Soy On The March In Europe

Product development, innovation and marketing are driving European soy sales to new heights. Dominic Dyer reports.

Soy foods are becoming one of the most rapidly expanding sectors in the European food industry. The market is being driven by product development, innovation and marketing, and by external factors, such as consumer concerns about GMOs and increasing growing awareness of soy health benefits.

Soy foods manufacturers in Europe, encouraged by US trends, are gearing up to drive the European market forward. In the US, the overall market for soy foods is valued at more than $3 billion.

Although the market for soy foods in Europe has been slower to develop, during the past five years there has been substantial growth, particularly in the UK, Belgium, Holland and Germany. The market for healthy foods in the five biggest European markets (UK, Germany, France, Italy and Holland) is worth in excess of $40.6 billion, of which the soy foods sector is valued in excess of $1.4 billion.

The UK has the largest health food category, with a soy meat-alternative sector worth $145 million and a soy dairy-alternative sector worth in excess of $43.6 million, according to the Realeat Survey 2002 from UK-based Haldane Foods. Recent independent research conducted in the UK indicates more than 50 per cent of consumers have eaten soy foods products in the past year. Almost 30 per cent eat soy foods once a week, and seven per cent more than three times a week. Favourites on the soy menu include tofu, soy milk and soy margarine. Soy yoghurt and soy ice cream also are becoming increasingly popular.

Five critical areas are driving the soy market forward:

  • Health. Recent consumer surveys have confirmed that 75 per cent of European consumers believe there is a link between health and food. Seventy-nine per cent believe diet is an appropriate way to prevent diseases, and 62 per cent watch their diet and look for new products.

  • Product Innovation. With consumers leading increasingly busy lifestyles, the availability of a wider choice of soy-based food products is stimulating further growth in the sector. Manufacturers have eliminated negative taste and digestive factors and have optimised flavour and natural sweetness to produce an increasing range of products that are convenient and attractive to consumers.

  • Marketing. Increasingly sophisticated marketing campaigns and product packaging are improving the image of soy foods. Major food retailers also are making soy foods more widely available to supermarket shoppers.

  • Food Concerns. During the past five years, European consumers have been concerned about the genetic modification of food. This has resulted in major food retailers seeking non-GM soy sources. Food manufacturers have reacted to these concerns by segregating soybean supplies and introducing identity preserved traceability systems to supply non-GMO soy.

    Concerns about GMOs have boosted the demand for organic soy food products. The organic food sector is now the fastest growing sector of the European food industry, and the soy sector has benefited from this trend.

  • Health Claims. Unlike the US, where the FDA has authorised a heart-health claim for soy protein, Europe has no regulatory procedure for health claims. Voluntary codes of practice have been developed in many EU member states, but the EU is still a long way from having any conti-nent wide health claim system.

The soy industry in the UK is seeking approval for a soy protein health claim based on the FDA submission through the Joint Health Claims Initiative. Should this health claim be approved, the UK industry is confident it will boost soy foods sales and serve as a useful model in the EU.

Soy foods offer a new and exciting food category for manufacturers and consumers alike. Despite differences in the US and EU market, the key strategies for growth in both markets remain the same: Develop new, innovative and good-tasting products; use the right packaging; develop new marketing approaches to widen the consumer base; enforce the diet and health connection.

Dominic Dyer is executive director of the Soya Protein Association, based in the UK. He is speaking on this topic at Expo Europe. Email: [email protected]

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