Soy Stacks Up in Food Trends

Mace Thornton

Mace Thornton

United Soybean Board

The grocery store is home to hundreds, even thousands, of food choices — and the options for protein continue to grow. Soy, beef, wheat, pork — there is a world of options for us to choose from.

And among those options, consumers looking for a plant-based protein are increasingly looking to soy. Kris Sollid, a registered dietitian and senior director of nutrition communications at the International Food Information Council, shared data from IFIC about how U.S. soy stacks up in food trends.

Health Perceptions

The Soy Nutrition Institute recently issued a summary statement about the latest USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans, defining six core elements that make up a healthy dietary pattern — vegetables, fruits, grains, dairy, protein foods and oils — and soy-based products are included in four of the six core elements: dairy, oils, vegetables and protein foods.

However, according to data from a recent IFIC survey, cooking oils labeled as soybean oil instead of the more common vegetable oil were not among the top oils consumers perceived as healthy. Vegetable oil, which is often 100% soybean oil, was viewed as healthy.

“We conducted a survey last year over the summer around dietary fats and oil,” explained Sollid. “One thing we found in the perception of soybean oil was that it was not as healthy as the way consumers view other oils or the source of other cooking fats.”

Sollid said the discrepancy may be driven by unfamiliarity: consumers don’t encounter soybean oil labels as frequently as other oils, such as butter or coconut oil.

Soy Connection helps address end-user and consumer understanding of soy in human health, including the benefits of sustainably grown, heart-healthy U.S. soybean oil and soy foods. The program is a collaboration of health, nutrition and food industry experts with U.S. soybean farmers.

Soy Connection has conducted and published research about soy related to a variety of health topics, building soy’s reputation to help end users recognize and take advantage of its health properties, which opens opportunities for more demand.

Climate Change

On top of health concerns, IFIC research looked at consumer concerns about climate change as it involved their food. Last year, IFIC conducted a domestic survey focused on the intersection of food production and climate change, a common concern around the world. They found that about 70% of people are at least somewhat concerned with climate change, and about two out of three say they’re somewhat concerned about the impact food production has on climate change.

How food is grown was one of the top areas of food production the survey takers thought played the largest role in climate change, right after how food is processed. Survey respondents were also asked to identify ways to reduce this impact.

“The top response, not surprisingly, was around greenhouse gas emissions, which is a big topic in consumer circles and media circles,” said Sollid. “But pesticide use also came in as one of the top responses.”

U.S. soybean farmers understand the importance of sustainable farming to protect valuable environmental resources. By doing so, they preserve and protect their farming operation for the next generation.

“If our end users ask for something better and we deliver, then they’ll come back wanting something even better,” said Greg Greving, a soy checkoff farmer-leader from Chapman, Nebraska. “And because we want them to keep coming back, we should be growing quality soybeans.”