Will the priorities of today’s young adult consumers have a positive impact on the demand for U.S.-grown soy?

Think about it. Millennials are concerned about the health of the planet as well as their own health, and they’re price sensitive. U.S. soybeans not only offer a reliable and widely available source of high-quality plant protein – they also play a vital role in global food security.[1] In 2021, an estimated 87.6 million acres of soybeans were planted in the U.S.[2]

Millennials (born between 1981 and 1996) are the largest group of consumers, now outnumbering Baby Boomers.[3] Right behind them are Gen Z consumers, born between 1997 and 2012. Fast casual dining and frozen foods are among the dozen industries expected to thrive due to Millennials’ preferences.[4] India, China, Indonesia, the U.S. and Brazil have the world’s largest populations of Millennials, with about 58% of global Millennials living in Asia—including 385 million in India.[5]

Eating more plant-based foods

The mainstreaming of meat alternatives has gone global, with the market anticipated to grow from $4.5 million in 2019 to $8.8 million by 2027.[6] In the U.S. in 2017, 79% of Millennials and 75% of consumers aged 18 to 22 reported eating meat alternatives, although 47% of Millennials ate tempeh compared to 27% of consumers in the younger age group.[7] Nearly eight out of ten Millennials eat plant-based meat alternatives, compared to the post-Millennials age group.[8] A younger consumer base is a positive indicator for the success of the plant-based food industry,[9] whether it be meat or dairy alternatives, or traditional soyfoods like tempeh, tofu and soymilk. In 2020, the U.S. plant-based retail market grew 27%, a figure that is almost two times greater than total retail food sales growth.[10]

With product launches spanning the Americas, China, Europe and South Africa, look for competitors in the plant-based arena to establish their points of differentiation.[11]

Addressing Environmental Concerns

Soyfoods are well positioned to compete in an arena where sustainability affects food choices. One European study among Millennial university students found they were sensitive to sustainability concerns, believed in labeling and certification systems to communicate information on types of production, and hoped that innovation processes would reduce environmental impact.[12] Gen Z consumers across the Asia-Pacific countries say they care about sustainable consumption, and prefer organic foods. In China, 60% of Gen Z and Millennials surveyed said they were trying to minimize the negative effects their eating habits have on the environment.[13]

The U.S. Soy Sustainability Assurance Protocol (SSAP) takes a comprehensive approach, verifying sustainable U.S. soybean production nationally.[14]

Immune Health Concerns

Worldwide, one in four people are now more concerned about immune health than they were before the pandemic, with the most significant increase seen among Millennials and those currently aged 36 to 45. For many consumers, this means choosing foods that are naturally high in nutrients such as vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.[15] Globally, 59% of consumers say they are looking for foods and beverages that support their immune health[16]. Soyfoods should continue to hold appeal for such consumers, as these traditional ingredients have played an important role in Asian food and health culture for centuries.[17]

The Demands of Active Lifestyles

Consumers with busy lifestyles look for ways to simplify and streamline.  By 2025, e-commerce is expected to account for half the growth in the global retail sector and expand by $1.4 trillion, with the U.S., China and Mexico anticipated to show the largest growth.[18] Many soyfoods—including canned soybeans, TVP (textured vegetable protein), some soymilk or silken tofu, and soynuts—are shelf-stable and easily sourced online.

Busy schedules paired with economic concerns also encourage some consumers to opt for convenience foods.[19] In fact, the frozen food sector is anticipated to reach $400 billion in sales by 2027.[20] Millennial consumers find affordable frozen meals appealing, and represent the largest consumer market for frozen products. Approximately 40% of Millennials are eating plant-based diets,[21] although consumers’ definitions of plant-based diets vary from a vegan or vegetarian diet to one that emphasizes minimally processed foods that come from plants, with limited consumption of animal meat, eggs and dairy, or a diet that includes as many fruits and vegetables as possible without consumption limits on animal meat, eggs or dairy.[22]

In U.S. restaurants, the availability of healthy menu options influences customer food choices.[23] Some menus call out soy ingredients, such as edamame hummus, tempeh Reuben sandwiches, and country-fried tofu.

