Current definitions of health and wellness reflect consumer attitude changes toward diet and exercise. Among the practices that U.S. consumers consider part of a healthy lifestyle are eating right (26%), exercise (18%), managing stress (19%) and sleep (18%).[1] Gen Z and Millennial consumers who seek plant-based alternatives want them to be organic, locally sourced, and unprocessed, and are looking for products that offer health benefits such as fiber, whole grains and antioxidants.[2]

Traditional soyfoods such as tempeh are a good match for global diet trends because they offer a combination of probiotics, fiber and high-quality plant protein. Additionally, new products such as shelf-stable fortified tofu hold appeal for nutrition-conscious shoppers. Current attitudes include an interest in protein-forward diets, which is expected to encourage U.S. restaurant patrons to try new plant-based items like fish and seafood alternatives, and explore world cuisine influences like West Asian, West African, and Mesoamerican that feature plant proteins.[3]

Health and Fitness Boom

The rise of health and fitness concerns has the potential to boost opportunities for U.S.-grown soy— everything from sports nutrition products to the food choices that consumers make based on their ideas of wellness. Among Americans who say they would eat plant-based meat for healthfulness, for example, the top attributes they seek are high quality/complete protein, heart health and protein content.[4]  Innovative soyfoods with appeal for this market include flavored tofu, convenience meals incorporating meat and dairy alternatives, and protein snacks such as chocolate-covered dried edamame and roasted soynut snack mixes. In Europe, 50% of Polish consumers, 42% of Italian consumers, 41% of Spanish consumers and 32% of German consumers say they have been eating and drinking more products to support their immune system health since the onset of the pandemic.[5]  Currently, the major trend in the Chinese fitness industry is weight loss achieved by nutrition and/or exercise.[6]

In fact, physical activity is gaining more attention globally as an aspect of wellness. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), one in four adults worldwide and three in four adolescents (aged 11–17 years) don’t meet global recommendations that the WHO has set for physical activity.[7] Regular physical activity is proven to help prevent and treat noncommunicable diseases such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes and breast and colon cancer. Regular exercise also helps to prevent hypertension, becoming overweight or obese, and can improve mental health, quality of life and well-being. [8]

Increasing Appetites for Sports Nutrition Products

With the rising interest in preventive medicine, fitness, and self-care, it is not surprising that the global sports nutrition market — valued at $10.7 billion in 2020 — is expected to expand at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 10.9% from 2021 to 2028.  Expanded fitness activities are projected to drive consumption of supplements, such as soy-based sports nutrition products, that are intended to support muscle growth and improve athletic performance.[9]

As a complete plant protein that provides all of the essential amino acids necessary for human nutrition,[10] U.S.-grown soy has a competitive advantage in the sports nutrition market segment. Evidence indicates that exercising individuals who consume an efficacious amount of plant protein can see favorable changes in their amino acid update and muscle protein synthesis (MPS ) rates as well as training adaptations like strength, body composition and recovery.[11]  Consumers have a choice of animal-based protein and plant-based protein supplementation products. When it comes to resistance exercise training, soy protein produces similar gains in strength and lean body mass as whey protein.[12]  Opportunities may also exist for plant and animal protein blends for sports nutrition products, such as vegetable protein and whey protein.[13] In addition, flavor choices are becoming more important in the competitive picture for sports nutrition products.[14]

Growing Emphasis on Sustainability

Personal health and sustainability are currently among the top considerations that drive consumer food choices, with concerns for the health of the planet now eclipsing personal health concerns. Plant-based product introductions showed a 59% increase from August 2020 to August 2021.[15]

Increased physical activity levels also support the goals of the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for  Sustainable Development[16] because they may result in reduced fossil fuel use, less congested roads and cleaner air.[17] Two of the top environmental actions consumers report taking are reducing waste (43% of respondents) and eating in moderation (32%).18 Soyfoods give environmentally minded shoppers, home cooks, food professionals and restaurant-goers a choice of sustainably grown plant-protein options, as well as versatile, affordable ingredients.

This story was (partially) funded by the United Soybean Board

[1] Datassential Trendspotting, “Health—What Does it Mean Today?” Foodbytes, Vol. 94, November 2021.

[2] NPD Group, “Gen Zs and Millennials will drive growth of Plant-based foods in the U.S. over the next few years.” Press release, October 13, 2021.

[3] Technomic “2022, Year of the Climb,” Press release, October 28, 2021.

[4] International Food Information Council, “Consumption Trends, Preferred Names and Perceptions of Plant-Based Meat Alternatives,” November 2021.

[5] Mintel, “Health Ingredients to Watch in 2022,”  March 2021.

[6] Kercher, V.M. et al. “Fitness Trends from Around the Globe,” ACSM Health and Fitness Journal, Jan/Feb 2021.

[7] Global action plan on physical activity 2018–2030: more active people for a healthier world. Geneva: World Health Organization; 2018.

[8] Global action plan on physical activity 2018–2030: more active people for a healthier world. Geneva: World Health Organization; 2018.

[9] Grandview Research. Sports Nutrition Market Size, Share & Trends Analysis Report, 2021-2028,

[10] Am Fam Physician, “Soy: a complete source of protein.” 2009 Jan 1;79(1):43-7.

[11] Kersick, C.M.; Jagim, A.; Hagele, A.: Jager, R. “Plant Proteins and Exercise: What Role Can Plant Proteins Have in Promoting Adaptations to Exercise?” Nutrients, 2021. June 7;13 (6).

[12] International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, Messina M, Lynch H, Dickinson JM et al. (2018) “No difference between the effects of supplementing with soy protein versus animal protein on gains in muscle mass and strength in response to resistance exercise,” January 2018, 28, 674-685.

[13] Innova Market Insights, “Powering up on Plant Protein,” March 24, 2021.

[14] Innova Market Insights, “Greater Focus on Flavors As Sports Nutrition Mainstreams.” Press Release, April 21, 2021.

[15] Innova Market Insights, “Top Trends for 2022,” PR Newswire Press Release, October 13, 2021.

[16] United Nations, “Transforming Our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.”

[17] World Health Organization, Global Action Plan on Physical Activity: More Active People for a Healthier World, 2018.

18 Innova Market Insights Top Trends for 2022, PR Newswire Press Release, October 13, 2021.