WISHH Perspectives

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Global Food Trends Indicate Post COVID-19 Opportunities for U.S.-Grown Soy, Part 1 of 2

Author – Linda Funk


Linda Funk has more than 30 years’ experience with large food and beverage manufacturers and commodity associations, assisting clients in telling their stories.

This consumer trends update comes from Dr. A. Elizabeth Sloan, President of Sloan Trends who has identified recent research-based trends that indicate global growth opportunities for soyfoods. “With their plant protein status and nutrients, as well as complementing current consumer behavior, soyfoods appear to be well-positioned for the future,”  Sloan says.  Here are some of the product category opportunities tied to current trends. This is part one of a two-part series.    

Soybean oil complements the cooking at home trend:

“Globally, this is a good time for soybean oil. I see several factors that contribute to the opportunity. First, with the effects of COVID-19, consumers worldwide are continuing to cook at home.”  In the U.S., 40 percent of adults reported cooking more than they had pre-pandemic. Retail food shopping spending has surged to levels not seen since the early to mid-1990s, while restaurant spending has declined.[1]  In Asian markets, including Mainland China, Hong Kong, Vietnam and South Korea, consumers are reprioritizing eating at home, too.[2]

“Data also shows that oil consumption spikes during recessionary times[3],” Sloan says. From a cooking standpoint, soybean oil is a versatile all-purpose oil that offers a neutral flavor. It is equally useful for salad dressings, baking, sautéing and frying, with a high smoke point of approximately 450°F[4].  Soybean oil has an added advantage of being affordable, as global consumers have seen soaring food prices during the pandemic.[5]  In 2016, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the use of a qualified health claim for soybean oil based on its ability to lower cholesterol.[6] That claim states, “Supportive but not conclusive scientific evidence suggests that eating about 1½ tablespoons (20.5 grams) daily of soybean oil, which contains unsaturated fat, may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease. To achieve this possible benefit, soybean oil is to replace saturated fat and not increase the total number of calories you eat in a day.”

Soy products may hold appeal for better-informed consumers:

“Going forward—post-COVID-19—79 percent of global consumers are expected to be looking for products that are healthier and better for the environment,” Sloan reports. In fact, 91 percent of consumers in China and Mexico say they will be seeking out products that fit into these categories, with sustainability and traceability being among the attributes.[7]  When it comes to environmental impact, over 95% of U.S. soybean farmers follow the U.S. Soy Sustainability Assurance Protocol (SSAP). They have achieved an increase in their soy production for both plant protein and animal protein, while using less energy.[8] Soybeans are currently the second-largest crop grown in the U.S.[9]

Consumers are open to making the connection between soyfoods and potential health benefits:

As more consumers start reading ingredient labels in search of product attributes, soyfoods will be in a good competitive position. Sloan notes that approximately 23 percent of American consumers actively seek out foods with health benefits, with top considerations being weight management, energy, digestive health, and cardiovascular health.[10]  By 2026, global consumers are expected to spend $53.27 billion USD each year on foods, beverages and supplements that help improve digestive health.[11] In addition to their flavor, the reasons for the popularity surge in fermented foods such as soyfoods like tempeh and miso include potential health benefits and increased consumer interest in gastrointestinal health.[12]

“COVID-19 concerns give a boost to foods that deliver sought-after nutrients, so soy is well-positioned to deliver. People are buying foods for their health benefits, and global sales of naturally nutritious foods are increasing,”[13] Sloan says. Additionally, retail sales of plant-based foods have outpaced total food sales in the U.S., suggesting that more consumers have turned to plant-based foods—such as soy-based meat alternatives—during the pandemic.[14]

[1] FMI “2020 U.S. Grocery Shopper Trends.” https://www.fmi.org/our-research/research-reports/u-s-grocery-shopper-trends

[2] Nielsen, March 2020.

[3] Global Vegetable Oils Industry Report,  July 2020. www.reportlinker.com/p087311!utm_source=GNW

[4] USDA, “Deep Fat Frying and Food Safety.” www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/portal/fsis/topics/food-safety-education/get-answers/food-safety-fact-sheets/safe-food-handling/deep-fat-frying-and-food-safety/ct_index

[5] Ipsos, July 15, 2020.

[6] Qualified Health Claim Petition – Soybean Oil and Reduced Risk of Coronary Heart Disease (Docket No. FDA-2016-Q-0995).

[7] Ipsos, April 2020.

[8] Field to Market: The Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture, 2016. Environmental and Socioeconomic Indicators for Measuring Outcomes of On Farm Agricultural Production in the United States (third edition). ISBN: 978-0-692-81902-9.

[9] “National Agricultural Statistics Service.” https://downloads.usda.library.cornell.edu/usda-esmis/files/j098zb09z/0k225n39n/jw827p632/acrg0619.pdf. United States Department of Agriculture. June 28, 2019.

[10] International Food Information Council, 2019, Food and Health Survey.

[11] Acumen Research and Consulting, Digestive Health Products Market. Aug. 2019.

[12] Dimidi et al. Nutrients 2019

[13] Ipsos, April 2020.

[14] Plant Based Foods Association, “New Data Shows Plant-Based Food Outpacing Total Food Sales During COVID-19,” May 26, 2020. https://plantbasedfoods.org/plant-based-food-outpaces-total-food-sales-during-covid19/

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