Report examines untapped potential in soy

By Lorraine Heller

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Soy, Nutrition

Around a quarter of US consumers feel they do not get enough soy in
their diets, while almost half are still not aware of the health
benefits linked to the product, says new research.

The findings, published by the Natural Marketing Institute (NMI), were presented by food industry expert Tony DeLio at the University of Illinois' International Soybean Program (INTSOY) earlier this month.

Part of the NMI's new Health and Wellness Trends Database, the figures reveal that people who consume soy are also the ones most likely to opt for natural, functional and energy foods, suggesting there is scope for further marketing of the product through education campaigns.

A growing number of studies have indicated that components found in soy could help reduce cholesterol, prevent high blood pressure, alleviate menopause symptoms and maintain bone density. And in 1999 the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved an unqualified health claim linking consumption of soy foods to a reduced risk of coronary heart disease.

But according to the NMI, more consumers are aware of the health benefits of ingredients such as antioxidants, glucosamine and omega-3s than soy, with those who do consume soy for its benefits primarily focusing on its weight management and heart health properties.

A major area of untapped potential, according to the results, is the market for senior women with menopause and osteoporosis concerns. Currently around a quarter of 56-65 year-olds say they have consumed soy foods and beverages in the past year, but the figure falls with increasing age to reach 15 percent by the age of 76.

Another area of interest is the link between soy consumption and vegetarianism.

According to the report, vegetarians are here to stay, with the diet plan constituting a "lifestyle and not a fad."​ Increasing numbers of young consumers are switching to vegetarianism, with the number of 18-25 year-olds considering themselves 'strict' vegetarians having grown by 18 percent since last year.

And more people in this age group than in any other reported consuming soy products within the past year, which suggests that vegetarians could be another relatively untapped group of potential soy users.

According to the latest figures, which are based on responses from 15,000 consumers over a period of seven years, the large majority of soy users are currently women. People who currently consume soy products also generally reported a higher level of education, a higher income and a lower weight than those who do not consume soy.

A total of 43 percent of soy users also said they are careful to monitor their fat intake, compared to 28 percent of those who do not consume soy. And 28 percent of soy users said they watch their salt intake, compared to 17 percent of the general population.

But out of those consumers reporting that they are currently using diet to manage cholesterol, hypertension or heart disease, most said they are focusing on low fat, low salt and high fiber products, with soy products lagging behind on the list of priorities.

Yet with almost two thirds of consumers now understanding that functional foods and beverages have positive effects on a specific health function- a 35 percent increase since 2003- the opportunity remains to promote soy products on the back of their health benefits.

"Product 'functionality' related to health and wellness will be the foundation for growth for decades to come,"​ says the NMI.

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