In the U.S., June is National Dairy Month, an event that celebrates the contribution the dairy industry makes to the world.[1] The occasion serves to remind us how well soy foods complement traditional dairy products. Foods like soy milk and tofu and are good ingredient choices for flexitarians who want to incorporate more plant protein in their diets. Today’s growth of the plant-based milk market is fueled by multiple demands, including health and sustainability considerations.[2]  In the Asia Pacific region, China is expected to lead the plant-based milk market for the near future. Health-conscious consumers who want appetizing choices with nutritional value are driving that market, which is projected to reach a US$19.8 billion valuation by 2031.[3]

Consumers of dairy alternative are looking for products that meet a variety of needs. Soy milk meets the needs for both personal and planetary health. Health research has for decades investigated soy’s isoflavones and nutrients and their role in preventing and treating chronic diseases.[4] In addition, soy foods may play a significant role as a source of protein that minimally contributes to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in comparison to other protein sources, based on protein efficiency per unit of energy and per unit of GHG emissions.[5]  News of soy and environmental impact is spreading: For example, the financial news and opinion website 24/7 Wall St. recently included soy milk on its list of  foods with a “strikingly low” environmental impact.[6]

Among plant-based milks, soy milk has the added culinary advantage of working well in recipes alongside dairy milk to create a hybrid of animal and plant proteins.

Soy milk and dairy are partners on the plate. U.S.-grown soy supports both animal agriculture and the soy foods industry in a world of flexitarian eating patterns. In Europe, flexitarians drive the plant-based boom, looking to diversify their diets with more plant-based options. According to a recent ten-country survey, flexitarians’ most consumed plant-based product is plant-based milk, with 36% consuming it at least one to three times a week.[7]

Soy milk offers high-quality plant protein and when compared to other plant-based milks, it typically has more protein, offering approximately 7 grams per one-cup serving.[8]  Fortified soy beverages are the only nondairy milk included in the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans as part of the dairy group. According to the guidelines, soy milk is similar in nutrient composition, and is used in a similar way in meals.[9]

In the glass, on the plate and on grocery shelves, sustainability matters. A recent survey in the U.S. reports that compared to other generations, 73% of Gen Z consumers (those currently aged 18 to 24 years) have a greater concern about the environmental impact of their food. Gen Z shoppers are also more likely than Boomers to buy products labeled as plant-based or small carbon footprint/carbon neutral.[10] In the Canadian foodservice market, customers aged 18 to 34 are currently the dominant group for vegetarian items in restaurants.[11]

The sustainability story from U.S. soybean growers is one that should continue to resonate with the world’s consumers of plant-based dairy alternatives. The  U.S. Soy Sustainability Assurance Protocol (SSAP) verifies the sustainable production of U.S.-grown soy, and U.S. Soy products for export. Consumers seeking clean label products can choose traditional plain, unsweetened soy milk made with just two ingredients—soybeans and water—sold in Tetra Pak cartons.

Soy milk is the whole package. For a vast majority of global consumers, sustainability concerns also extend to sustainable packaging. Consumers in India and Indonesia, for example, say they are willing to pay more for sustainable food packaging, followed by their counterparts in Brazil and China.[12] Worldwide, packaging regulations tend to focus more on beverage packaging rather than on food. In the European Union and North America, 50% to 60% of regulatory measures target beverages.[13]

Soy milk supports evolving shopping styles: By 2025 e-commerce is expected to account for half the growth in the global retail sector.[14] Shelf-stable soy milk, sold in Tetra Pak cartons in a variety of sizes, may be well-positioned to keep pace with changing shopping styles that connect with convenience.

Soy foods offer culinary compatibility with traditional dairy products. Thanks to their nutrition profile and versatility, soy milk and tofu work in tandem with dairy products. Soy foods add plant protein to meals without having to make big changes to recipes.  Soy ingredients also help consumers and foodservice operations offset rising food prices. Tofu Lasagna, for example, features a blend of tofu, mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses. Tofu Eggplant Parmesan is another spin on a classic that combines tofu with Parmesan cheese.

Trend-friendly, versatile soy foods have what it takes to evolve along with streamlined restaurant menus. In U.S. restaurants, the 2022 hottest culinary trends are sustainability, plant-based foods, comfort foods, healthy and immunity-boosting foods, and global fare and flavors.[15] White sauce (Béchamel) is one of the traditional French mother sauces widely used in world cuisines. White sauce is also an ingredient used in many comfort food recipes. Soy milk-based white sauce is a plant-based version that can be thickened with flour and butter or soybean oil.  The sauce serves as a base for creating plant protein-enhanced versions of casual classics like cheddar cheese soup, vegetable chowders, plant-based chicken pot pie, meat-free gravies and macaroni and cheese.

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

[1] International Dairy Foods Association, “June is National Dairy Month,” Press Release, June 2022.

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

[3] Transparency Market Research. “Plant-Based Milk Market to Surpass Valuation of US$19.8 Bn in Asia Pacific by 2031; Focus on Nutritional Value & Palatability to Boost Acceptability to Drive Market.” Press release, Oct.7, 2021.–palatability-to-boost-acceptability-to-drive-market-says-tmr-301395258.html

[4] Messina, Mark. “Soy and Health Update: Evaluation of the Clinical and Epidemiologic Literature.” Nutrients. 2016 Dec: 8(12):754.

[5] González, A.D.; Björn 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.

[6] 24/7 Wall St. “Foods with a Strikingly Low Impact on the Environment,” pg. 4.

[7] Smart Protein Project, EU. “What consumers want: A survey on European consumer attitudes towards plant-based foods.” 2021.

[8] USDA Food Data Central.

[9] USDA and HHS, Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025.

[10] International Food Information Council, “Gen Z Snapshot,” 2022 Food and Health Survey.


[11] NPD Group, “Growing Opportunities for Plant-Based Menu Items,” 2022.

[12] McKinsey, Sustainability in Packaging: Global Regulatory Development Across 30 Countries,” February 7, 2022.

[13] McKinsey, Sustainability in Packaging: Global Regulatory Development Across 30 Countries,” February 7, 2022.

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

[15] National Restaurant Association, “What’s Hot 2022 Culinary Forecast.”