Soyfoods are Integral to Top Food Trends

Linda Funk

Linda Funk

Flavorful Insight

Twists and turns in global food and shopping trends have revealed shifts that may benefit the demand for U.S.-grown soy. Soyfoods retain their multifaceted appeal in today’s environment of quickly changing dietary attitudes and food priorities. Many of the culinary and health benefits of U.S.-grown food grade soybeans present timely opportunities for the U.S. soy industry.

Expanded definitions of health could be a game-changer

More consumers are aware of the link between personal health and planetary health today, as the world faces a challenge to feed healthy, sustainably produced food to a growing population.[1] Soy has the potential to play a major role in tomorrow’s global food choices. Soyfoods made from verified sustainably grown[2] U.S.-grown soybeans have attributes that are currently in demand. According to a recent international health and nutrition survey in 2021, consumers associate plant-based alternatives with digestive health, immune-boosting benefits and a response to concerns about the environment. Approximately 20% of survey participants from the Asia Pacific region, for example, reported they were trying to follow plant-based diets.[3]

Immune health was one of the fastest-growing health claims globally for new food and beverage product launches between 2016 and 2020. In Europe and North America, immune health product claims were increasing even before the pandemic.[4] Food and drink categories making immune support claims include products such as milks for babies and toddlers, sports nutrition products including powders, and dairy products such as fermented beverages and drinking yogurts.[5] Several soy yogurt brands also list live active cultures among their ingredients. Research shows that fermented foods, like tempeh, miso and natto, may have a positive influence on gut microbiota.[6] Communicating the on-trend benefits of soyfoods—including sustainability and immune support—may boost consumer interest in new products.

Environmental concerns have moved into the kitchen

Environmental concerns influence consumer food choices, and educating consumers makes those choices easier. For example, 42% of consumers say that having product labeling with recognizable certification would encourage them to buy a product; also, 42% of consumers say that labels showing environmental impact would encourage them to buy products.[7]

In September, a U.S. company introduced its plant-based chicken nuggets, made with a soy protein source, into foodservice and grocery store markets. The company is publicizing not only the nutrition profile of the product, but also notes that plant-based nuggets reduce the environmental footprint by using less land and water, with lower greenhouse gas emissions.[8]

As the demand for sustainable products continues to expand, brands and manufacturers worldwide are increasing their sustainability initiatives.[9] Soyfoods made with U.S.-grown soy have their own sustainability stories, told by U.S. soybean farmers and backed up by the U.S. Soy Sustainability Assurance Protocol (SSAP).

The soyfoods narrative can easily evolve

Polishing soy’s healthy halo has never seemed simpler. As a plant-based food, soy shares in the healthy image. New products for both retail and foodservice outlets have launched globally, including in Germany, Latin America, China and South Africa.[10] In the U.S., more consumers consider products with plant-based claims to be healthy and natural, compared to all food and drink products—although only 9% of the plant-based products make all-natural claims.[11]

In a crowded plant protein market, soyfoods offer options of one of the few complete plant protein choices like edamame, and minimally processed foods like tofu. Soyfoods also have other prominent attributes, such as cholesterol-free protein, that appeal to health-conscious consumers. One cup of frozen prepared edamame provides 18 grams of complete protein and 8 grams of dietary fiber.[12] One cup of cooked mature soybeans provides 31 grams of complete protein and 10 grams of dietary fiber.[13]

A variety of shelf-stable soyfoods are available online, offering one-stop shopping for pantry ingredients. E-commerce presents consumers with easy-to-source and simple-to-store soyfoods like canned soybeans, roasted soynuts and textured soy protein or TSP, also called textured vegetable protein or TVP. E-commerce is expected to account for half of global retail’s growth by 2025, with the U.S., China and Mexico anticipated to have the highest growth.[14]

Soyfoods suit price-conscious consumers

In 2022, food-at-home prices in the U.S. are expected to rise 1.5%-2.5%, with prices of food away from home anticipated to increase between 3%-4%.[15] Rising global food prices have an impact on nutrition as well as on budgets. In Mexico, for example, 71% of consumers say it’s harder to have healthy eating habits on a tight budget; 34% of Chilean consumers strongly agree that regularly buying healthy food is too expensive.[16]

In 2020, U.S. consumers spent 51.9% of their food dollar on food at home, while more than one-third of their food spending went to eating-out services. Food-away-from home includes restaurants, schools and other eating places.[17] In limited-service restaurants, chicken is the fastest-growing protein on breakfast  menus (a 30.8% rise in year-over-year sales),[18] with plant-based chicken alternatives also arriving on the scene. Examples include brunch items like plant-based chicken with waffles.  In Hong Kong, sales of meat alternatives rose to $30 million last year. Recently, a plant-based chicken alternative made with soy was introduced in Hong Kong. The current ratio of retail to foodservice meat alternative volume is 1:5.[19]

Innovative foodservice products continue to create opportunities to promote soyfoods. Products like the recently introduced silken tofu puree simplify recipe adaptations so restaurants don’t have to develop new menu items to meet customer demands. Instead, the tofu product can work alongside, or in place of, dairy ingredients to tweak existing dessert, beverage, soup and sauce recipes. With creative products and compelling stories to tell, the soyfoods industry is well-positioned to ride the new wave of customer expectations.

This story sponsored by the United Soybean Board.

[1] Willett W, Rockström J, Loken B, Springmann M, Lang T, Vermeulen S, et al. “Food in the Anthropocene: the EAT–Lancet Commission on healthy diets from sustainable food systems.” The Lancet.  January 16, 2019.

[2] The U.S. Soybean Sustainability Assurance Protocol.

[3] Euromonitor International Health and Nutrition Survey, 2021.

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

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

[6] Roselli, Marianna; Natella, F; Zinno, P. et al.  “Colonization Ability and Impact on Human Gut Microbiota of Foodborne Microbes from Traditional or Probiotic-Added Fermented Foods: A Systematic Review,” Frontiers in Nutrition., 2021, July 29; 8:689084.

[7] Mintel Sustainability Barometer, 2021.

[8] Impossible Foods, “Impossible Chicken Nuggets Made From Plants,” Business Wire Press Release, September 7, 2021.™-Chicken-Nuggets-Made-From-Plants

[9] Innova Market Insights, “Planetary Health: Consumer Concern for Sustainability Varies Around the Globe,” press release, June 16, 2021.

[10] Technomic, 2021 Global Trends Outlook.

[11] Mintel Purchase Intelligence, 2021.

[12] USDA Food Data Central

[13] USDA Food Data Central

[14] Euromonitor International, 2021.

[15] USDA, Economic Research Service, Summary Findings Food Price Outlook, August 2021.

[16] Mintel, The Future of Nutrition Health and Wellness Report, 2021.

[17] USDA Economic Research Services, Food Prices and Spending, updated August 20, 2021.

[18] Technomic State of the Menu Report, 2021.

[19] Euromonitor International Health and Nutrition Survey, 2021.