Several trends affect the way the world eats. It’s hard to miss the plant protein boom. The shift in health priorities and environmental awareness influences food choices. Price considerations also are gaining momentum in the face of rising food costs. One of this year’s global consumer trends— the desire for novelty and fun after pandemic lockdowns—can be expressed in seeking out new foods.[1]

The soyfoods industry responds to today’s evolving marketplace with innovative better-for-you snack products like chocolate soy snacks and frozen soy-based desserts. In the plant-based dairy arena, soy-based ricotta and other nondairy cheeses are widely available, and products like fortified tofu appeal to health-conscious consumers.

In the U.S., 83% of consumers recently surveyed think the pandemic has permanently changed the way they live.[2] One thing that isn’t likely to change, though, is the demand for plant-based food and beverages for home meals that we saw during the surges of COVID-19. Plant-based dairy and meat are predicted to continue their growth through 2024, driven by Millennials and Gen Z consumers.[3]

Bright Spots for Soyfoods

In response to rising food costs, consumers and foodservice professionals may increase their cross-utilization of versatile ingredients such as soybean oil and tofu made with sustainable U.S. Soy. Both conventional and high oleic soybean oil are single ingredients that can be used for everything from baking and sautéing to salad dressings and deep fat frying. Soybean oil has the added advantages of its neutral flavor and high smoke point (450°F)[4] compared with many other cooking oils. Foodservice operators, in particular, may find cross-utilization of ingredients attractive, as food-away-from-home prices increase. U.S. food-at-home prices are predicted to rise between 5% and 6% in 2022; while food-away-from-home prices may see increases between 5.5% and 6.5%.[5]

Additionally, U.S. Soy provides a high-quality protein that has a role in the $292.9 billion global consumer health market categories of vitamins and dietary supplements ($125.8 billion), sports nutrition ($23.5 billion) and the $20.9 billion weight management and wellbeing category. From 2021 to 2026, 48% of the global absolute sales growth in the consumer health sector is expected to come from Asia, with 17% coming from North America.[6]

As more consumers embrace active nutrition and healthy living, sports nutrition is gravitating to plant-based ingredients. Positioning is centered around immunity, digestive health, inflammation, cognition and energy,[7] areas where the nutrients in soyfoods may offer benefits.

Soy Meshes with Mindful Eating

Soyfoods continue to keep pace with changing health-related priorities. Among the year’s food trends is mindful eating, a concept that encompasses ingredient sourcing, environmental considerations, clean eating, plant-based diets and health considerations. Research shows that mindful eating[8]—attentiveness to how we purchase, prepare and consume our food—can help decrease behaviors like binge eating or emotional eating, and can lead to more positive food experiences.[9] Mindful eating also helps consumers develop skills for managing health issues like chronic pain, disease and depression.[10]

Approximately 24% of participants in a U.S. consumer survey reported that they consider digestive health to be the most important aspect of their overall health; about one-third said they actively try to consume probiotics.[11] Traditional fermented soyfoods such as miso and tempeh as well as soy yogurt contain probiotics (beneficial bacteria that live in the body). Additionally, a newly introduced fortified tofu product contains prebiotics and a postbiotic. Prebiotics are a food source for gut microbiota.[12] Postbiotics can alter the gut microbiome and have been linked to various health benefits including aiding the body’s immune system.[13]

Soy Shows Visible Versatility

The current social media climate reflects food attitudes, with 63% of conversations about vegan and vegetarian options being positive, and the words recipes and cookbook are included as common key words in posts.[14] Soyfoods offer a convenient way for consumers to incorporate more plant-based ingredients into recipes, with a range of product choices that can be adapted to vegan, vegetarian and flexitarian or hybrid eating styles.

While many plant proteins are promoted as meat and dairy alternatives, soyfoods have a long history and a place of prominence in Asian cuisines. Traditional soyfoods include tempeh in Indonesian cuisine to tofu in Japanese cooking. Product options today allow consumers to enjoy soyfoods across the menu. Choices include soy beverages, packaged soy protein snacks like flavored soy nuts, as well as versatile edamame pasta and indulgent frozen soy-based desserts.

