Can rising food transparency enable increased demand and consumption of sustainable U.S. soy?

USSEC CEO Jim Sutter recently addressed that issue in the Soy Suite with Rabobank Executive Board Member Berry Marttin, who also serves as chairman of the steering committee of the World Economic Forum, Food Action Alliance.[1] The Soy Suite is a series of live conversations with global experts on global food and agriculture trends.

“Today’s consumers often purchase food emotionally, so providing the right information to people about what they’re purchasing is critical. Food labeling has been very successful,” said Marttin. “Consumers [already] under[stand] price and calorie information and showing water and GHG emissions on labels would also be beneficial.”

In an era when six out of ten global consumers are interested in learning more about where their food comes from,[2] the trend of food transparency may help increase demand for sustainably U.S.-grown soy. Soy has a story of sustainability to tell, and a long history of Asian culinary tradition to share. Marttin suggested that growers can reconnect with consumers through transparency, traceability, and telling their sustainability stories.

Factors affecting food-buying choices

In a competitive marketplace where 56% of plant consumers worldwide[3] are trying to eat more plant protein, U.S. soy is an ingredient in a variety of new food and beverage products. The expectation of food transparency means that consumers want clear, accurate and useful food-related information from everyone to growers, producers and those who sell food products.[4]

For example, data suggests that the top four reasons global consumers choose plant-based dairy alternatives and protein sources are health, variety, sustainability and taste.[5]  Sustainability is a point of differentiation for the U.S. soy industry, with its farmers and their conservation practices that help assure a sustainably grown product verified by the U.S. Soy Sustainability Assurance Protocol (SSAP).[6]

Sustainability’s growing influence

Given that three out of four global consumers say they expect companies to invest in sustainability,[7] it is not surprising that transparency has become a top food trend in 2021—including for the snack product category—where companies communicate their environmental credentials as well as their product ingredients.[8]   In 2020, the impact of environmental sustainability on food purchases jumped to 34% from 27% the previous year.[9]

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations recently established 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that encompass aspects of sustainable development as well as working to end poverty and hunger while sustainably managing natural resources.[10]  Indeed, moderate or severe food insecurity affects more than half the population in Africa, nearly one-third in Latin America and one-fifth in Asia.[11]

SDGs help companies, including food and beverage companies, to strategize their sustainability planning. The SDGs are a common language and a global alignment framework.

And U.S. Soy’s farming practices support the United Nations’ (UN) SDGs.

“When you look at these goals and the underlying targets, agriculture plays an essential role and is the thread that stitches them all together … and this makes U.S. Soy a critical part of the solution,” said Sutter.

Label-readers look for recognizable ingredients

Consumer definitions of clean eating vary, but products in this category generally offer minimal processing and simple ingredient statements.[12] Clean eating refers not only to a streamlined number of ingredients in a product, but also the recognizability of those ingredients.

Among the World Health Organization’s guiding principles for healthy diets is the suggestion of eating a variety of unprocessed or minimally processed foods balanced across food groups, while restricting highly processed food and drink products.[13]  Examples of minimally processed soyfoods include canned soybeans and frozen edamame.

The top reasons global consumers provide for buying meat and dairy alternatives are health and the urge to try something different. Consumers in the U.S. also include sustainability and naturalness as motivating factors.[14] When buying choices are influenced by a desire for minimally processed foods, a wide array of soyfoods are in good competitive positions. Soymilk and tofu have the advantage of being versatile ingredients that can add plant protein to favorite recipes.

Areas of opportunity

Adventurous consumers are drawn to new hybrid flavor experiences, with one in three consumers globally saying that their flavor choices in food and beverage are influenced by interesting or exotic combinations.[15] Traditional Japanese soyfoods such as natto (mashed fermented soybeans) have potential for appealing to world consumers looking for new flavor and texture experiences inspired by traditional plant-based ingredients.

In the U.S., innovative new foodservice products include hybrid items like vegetable and grain bowls with tempura-battered sweet chili tofu.  Globally, 31% of consumers say they get flavor inspiration from restaurants, cafes and other away-from-home venues.[16]

Plant-based eating continues to evolve. More than 40% of global consumers identify as flexitarians (those who eat animal protein products as well as plant-based foods).[17] The main purpose of flexitarian eating patterns is to slowly increase one’s intake of plant-based foods without omitting animal foods.[18]  Similarly, more American consumers are eating mixed dishes at home that include a variety of protein sources, with those meals accounting for 9.6% of in-home eating occasions.[19] Soyfoods such at TVP (textured vegetable protein) and tempeh offer a meaty texture that can easily be incorporated into mixed-protein meals with flexitarian appeal.

New twists on burgers remain an area of opportunity, too.  In U.S. restaurants, for example, the term “plant-based” has been the fastest-growing term found on burger menus in the past four years, with one-third of customers being interested in plant-based burgers. In terms of customers’ most-liked foods, burgers in general rank 8th out of nearly 4,000 foods and beverages.[21] Notably, plant-based burgers may help drive demand for plant-based cheese: “Vegan cheese” is one of the fastest-growing burger terms, showing a 598% rise on menus.[22]

As global food choices continue to be driven by local cultures and culinary preferences, the quality and versatility of U.S. Soy enable it to meet diverse consumer demands.


[2] Innova Market Insights, “Top Ten Trends for 2021.

[3] Archer Daniels Midland, ADM, “Top 5 Global Food Trends 2021.”

[4] IRI Worldwide, “The Rise of Food Transparency,” 2015.;rise-of-food-transparency

[5] Innova Market Insights, 2020 Consumer Survey.

[6] U.S. Soybean Sustainability Assurance Protocol.” April 2018.

[7] Innova Market Insights, “Top Ten Trends for 2021.”

[8] Innova Market Insights, “Sweet & Snacks Innovation Boosted by Successful Sustainability Storytelling,” January 19, 2021.

[9] Internal Food Information Council, Food and Health Survey, 2020.

[10] Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations,

[11] World Health Organization, “2020: The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World, ” 2020.

[12] Mintel, “What ‘clean means for companies and consumers,” May 30,2019.

[13] World Health Organization, “2020: The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World, ” 2020.

[14] Innova Market Insights, “Plant-based spotlight on dairy alternatives,” 2020.

[15] Innova Market Insights, “Flavor Mashups for New Sensory Experiences in Food and Beverages,” April 28, 2021.

[16] Innova Market Insights, “Flavor Mashups for New Sensory Experiences in Food and Beverages,” April 28, 2021.

[17] Euromonitor International, “The Rise of Vegan and Vegetarian Food,” 3/28/2021.

[18] Internaational Food Information Council, “What is a Flexitarian Diet?”  2019.

[19] NPD Group, “From Animal Meat to Fungi,” February 22, 2021.–u-s–consumers-tap-into-a-host-of-sources-to-get-more-protein-into-their-diets/

[20] Datassential Trend Report, FoodBytes, “The Biggest Trends in Burgers,” Vol.   88, 2021.

[21]  Datassential Trend Report, FoodBytes, “The Biggest Trends in Burgers,” Vol.   88, 2021.

[22] Datassential Trend Report, FoodBytes, “The Biggest Trends in Burgers,” Vol.   88, 2021.