Europeans are becoming increasingly keen on soya-based alternatives to dairy and meat products, with growth in these categories expected to see double digit growth for 2003 - 2005, according to a pan-European study on the soy market.
Per capita consumption of soya-based drinks and desserts has grown by over 20 per cent in 2002 and is currently as large (valued at €1.3 billion) as the per capita consumption of meat-free and tofu products in Europe, reveals the report from Netherlands-based organisation Prosoy Research & Strategy.
"The demand for soya-based milks, yoghurts and desserts is growing as a result of changes in lifestyle, growing food intolerance and allergies, as well as the positive health image of soya," said Gerard Klein Essink, senior researcher at Prosoy.
"New European health claims regulations under preparation are also likely to have an impact, since medical research on soya has already shown positive effects on blood cholesterol levels and heart diseases, bone strength and menopausal problems," added Klein Essink.
Innovation has played a large part in the growth of this market, noted Klein Essink, particularly in the soya-based milks sector, increasingly offered through the chilled sections of supermarkets - the traditional arena for new product development, rather than in the long-life sections.
Mintel's Global New Products Database (GNPD) indicates over 50 new soya-based milk product launches in 2002 in Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and the UK.
"The UK market for soya-based milks, yoghurts and desserts is the largest in Europe with over 30 per cent of the market. This vibrant market has grown by more than 20 per cent in 2002 and is expected to continue growing by such rates in the coming years," added Klein Essink.
The German market was the fastest growing, by over 40 per cent in 2002, while the Belgians eat and drink the most soya-based milks, beverages, yoghurts and desserts in Europe, consuming more than 2 litres each per annum.
The brand leaders in Europe include Belgium's Alpro and its Provamel and Alpro brands, one of the first on the European market. Other pan-European brands are the Bjorg brand of Tree of Life Europe and Sojasun of Laiterie Triballat-Noyal. The soya-based dairy free sector is expected to continue showing well above 15 per cent growth in the period until 2006.
The report attributed growth of the meat-free market in 2000 and 2001 (at rates above 20 per cent) to the BSE and foot & mouth disease scares.
"Although growth declined in 2002 in many countries, the demand for meat-free and tofu products is likely to continue growing again in the coming years. Important drivers will continue to be a growing interest in healthy foods, an ageing and more health-focused population, and increased animal welfare concerns. Again, the positive health aspects of soya can also drive the market, when applied in the communication to the consumer," comments Klein Essink.
The consumption of meat-free and tofu products in Europe varies from 0.02 kg in Italy to above 2 kg per capita in the United Kingdom.
Tivall, one of the leaders in the European meat-free market, uses soya as the key ingredient in its product range and is likely to be an important 'soya' player in the future, both through their own brand and private label partnerships, advises the report.
Innovation through new product development is again one of the main category drivers: close to 70 new products were tracked by Mintel's GNPD in the various countries in 2002.
The findings of the report, 'Soyfoods: The European market 2003', contrast with a report on the US market out earlier this week. The Freedonia group predicted steady but unsensational growth for soy products in the US, rising 5.4 per cent year on year to $8.6 billion in 2007.
New soy products and isoflavones will however experience robust growth there, with soy isoflavones expected to grow by nearly 23 per cent yearly up until 2007, stimulated by increasing use in menopausal and bone density products.