No Either/Or Proposition

Soy Protein Influences Consumer Diets in Multiple Ways

By Barb Baylor Anderson

It’s no secret global demand for protein to feed people and animals will continue to expand as the world’s middle class and income grow. While traditional uses of soybeans in animal feed rations is expected to go up, so also are innovative uses of soybeans for plant-based proteins.

“There are a number of options to choose from when it comes to protein sources – beef, pork, poultry, fish, alternative meats and plant-based proteins. To compete and partner with existing, emerging and alternative protein sources, we need to view the broader protein industry,” says Austin Rincker, ISA director and producer from Moweaqua, Illinois.

The Illinois Soybean Association (ISA) checkoff program is proactively leading that conversation with those along the food value chain, addressing the opportunities, challenges and implications of protein sources. To further the discussion, ISA in 2020 will host a “Feeding the Future – Macro and Micro Views of the Protein Industry” event in Chicago.

Austin Rincker

Rising Plant-Based Protein Popularity

Discussion will include the push for more plant-based proteins. Soybeans are considered a complete nutritional protein source for humans because they contain all nine essential amino acids.

Nick Fereday, executive director, RaboResearch Food & Agribusiness, says their “We Didn’t See That Coming” food trends survey of industry professionals shows growth in this area.

“Breakneck advancement of plant-based food and beverages was easily the biggest surprise,” says Fereday, citing industry statistics of plant-based meat alternative retail sales rising by almost one-quarter to $770 million in the year ending August 2018. Plant-based alternatives to animal foods was up 17 percent to $4.1 billion compared to $200 billion in U.S. meat retail sales. “Equally impressive are the number of new entrants and players in the new protein landscape.”

Soy will play a prominent role, says Dr. Erin Rees Clayton, scientific foundations liaison, The Good Food Institute (GFI). “While we are witnessing increased diversity of plant-based proteins in foods, soy dominates,” she confirms. “Given predicted market growth and potential to innovate new tastes and products, I anticipate soy protein will play an important role in the many types of plant-based meat products, including poultry and seafood.”

For example, Impossible Foods, which offers a vegan meat alternative, has switched their plant-based meats formulation from wheat to soy. Other companies are developing plant-based meats from lab-grown meat muscle, referred to as cell-based or clean meat. Market watchers anticipate broad-scale success if products attain wide appeal to average consumers at competitive prices.

Clayton says soy could become even more attractive as plant breeders develop soybean varieties with protein that can be extracted to maintain full functionality with no unwanted additives or antinutrients. She says soy-based meats will need the aroma, taste and texture consumers desire.

Plant protein

Continued Animal Protein Consumption

While meat alternatives may become more mainstream, they likely will not eliminate consumer demand for traditional meat and poultry products. And nearly 97 percent of the soybean meal used in the U.S. goes into feed rations for various species, including pigs.

“Soybean meal is an important part of the pig’s diet,” says Jarrod Sutton, vice president of domestic marketing, National Pork Board. We anticipate demand for U.S. pork to continue to grow, both domestically and internationally.”

Sutton quotes industry statistics that show bacon is featured on more than 70 percent of U.S. menus and has grown four percent since 2014. “Continued growth speaks to consumer demand for pork products while dining away from home,” he says.


Fresh pork products consumed at home are also trending higher. According to Nielsen, the fresh pork category gained 0.5 percent in total U.S. grocery sales in 2018. Overseas, Sutton says growth in Asia and Latin America present tremendous opportunities for U.S. pork.

“Global consumer trends suggest more people are interested in the food production story. U.S. pig farmers use 75 percent less land and 25 percent less water to produce a pound of pork compared to 60 years ago,” says Sutton. “Pork is the top consumed protein in the world. The U.S. is well positioned to meet growing needs in a responsible, sustainable way.”