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Versatility Helps Drive a Global Rise in Soyfoods Consumption

By Linda Funk

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.

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