The Soy Foods Factor for Kids’ Diets

Linda Funk

Linda Funk

Flavorful Insight

Each year, the United Nations (UN) observance of World Children’s Day is celebrated globally on November 20. The 2023 theme is “Investing in our future means investing in our children.” During the UN Decade of Action on Nutrition (2016-2025), member states have committed to implementing policies, programs and increased investments to eliminate malnutrition.[1] With these initiatives, the growers, producers, manufacturers and marketers of sustainable U.S. Soy are reminded of how their work can enhance children’s diets.

In 2021, UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund), reported that the diets of kids worldwide under the age of two have not improved in the past decade. In fact, diets could worsen with rising poverty, conflict, climate-related disasters and health emergencies.[2]  Soy foods can be part of the solution. The global infant formula market worldwide is well established, but new opportunities may exist in arenas ranging from school lunch choices to affordable high-quality protein for undernourished children. Blending ground meat with soy ingredients such as textured soy protein (TSP, also known textured vegetable protein or TVP), for example, can extend it to reduce the cost without lowering nutritional value.[3]

Soy and Global Children’s Diets

Increased popularity of soy foods can be attributed to several factors, including consumer interest in protein, and research suggesting a range of health benefits that may be provided by soy foods. Additionally, dietary recommendations are calling for a shift toward plant-based eating. Soy is recognized as a high-quality protein with nutrient content that has been shown to help children meet U.S. dietary guidelines.[4]  The 2020-2025 USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans include soy-based products in the dairy category.[5]

The traditional Japanese diet is characterized by high consumption of fish and soybean products.[6] The diet is rich in fresh, seasonal minimally processed foods and promotes fish, seafood, rice, noodles, seaweed, soy, fruit and vegetables. The most recent Dietary Guidelines for Chinese Residents (2022) specifically mention eating plenty ofvegetables, fruits, dairy, whole grains and soybeans.[7]  In Asia, Japanese infants begin to consume soy products such as tofu and miso soup at the age of six to 12 months. In China, a survey of almost 200 12-year-olds found that 41% normally consumed soymilk or tofu at breakfast.

Soy’s Youngest Consumers

The global baby food market value is expected to reach about $98.9 billion by 2024 with North America accounting for approximately one-third of the market. In 2019, China represented the largest market, with India ranking second and the U.S. in third place.[8] Trends in baby food products mirror food trends in general—clean label ingredients (i.e., recognizable ingredients, and fewer of them), low sugar content and plant-based innovations.

Plant-based innovations for kids can include pockets of growth, such as milk formula for children over 12 months of age (also called follow-on or growing up formulas) in the Americas. Other categories of opportunity include special milk formulas for Europe, Asia and Latin America and snacks for babies.[9]

Shifting Priorities for Shoppers

Among European households, those who make food shopping choices closest to nature now make up one of the largest consumer segments. Desirable food attributes range from organic and non-GMO to regional, seasonal and fresh ingredients free of artificial additives. This group accounts for 46% of shoppers in Germany, 38% in Spain, 34% in Italy and France, and 33% in the UK.[10]  In the U.S., parents, when compared to all consumers, tend to prioritize food characteristics with a healthy halo. Most food makers target these younger consumers (and their children) with options that fit diet trends such as plant-based, low-sugar, high protein and gluten-free.[11] The attributes of soy foods like tofu align with many consumer priorities.

Opportunities for Sippable, Snackable Soy

Today’s dietary trends have created a popularity surge for plant-based beverages. Historically, soybeans have been part of children’s diets for more than 2,000 years in East Asia, where they are a native legume. Soy protein infant formulas have a long history as well. They were introduced in the U.S. more than a century ago. An increase in dairy allergies has also raised the demand for alternatives like plant-based milk.[12]

Globally, from 2020 to 2022, children’s drinks and snacks accounted for 31% of all new product launches. Bean-based products showed the highest growth rate in kids’ snacks, with a 53% compound annual growth rate (CAGR) in the past three years.[13]  Sustainable U.S. Soy is well-positioned for kid-friendly snacks, either as an ingredient, or as a stand-alone convenient choice like edamame in the pod, single-serve cartons of soymilk, or soy yogurt.


[1] United Nations Decade of Action on Nutrition. https://www.un.org/nutrition/

[2] UNICEF. Young Children’s Diets Show No Improvement in the Last Decade—Could Get Much Worse Under COVID-19. Press release, Sept. 23, 2021. https://www.unicef.org/nepal/press-releases/young-childrens-diets-show-no-improvement-last-decade-could-get-much-worse-under

[3]  Marjorie P. Penfield, Ada Marie Campbell. “Textured Vegetable Protein,” Experimental Food Science (Third Edition), 1990.  https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/agricultural-and-biological-sciences/textured-vegetable-protein

[4] Messina, M.; Rogero, M.M.; et al Health impact of childhood and adolescent soy consumption Nutrition Reviews, Volume 75, Issue 7, July 2017.https://doi.org/10.1093/nutrit/nux016

[5] USDA. Dietary Guidelines for Americans. https://www.dietaryguidelines.gov

[6] Ana San Gabriel, Kumiko Ninomaya, Hisayuki  Uneyama. “The Role of the Japanese Traditional Diet in Healthy and Sustainable Dietary Patterns around the World.” Nutrients. 2018, Feb. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5852749/

[7] Dietary Guidelines for Chinese Residents (2022). https://en.chinacdc.cn/health_topics/nutrition_health/202206/t20220616_259702.html

[8] Statistica. U.S. Baby Food Market—Statistics and Facts. October 2022.

 

[9]Euromonitor International. “Children’s Food: A Playground of Opportunity.” October 2022.

https://www.euromonitor.com/childrens-food-a-playground-of-opportunity/report

[10] NielsenIQ. “Shelf optimization with the European consumer in mind.” May 2022. https://nielseniq.com/global/en/insights/analysis/2022/shelf-optimization-with-the-consumer-in-mind/

[11] Freedonia Group. Top Trends in the Children’s Food and Beverage Market. January, 2023.

https://www.freedoniagroup.com/blog/top-trends-in-the-children’s-food-and-beverage-market

[12] “Use of Soy-Based Formulas and Cow’s Milk Allergy.” Frontiers in Pediatrics, 17 November 2020. Sec. Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition.
Volume 8 – 2020 | https://doi.org/10.3389/fped.2020.591988

[13] Institute of Food Technology. “New Sips and Snacks Target Kids. “Food Technology. July 1, 2023. https://www.ift.org/news-and-publications/food-technology-magazine/issues/2023/july/features/new-sips-and-snacks-target-kids