Soy’s the Limit
By Joan Holleran
The United Soybean Board, Chesterfield, Mo., published its 11th annual “Consumer Attitudes About Nutrition” survey that provides insights into nutrition, health and soyfoods. The study, released late last year, identifies consumer attitudes and trends in nutrition. Most of the questions relate to soy, but some do not, says Steve Poole, director, edible program, United Soybean Board.
“We want this to be a valuable tool for industry players, including manufacturers, marketers and others who aren’t just focused on soy. It’s meant to be a helpful tool to them when they are talking to consumers,” he says.
Poole says many companies use the “Consumer Attitudes” survey for sales presentations or even research. “One reason they like it is that USB is a third party. Another is that this is a statistically sound survey, and there are benchmarks going back 11 years.
“Companies can use it for developing products, identifying markets where they can provide products to fulfill a health benefit, or in sales materials,” he says.
Consistent with the past six years, nearly 90 percent of respondents indicated they were somewhat or very concerned about the nutritional content of food. This year, 74 percent of consumers claimed to have changed their eating habits due to health or nutrition concerns, a 4 percent increase from 2003.
Consumers are well aware of the obesity crisis in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention state that approximately 130 million Americans are overweight or obese, a total of 64 percent of the nation’s population. An interesting aspect of the survey, however, indicates a new culprit for the crisis. This year, 36 percent considered individuals responsible for their obesity, while 29 percent blame the fast food industry. “That’s a complete flip flop from last year when 35 percent said the fast food industry was to blame and 29 percent said it was the individual,” Poole, says. In determining the cause of the dramatic shift, Poole could only surmise. “Speaking anecdotally, the swing could be due to the publicity around the frivolous lawsuits against brand name products — it may have caused a backlash.”
More than 60 percent of consumers agree that consuming soy-based foods can play a role in reducing obesity, while three-quarters of respondents agree soy products are healthy.
|Healthy cooking oil impressions |
|Olive oil ||91 % |
|Soybean oil ||87 % |
|Sunflower oil ||82 % |
|Canola oil ||82 % |
|Safflower oil ||79 % |
|Corn oil ||67 % |
Soy awareness up andup and up
Overall, consumer awareness of soy products increased this year. Soymilk’s awareness rating stepped up to 90 percent, while regular use of soymilk held fairly steady at 16 percent. Compared to 2003, significantly more consumers are aware of dried or canned soybeans (13 percent). And the regular consumption of soy nuts increased to six percent. Fewer respondents, however, said they consume soy burgers.
Consumer awareness of soybean oil as a healthy oil is also big, with approximately 90 percent of consumers believing it’s healthy. “Last year it was 88 percent; the year before it was 90 percent, and it’s always right behind olive oil,” Poole says, adding that Trader Joe’s markets a 100 percent soybean oil, rather than labeling soybean oil as a vegetable oil. “Consumers’ positive perception of soybean oil is probably reflected in Trader Joe’s marketing the product as soybean oil,” he says.
“Soybean oil is perceived as healthy, particularly as we’re dealing with trans fats,” Poole, says. “In the survey, we include fats, and consumers are still very confused about fats.”
The soybean industry in particular has been working hard to develop new soybean oils that are trans fat free — among other healthier attributes.
One-quarter of Americans consume soyfoods or soy beverages once a week or more, consistent with last year’s results. However, the percentage of consumers who never consumed soy products was up five percent to 38 percent. Among those who do not consume soy, 37 percent report that nothing in particular prevents them from including soy in their diet. Eighteen percent said taste holds them back from incorporating soy into their diets.
“When we ask consumers the question… have you ever eaten soyfoods, they generally think tofu, tempeh, etc.,” says Poole. “Certainly soy energy bars and soy as an ingredient in other packaged foods should be considered, but I don’t know that that’s the case. Are people aware that soy is in the products they consume?
“When people say soyfoods to me, I have a broad view of it. Others, though, may strictly see soy milk and tofu,” he says.
Poole also sees that several hurdles to consuming soy are fading away. “Early on, taste was a barrier to trial and repeat purchase [of soy]. Convenience was a barrier. Those are gone now. People consume and enjoy soy now and don’t even realize it really is soy.”
In addition, soy is perceived as healthy, according to Poole. Nearly 75 percent of consumers believe soy is healthy.
The gender gap
While most consumers understand the health benefits of soy, more women (44 percent) than men (28 percent) state that soy might provide a healthy addition to their diet. Twenty-seven percent of respondents seek out products that specifically contain soy. And 39 percent of respondents recognized specific health benefits gained by including soy in their diet. Similar to last year, 29 percent of consumers — unaided — reported that soy is good for the heart.
Interestingly, heart health has been a mixed story for the survey. Poole notes that the heart health claim was authorized in 1999, and by 2000 there was a 47 percent awareness of the heart health claim. “That has steadily dropped,” he says. “And during the past two years the heart benefits awareness has remained steady at 29 percent.
“What happened was that there was so much news and marketers initially put the message on the front of their packages. That happened the first couple of years and then the message gradually moved to the back of the package. Then the media and marketers moved on to the next big thing. That’s another reason why we’re doing this survey. It tracks those trends. Food manufacturers and soy producers need to be aware there’s an opportunity here to turn the volume up and revisit the heart health claim,” Poole, says.
While women might be the primary shoppers, knowledge of soy’s health benefits should be known across genders. The American Heart Association lists heart disease as the No. 1 killer of both American women and men. “The benefit is there [for men as well as for women],” says Poole, “and we’ve never achieved beyond a 47 percent awareness. It points to where we can follow up a little more for next year’s survey. Maybe a sharp marketer will say: ‘I should be targeting men with this message.’”
Twenty-one percent of the women who were aware of soy’s health benefits reported awareness that soy might relieve menopausal symptoms. In fact, Poole, says the awareness of menopausal symptom relief is one of the biggest changes he’s noted in the survey over the years. “Awareness was at seven percent in 1999. Currently, it’s 16 percent,” he says. “It was actually a little higher — 19 percent — last year, following publicity of the HRT [hormone replacement therapy] trial.”
|Awareness of health benefits of soy |
|Heart health ||29 % |
|Prevent obesity/weight loss ||17 % |
|Menopause relief ||16 % |
|Cancer prevention ||8 % |
|Protein source ||6 % |
|Reduced risk of osteoporosis ||2 % |
Soy meets world
A new question added to this year’s survey reveals interest in soy blended with other ingredients. Specifically, the survey asked which type of meat consumers would prefer to blend with soy. Of the 56 percent of respondents interested, nearly 70 percent would prefer beef as the type of meat to blend soy with. It begs the question: What other ingredients could be blended with soy for an easy, tasty transition toward healthier eating? PLB
About our sponsor: ADM — Archer Daniels Midland Co.
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ADM offers a wide variety of soyfoods products for private label use in the retail and foodservice channels.
Items available for private label retail and foodservice include:
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NutriSoy Next is a new generation of meat alternative that has the look and texture of whole-muscle meat. This product is available in pork and chicken varieties. The chicken variety is available in roasted and char-grilled varieties, and formed into shreds, strips, dices, chunks and fajita strips. It comes fully cooked, and can be adjusted for application in hot or cold entrees, battered or breaded nuggets, strips, cubes or shreds, suitable for any recipe or cooking process. The product is distinctive because of its excellent mouth-feel and a texture, so close to real chicken its fibers flake with a fork.
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Flours and baking mixes
For more information on ADM products for the private label market, contact: