The protein of choice. Featured in our July 2018 magazine.
Look in the shopping cart or at the restaurant plate of today’s
consumers. You’re likely to find more plant-based, protein-rich
foods that promote health and make eating an experience. When
consumers learn those foods fit their definition of sustainable
production, even better.
While this is a shift from the meat-and-potatoes generation, soy is
still part of the food equation. In fact, today’s food trends may open
new doors for soybeans, if farmers play their cards right.
“Clean eating with all natural, recognizable ingredients and
accountability of farmers is becoming more important. Soy is a star
among the many available ingredients,” says Linda Funk, executive
director, The Soyfoods Council. “Soy is a simple ingredient that
fits into all of today’s trends, and farmers can capitalize on that by
talking about their sustainability.”
The 2018 International Food Information Council (IFIC)
Foundation Food & Health Survey released in May shows taste and
price remain key drivers for consumer purchases. Familiarity (a
new survey addition) is also significant, outpacing healthfulness,
convenience and sustainability.
“One of the driving consumer trends is heightened awareness and
demand for quality protein particularly at breakfast and snacks.
This is reinforced by the desire for self-care. Consumers are looking
to protein to power and energize their day,” says Pam Smith, R.D.N,
nutritionist and industry culinary consultant. Smith provides menu
innovation and insight for such groups as The Culinary Institute of
America, Disney and Epcot International Food & Wine Festival.
“The restaurant industry is innovating around menu items that
provide quality, healthful plant-based proteins, creating dishes that
are craveable, delicious and nutritious,” she says. “Giving food global
flavors and adventure adds a compelling reason to try a new dish.”
PROTEIN, PROTEIN, PROTEIN
Going forward, expect more plant-based foods and derivatives
in practically every aisle of the supermarket, says Kantha Shelke,
Ph.D., food scientist and principal at Corvus Blue in Chicago. She
also is an adjunct professor of food safety regulations for Johns
“People are looking for plant-derived versions of their favorite
foods that were traditionally made from animal-based ingredients,
such as eggs, milk, cheese and meat. Grains, legumes, seeds and
nuts offer good-tasting proteins that can enhance the taste of the other ingredients while also being a powerhouse of nutrients,”
Consumers view protein from plant sources as more healthful
than protein from animals, finds the IFIC Foundation survey,
and consumers are intrigued with meatless protein grown in labs.
Vivera, a Dutch company, recently launched in Europe a steak
made with wheat and soy protein.
“Scientifically engineered foods are a bit of a paradox,” says
Shelke. “They are sought by people concerned about ingredients
derived from animal sources because of the amount of land, water
and energy animal production requires. Acceptance of unique,
plant-based sources seems like an environmentally conscious
one. On the other hand, acceptance of meat grown from selfreproducing
animal cells by consumers who shun highly processed
foods is baffling considering the amount of processing to which
these foods are subjected.”
SOY SWEET SPOT.
Expect to see healthier,
environmentally friendlier versions of every animal-based consumer
favorite, predicts Kantha Shelke, Ph.D., food scientist and principal
at Corvus Blue in Chicago. Linda Funk, executive director, The
Soyfoods Council, observes millennials, especially, are interested
in having plant and animal protein on the same plate – a flexitarian
approach – giving soy two opportunities for use as both a food and
as animal feed for meat production.
“Soy is a preferred plant protein, so we must talk about it that way
to increase demand. It is a complete and versatile food. You can
customize or add protein to other foods through soy,” she says.
“More consumers also enjoy soy as a side dish when not eating
Shelke identifies people worldwide
seeking food that is good for health
as another overarching trend. People
are looking for minimally processed
ingredients that are sourced and
produced in a way that does not
harm the environment and that are
“Demand for healthy foods, in
conjunction with the growing
appeal of intrinsically wholesome
foods, presents the opportunity to
identify and combine these foods
for a new taste and health boost,”
she says. “Dried fruits, seeds like
chia, flax and pumpkin, and even edamame, are preferred over
highly fabricated foods consumers cannot associate with anything
Food customization can be gotten through several experiences
including food halls, where consumers build meals to personal
taste, and from food trucks. Customization caters to allergies
and allows adventurous eaters to try the next global cuisine or
underexplored regional food.
Shelke notes protein-rich crops like lentils, mung bean and
soybeans offer a range of tastes and textures and functionalities to
produce an analog of practically every consumer favorite.
Another food experience trend is the “bowl” concept for
breakfast, grains, vegetables and salad, according to Smith.
“Soyfoods bring a delightful contrast of flavors and textures,
and a high quality, nutrient-rich protein into play,” she says. “An
extension of bowls is mason jar meals of overnight oats soaked in
soymilk for a quality protein that other plant-based milks lack.”
The IFIC Foundation survey concludes context is key in how
consumers perceive healthfulness of two products with otherwise
identical nutritional content. When asked to identify the
healthier of two products with the same Nutrition Facts Panel, 40
percent perceived one labeled “non-GMO” as healthier versus less
than 20 percent for that same product made with genetically
engineered ingredients. More than one-third believed a product
with a shorter ingredient list was healthier than one with more
ingredients, compared to less than 20 percent for a nutritionally
identical product with a shorter ingredients list.
FARMERS AND FOOD TRENDS
So how can Illinois soybean farmers capitalize on these food
trends? By proactively discussing sustainable practices in play on
their soybean farms.
The IFIC Foundation survey finds sustainable food production
looms large with 59 percent of consumers saying it’s important for what they purchase and consume. Other data regarding food purchases show 22 percent said it was very important to know
where food comes from, 16 percent said it was very important to
understand how the food was produced and 16 percent said it was
very important to be able to access information about how the
food was produced.
“Millennials and centennials want to know what’s in their
food, where it comes from and how it’s grown. They want to
celebrate the U.S. farmer and sustainability,” says Smith. “In this
marketplace, environmentally friendly, locally sourced foods like
soy are attracting attention.”