Given that global food prices reached an all-time high in March 2022,[15] the affordability of many soy products, including tofu, is advantageous as well. In a recent ten-country survey of consumers, half of the flexitarian respondents said that supermarkets and restaurants don’t offer enough plant-based product choices, and they considered the available ones to be generally too expensive.[16]

However, one calculation estimates that price parity between plant-based meat and conventional meat may happen sooner rather than later, with prices for plant-based products achieving parity to conventional ones in 2023.[17] Worldwide, the price gap between plant-based and animal-based burgers varies, ranging from 23% more per pound for plant-based products in Germany, 65% more in the U.S., and 335% higher in Japan. In order for plant protein choices to compete with conventional products and appeal to the large market of omnivores, affordability is key.[18]

Soy Shares the Plate and Speaks to Sustainability

Soyfoods made with sustainably grown U.S. Soy combine with animal proteins in ways that hold appeal for vegetarians, flexitarians, and omnivores alike. Soy complements dairy products (think tofu blended with ricotta cheese in lasagna) and can be paired with meats, like roasted pork with edamame. Textured soy protein (TSP) can be combined with ground beef or ground turkey for chili and pasta sauces, or mixed with honey to top fruit crumble desserts.

Choosing high-quality U.S. Soy also helps to meet the United Nations 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), with the environmentally responsible U.S. Soy Sustainability Assurance Protocol (SSAP). Soyfoods have the potential for improving global nutrition to help meet SDGs for Zero Hunger and Good Health and Well-Being.[19]

This article was (partially) funded by the United Soybean Board.

[1] Mintel. Global Consumer Trends 2022: What consumers want and why—now, next and in the future.

[2] Datassential FoodBytes: “The Pandemic: Two Years and Counting,” Datassential Trend Report, Trendspotting, Volume 99, April 8, 2022.

[3] NPD Group. “Gen Zs and Millennials Will Drive Growth of Plant-Based Foods in the U.S. Over the Next Few Years.” Press Release, October 13, 2021.

[4] USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service, Deep Fat Frying and Food Safety.

[5] USDA Economic Research Service. Summary Findings, Food Price Outlook, 2022.  March 2022 Forecast.

[6] Euromonitor International. “Passport: World Market for Consumer Health,” October 2021.

[7] Euromonitor International. “Passport: World Market for Consumer Health,” October 2021.

[8] Warren JM, Smith N, Ashwell M. A structured literature review on the role of mindfulness, mindful eating and intuitive eating in changing eating behaviours. Nutr Res Rev. 2017 Dec;30(2):272-283.

[9] Food Insight, International Food Information Council. “Mindful Eating, 2022”.

[10] Nelson, Joseph B. Mindful Eating: The Art of Presence While You Eat. Diabetes Spectrum. 2017 Aug; 30(3):171-174.

[11] International Food Information Council. Consumer Survey on Gut Health and Probiotics. 2022

[12] Cleveland Clinic Health Essentials. “What are Prebiotics and What Do They Do?” March 14, 2022.

[13] Zolkiewicz, J; Marzec, A; Ruszczynski, M; et al. Post Biotics—A Step Beyond Pre- and Probiotics. Nutrients, 2020. Jul 23; 12(8):2189. doi: 10.3390/nu12082189.]

[14] InMar Intelligence, 2022 Spring Trends. PG-Inamr-2022SpringTrendsGuide.pdf

[15] Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, “FAO Food Price Index makes a giant leap to another all-time high in March,” April 8, 2022.

[16] Innova Market Insights. “Choice and Price Key to Continued Boom in Plant-Based Foods.” Press Release, November 8, 2021.

[17] The Good Food Institute: “When will the price be right? Pathways to alternative protein affordability.” January 19, 2022.

[18] The Good Food Institute: “When will the price be right? Pathways to alternative protein affordability.” January 19, 2022.

[19] United Nations.