Looking to the future, communicating the competitive points of U.S.-grown soy may be a good strategy for capturing even more consumer attention. Soy partner organizations such as the U.S. Soybean Export Council and the United Soybean Board work to relay the U.S. Soy Advantage.  And thanks to the trend in food transparency, food brands are seeking to creatively tell their product stories, ranging from snack ingredient sourcing to sustainable packaging.[24] Soyfoods can tell the story of American soybean growers, accountability and sustainability practices, protein quality, and innovative products.

[1] Hughes GJ, Ryan DJ, Mukherjea R, Schasteen CS. “Protein Digestibility-Corrected Amino Acid Scores (PDCAAS) for Soy Protein Isolates and Concentrate: Criteria for Evaluation.” Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry. 2011 December 14;59(23):12707-12. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22017752.

[2] National Agricultural Statistics Service, (NASS), Agricultural Statistics Board, United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).  June 30, 2021/ https://www.nass.usda.gov/Publications/Todays_Reports/reports/acrg0621.pdf

[3] Fry, Richard. “Millennials Overtake Baby Boomers  America’s Largest Generation,” Pew Research, April 28, 2020.


[4] CB Insights Research Report, “12 Industries that Will Thrive Thanks to Millennials,”  June 30, 2021.

[5] Global Business Policy Council/ Kearney. “Where are the Global Millennials?”


[6] Allied Market Research, “Meat Substitute Market by Product Type and Category: Global Opportunity Analysis, and Industry Forecast, 2021 to 2027.” June 2021.


[7] Mintel, “What consumers really think about meat alternatives,” 2018.

[8] Mintel, “What consumers really think about meat alternatives,” 2018.

[9] Gaan, Kyle. “Plant-Based Food Retail Sales Reach $7 billion,” [Press Release], Good Food Institute/Plant-Based Foods Association SPINS Data,  April 6, 2021.


[10] Gaan, Kyle. “Plant-Based Food Retail Sales Reach $7 billion,” [Press Release], Good Food Institute/Plant-Based Foods Association SPINS Data,  April 6, 2021.

[11] Technomic, “Technomic’s Take: 2021 Global Trends Outlook.”


[12] Bollani, L., Bonadonna, A., Piera, G. “The Millennials’ Concept of Sustainability in the Food Sector,”  Sustainability, May 25, 2019.

[13] McKinsey, “What Makes Asia-Pacific’s Gen Z Different?” June 20, 2020.


[14] U.S. Soy, U.S. Soy Sustainability Assurance Protocol, April 2018.

[15] Innova Market Insights, “Immune Health Concerns Here to Stay,” July 1, 2021.


[16] Innova Market Insights, “Immune Health Concerns Here to Stay,” July 1, 2021.

[17] Messina, M. “Modern applications for an ancient bean: soybeans and the prevention and treatment of chronic disease, “ J Nutr, 1995, Mar; 125


[18] Euromonitor International, March 25, 2021. “E-Commerce to Account for Half the Growth in Global Retail by 2025.” [Press Release]

[19] Shridhar, Amrutha, “Changing attitudes in Health and Nutrition: Rise of Immunity-Boosting Strategies,” [White Paper], Euromonitor International, July 2021.

[20] CB Insights Research Report, “12 Industries that Will Thrive Thanks to Millennials,”  June 30, 2021.

[21] CB Insights Research Report, “12 Industries that Will Thrive Thanks to Millennials,”  June 30, 2021.

[22]  Food Insight, “2019 Food and Health Survey,” www.foodinsight.org.

[23] National Restaurant Association,  “Looking Back to Move Forward: Association Shares Top 10 Trends for 2021,“ January 11, 2021.https://restaurant.org/articles/news/association-shares-top-10-trends-for-2021.

[24] Innova Market Insight, “Sweet & Snacks Innovation Boosted by Successful Sustainability Storytelling,” [Press Release] January 19, 2021.