Plant-based foods are having a moment in the U.S. From meat and dairy alternatives to snack foods and baked goods, sales are growing, and the trend toward incorporating plant-based eating is becoming part of everyday practice, especially among younger, more educated consumers. A 2020 United Soybean Board (USB) Plant-based Protein Study, which interviewed 1,000 U.S. consumers ages 16-49, found that 61% reported eating more plant-based foods and beverages than two years ago. This is in line with the flexitarian trend – just under two-thirds of respondents said they currently eat mostly animal-based protein (36%) or both animal and plant-based protein (29%).
The COVID-19 pandemic has further accelerated consumers' transition to plant-based eating, with data from the Plant Based Foods Association showing that plant-based food sales outpaced total retail food sales. Throughout the four weeks following peak panic buying, plant-based food sales grew at 27%, which is 35% faster than total retail food.
A Complete Protein
Consumers possess a bias that plant-based proteins do not provide adequate protein, according to a new report from Mintel. The report found that 73% of meat-eaters, 46% of flexitarians and 49% of vegetarians, vegans or pescatarians believe animal meat is the best protein source.
While animal meat is a quality protein source, the USB study showed soy protein stands out to consumers among other plant protein sources. Soy protein is the only plant protein comparable in quality to animal protein. Not only is it the only plant protein that carries the Food and Drug Administration’s heart health claim, confirming that 25 grams of soy protein a day, as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, may reduce the risk of heart disease , but it is a complete protein, and one of the few plant-based proteins offering consumers all of the essential amino acids their bodies need.
According to the USB study, consumers are paying attention to the protein source in packaged foods, and nearly 90% have a positive or neutral view of soy protein as an ingredient in packaged foods. Soy also had the highest awareness and trial among leading plant-based protein ingredients such as pea and wheat, but the data suggested that consumers are unaware that soy offers a complete protein.
Additionally, 95% said that in addition to the Nutrition Facts label they would like to see additional information on packages, such as including specific health claims like "contains high-quality protein." Therefore, there is an opportunity for companies using soy protein isolate or concentrate in their products to label and promote those ingredients as "high quality" and a "complete" protein. In fact, respondents to the USB study said that top motivators for incorporating plant-based foods into their diet were improving their overall health and wellness and the quality of protein in their diet.
As plant-based proteins grow in popularity and gain consumer attention, the study suggests that food manufacturers have good reason to either consider soy protein or, if already using it, promote its benefits to consumers.
A Healthy and Versatile Oil
Soy's benefits to the food industry extend beyond soy protein. High oleic soybean oil offers food manufacturers a versatile ingredient with high-heat stability, excellent melting properties and a neutral flavor profile that lets the flavor of other ingredients in a product shine through. It also extends shelf life of packaged products.
Grown Sustainably in the U.S.
There are environmental benefits as well. High oleic soybeans are grown exclusively in the U.S., creating a shorter supply chain, reducing transportation costs and lowering the carbon footprint of products compared to imported alternatives. Additionally, soy in the U.S. is grown sustainably. U.S. soybean farmers work tirelessly to protect and conserve the land. They employ a variety of farming practices to decrease carbon emissions, improve and enrich the soil, conserve water and boost crop productivity. This aligns well with what consumers want. Participants in the USB study noted that one of their top motivators for incorporating plant-based foods into their diet was for sustainability purposes and protecting the environment.
Another consideration for food companies is adding a U.S.-grown label to packages. The study suggests that labeling soy ingredients as U.S. grown resonates with nearly half (45%) of consumers, who said where an ingredient is grown is information they would like to see on packages. (Note: sentiment specific to U.S. grown was not measured in the study).
To learn more about high oleic soybean oil and request a free sample, or schedule a meeting with an oils expert, visit QUALISOY.com.