Health awareness boosts US soy market, report

By Lorraine Heller

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Soybean Soy milk

The US market for soy foods and beverages is poised for strong
growth as consumer awareness of the health benefits of soy
increases, according to a new report.

Published by Packaged Facts, Soy Foods and Beverages estimates that total retail sales of these products reached $2.1bn in 2007, up 7 percent from the year before.

The report covers all foods and beverages that are made entirely from soy - such as soy milk - or that have soy as a primary component - such as meal replacement bars, smoothies or cereal.

Excluded from the report are products whose only soy ingredient in soy lecithin, which is added for texture rather than nutritional benefits, as well as 'unhealthy' soy products, such as soy sauce, which is considered unhealthy due to its high sodium content.

According to Packaged Facts, sales of soy foods and beverages increased 29 percent between 2003 and 2007, representing a compound annual growth rate of 6.6 percent.

The group "conservatively forecasts" that the market will continue to grow at a "healthy pace" through 2012, to near $3bn.

Health drives sales Health remains a main driver for the category, according to the report, with soy products slipping into the mainstream as more and more consumers become aware of the specific health and nutrition benefits linked to soy.

"One of the biggest boons to the market came in October 1999, when the Food and Drug Administration gave food manufacturers permission to put labels on products high in soy protein indicating that that these foods may help to lower heart disease risk," writes Packaged Facts.

"As with health claims for other foods, this claim provides consumers with a solid 'seal of approval' regarding the benefits of soy protein and helps them make informed choices to create a 'heart healthy' diet."

As well as heart benefits, soy has also been linked to a positive effect on bone health, menopause symptoms and cancer.

During the past decade, consumer awareness of soy as a healthy food has increased from 67 percent in 1998 to 85 percent in 2007, according to figures from the United Soybean Board's 14th Annual National Report (2007), Consumer Attitudes About Nutrition: Insights Into Nutrition, Health & Soyfoods.

More than three out of five consumers surveyed reported that they believe that consuming soy-based foods can play a role in reducing obesity, while soy foods and beverages were also recognized by 18 percent of respondents for their low-fat properties, high protein content (17 percent), heart health function (16 percent), cholesterol-lowering properties (11 percent) and potential for menopause symptom relief (10 percent).

Beyond those consumers that choose soy products for their health benefits, the category also benefited from vegetarians and organic and gourmet food fans, said the report.

Snack bars lead Although Packaged Facts estimated that total soy product retail sales reached $2.1bn in 2007, the figure for the year as tracked by IRI (Information Resources, Inc) was $1.3bn.

Sales tracked by IRI included sales at supermarkets, drugstores and mass merchandisers, except Wal-Mart.

Foods accounted for about two-thirds of IRI-tracked sales, amounting to around $4817m. Beverages accounted for $456m, but although this category was smaller, it showed a faster growth rate of 6.3 percent, compared to the 4.1 percent growth rate for soy foods.

Among the soy food and beverage categories, snack bars accounted for the largest share of IRI-tracked sales in 2007 at 32 percent, although combining both refrigerated and shelf-stable products put soymilk in the lead at 34.8 percent, with refrigerated soymilk alone accounting for 30.7 percent of the market.

Frozen meat substitutes were the next largest segment, at 17 percent, followed by cereal at 9.3 percent.

Only three other categories have more than 1 percent of the market - frozen treats (1.8 percent), yogurt/yogurt drinks (1.7 percent) and salted snacks (1.5 percent).

From 2006 to 2007, the biggest share shifts were for snack bars (up 0.9 percentage points) and frozen meat substitutes (down 0.7 percentage points), said Packaged Facts.

Challenges "In the past, a rather ironic barrier to soy's success has been its prevalence in natural food stores, which despite the explosive growth in this channel has tended to leave soy without a substantial foothold in the mainstream market," said the report.

Soymilk is a good example of a product that has managed to bridge the gap by fully crossing over into mainstream and appearing in the dairy cases of most supermarkets beside the 'regular' milk, it said.

"If marketers of other kinds of soy products expect to replicate soymilk's growth, they will need to find ways to compete for shelf space in traditional supermarkets and supercenters."

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