effects of plant protein in connection with environmental sustainability and human health. Soy is a much-studied plant protein source that has been grown and consumed for centuries.[22] Today’s focus on sustainability positions soy as a viable food for the future.

This article was partially funded by U.S. Soy farmers, their checkoff and the soy value chain.

[1] Allied Market Research. Natural Food and Drinks Market Research.

[2] Food Insight. “Consumer Perspectives on Food Ingredients.” June 17, 2021.

[3] Food Insight. “Consumer Perspectives on Food Ingredients.” June 17, 2021.

[4] Euromonitor International. “Opportunities and Quest for Healthy Ageing in Asia Pacific.”  August 3, 2022.

[5] Euromonitor International. “Opportunities and Quest for Healthy Ageing in Asia Pacific.”  August 3, 2022.

[6] USDA Food Data Central

[7] McKinsey & Company. “Shifting Concerns for European Consumers.” Press release, July 13, 2022.

[8] McKinsey & Company, Survey: European Consumers React to Rising Prices,” July 14, 2022.

[9] Euromonitor International, 2021.

[10] Technomic. 2022 U.S. Foodservice Trends Midyear Update.

[11] Technomic. 2022 U.S. Foodservice Trends Midyear Update.

[12] Technomic. 2022 U.S. Foodservice Trends Midyear Update

[13] Nutrition Insight. “FrieslandCampina 2022 Trend Report unveils global food trends set to take over.”

[14] Mintel. “3 ways for world cuisine products to increase their appeal to consumers.”

[15] Datassential, “Food Industry Report/TIPS Midyear Trends Report 2022.”

[16] Euromonitor International. “Sustainability Aspirations Through Product Claims,” September 8, 2022.

[17] Innova Market Insights. “Consumers Expect Shared Responsibility for the Health of the Planet.” Press release, June 30, 2022.

[18] Euromonitor International. “Sustainability Aspirations Through Product Claims,” September 8, 2022.

[19] Mintel Sustainability Barometer, 2021.

[20] U.S. Soybean Export Council. U.S. Soy Sustainability Assurance Protocol (SSAP).

[21] Hughes, GJ, Ryan DJ, Mukherjea R, et al. Protein digestibility-corrected amino acid scores (PDCAAS) for soy protein isolates and concentrate: Criteria for evaluation. J Agric Food Chemistry. 2011;59(23):12707 – 12.

[22] Pingxu Qin, Taoran Wang and Langchou Luo.  A Review on Plant Based Protein from Soybean: Health Benefits and Soy Product Development. Journal of Agriculture and Food Research, Vol. 7, March 2022.