Food & Lifestyle

Versatility Helps Drive a Global Rise in Soyfoods Consumption

Linda Funk

Linda Funk

Flavorful Insight

The U.S. Soybean Export Council (USSEC) provides updates on food, health and lifestyle trends that affect the global demand for soyfoods. By highlighting current consumer preferences and emerging market opportunities, USSEC helps its stakeholders in the U.S.-grown soy market put trends into perspective for making business decisions.

Soyfoods are riding the rising worldwide wave of plant protein and surging into the market with new product categories. Opportunities for U.S.-grown soybeans range from meat alternatives to nondairy desserts. The global soyfoods market is anticipated to reach $56.7 billion by 2025, with U.S. market expected to grow to $8.07 billion by 2025. Currently the Asia Pacific region ranks number one in the soyfoods market with a 40 percent market share, followed by the U.S. and Europe.[1]  Dr. A. Elizabeth Sloan, President of Sloan Trends, says, “Soy continues to be the leader in some of the world’s largest and fastest-growing food categories, including non-dairy milks, cheese, yogurts and meat alternatives.”

U.S.-grown soy helps satisfy a world demand for dairy alternatives.

The global dairy alternatives market is projected to climb to $35.8 million by 2026[2], with the soy segment expected to remain at the forefront during the forecast period. Soy-based products are being propelled by a rising demand for high vitamin and mineral content among health-conscious consumers in India and China,  as well as consumers in the U.S. who seek high nutrition content and cholesterol-free dairy alternatives.[3]  Dairy alternatives range from soymilk to fast-growing product categories like yogurt and cheese, coffee creamers, snacks, sour cream and dips. The Asia Pacific region is expected to remain the largest market for dairy alternatives from 2019-2026 with a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 14.5 percent.

Versatile soyfoods appeal to world consumers on several levels.

In Asia, soy is a familiar ingredient that has been consumed for hundreds of years. Its popularity continues to move outward . For some consumers, soy is a new protein option.  For others, soy is of interest because of its association with authentic Asian cuisine. For example, in the U.S., Asian foods are now the second- largest restaurant menu category by store count.[4]  In addition, health benefits and culinary attributes help solidify the position of U.S.-grown soy. Half of those who buy meat alternatives do so because they perceive them as healthy.[5] Chefs and home cooks add protein-containing soyfoods such as tofu to American cuisine standards like mashed potatoes and vegetable chowders. In grocery stores, shoppers have new product choices such as frozen meals featuring soy protein, flavored baked tofu, soy-based cheese alternatives and non-dairy cheesecakes.

Traditional stand-alone soyfoods in global cuisines inspire creativity.

Soy’s role in Asian cuisine provides inspiration for the rest of the world in this era of rising interest in plant protein.  Examples beyond soymilk include traditional Japanese recipes like miso soup with a tofu float, available as packaged products. Similarly, the Indonesian cuisine ingredient tempeh (fermented soybean cake) is making inroads on U.S. restaurant menus with offerings such as tempeh and edamame pizza, Jamaican jerk tempeh, and tempeh Caesar salad.

Soy is a “new” protein for some consumers.

The meat alternatives product categories include chilled, frozen and shelf-stable products.[6] Globally, the meat alternatives market is projected to reach $3.5 billion by 2026—representing an anticipated 12 percent CAGR from 2019 to 2026.[7]  Among those who buy meat alternatives , 44 percent cite health and nutrition reasons, and 10 percent do so for dietary needs or health management. Approximately 52 percent want to add variety to their diets.[8] In the U.S., the top consumers of plant-based meat alternatives are  Millennials (those born between 1981-1996) .[9]  Also, this group’s tendency toward ready-to-eat foods drives the North American processed food market which in turn drives the global demand for meat alternatives.[10] Product examples include frozen skillet meals and plant-based canned soups that incorporate plant protein and meat alternatives.

Soy can deliver when it comes to blended products.

The versatility of soy works to its advantage in an era where approximately one-half of consumers worldwide now have flexitarian diets that include both meat and meat alternatives.[11]  Blended meat and plant protein products, such as those with soyfoods, are a market category that provides consumers with an opportunity to consume more protein without adding cholesterol or saturated fat to their diet. Nine out of ten Gen Z  (those born in 1997 or later) and Millennial consumers want more plant items in the foods they consume.[12] This trend could be another bright spot for soy ingredients such as edamame that is easily incorporated into salads or one-bowl meals, and textured soy protein that blends well with ground meats.

Today’s global trends indicate various product opportunities for U.S. soybeans, including meat alternatives and dairy alternatives. It is noteworthy that plant-based cheeses grew 18.3 percent, and plant-based yogurts increased 31.3 percent from 2018 to 2019.[13] For plant-based meat alternative products (including beef, pork and chicken), soy protein has the maximum market share. The high demand for soy-based meat alternative products is attributed to their high-quality protein.  From 2019 to 2016, the Asia Pacific region is expected to demonstrate the highest growth in the meat alternatives market.[14]


[1] Hexa Research, 2019 Soy Food Market Size and Forecast 2015-2025.

[2] Allied Market Research, Dairy Alternatives Market.

[3] Allied Market Research, Dairy Alternatives Market.

[4] Technomic Asian Food Report “Why Asian Foods Dominate U.S. Menus” whitepaper.

[5] FMI, Power of Meat 2020

[6] Allied Market Research, 2020.

[7] Markets and Markets, Meat Substitutes Market Report, January, 2020

[8] FMI, the Power of Meat, 2019.

[9] NPD Group, “Future of Plant-Based Snapshot” study, 2019.

[10] Markets and Markets, Meat Substitutes Market Report, January, 2020.

[11] Euromonitor, Global Lifestyle Survey, 2019.

[12] Datassential Plant-Based Eating, 2019.

[13] SPINS, Data year ended 2019 for the Plant-based Foods Assn.

[14] Markets and Markets, Meat Substitutes Market Report, January, 2020

[15] Allied Market Research, Dairy Alternatives Market.