The many reported health benefits of soy give supermarkets new promotional, merchandising and advertising opportunities for soy-based Center Store groceries that range from cereal to frozen meat alternatives.In-store display contests, themed circular ads, cooking classes and product demonstrations are among the tactics being used to heighten awareness about health advantages of soy-based foods and

The many reported health benefits of soy give supermarkets new promotional, merchandising and advertising opportunities for soy-based Center Store groceries that range from cereal to frozen meat alternatives.

In-store display contests, themed circular ads, cooking classes and product demonstrations are among the tactics being used to heighten awareness about health advantages of soy-based foods and beverages.

"We advertise [soy] products in our weekly ads and use displays as a push," said Phillip Schneider, vice president, Center Store, Big Y Foods, Springfield, Mass.

Along with traditional circular advertising, Big Y has begun featuring soy groceries in new wellness-themed ads that run every eight weeks. The wellness tie-in is certainly appropriate, as research shows soy can benefit health and prevent disease, including cardiovascular disease and certain cancers, such as breast and prostate. Soy can help prevent bones from becoming weak, too.

The Food and Drug Administration approved a health claim for soy that reads "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." Further, FDA is currently reviewing a petition from Solae Co. for a health claim suggesting the consumption of soy protein-based foods may reduce the risk of certain types of cancer, mainly breast, prostate and colon. A venture between DuPont and Bunge Limited, St. Louis-based Solae is a researcher of soy protein.

Studies are also under way to determine if soy protein can help fight diabetes and kidney disease, as well as aid in weight management.

All this is giving retailers new possibilities for Center Store. To create in-store excitement about soy-based foods, Bashas', Chandler, Ariz., plans to run a promotion in recognition of Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October. The event will include activities in Bashas' natural and organic departments, such as endcap displays, shelf signs and educational literature, according to Paul Howland, natural food buyer. Displays will hold Center Store products like soy chips, meal replacements and powders, and energy bars.

As an incentive to store managers, Bashas' will support the promotion with an in-store display contest. Stores will be judged on the creativity of their displays. Last year, Bashas' units overwhelmingly supported the in-house competition. The winning store, a Chandler, Ariz., unit, decorated the displays with custom-made signs, along with balloons and streamers. Educational brochures were also distributed.

"Our natural food departments are managed mostly by ladies who really embrace Breast Cancer Awareness Month," Howland noted.

Lund Food Holdings, Edina, Minn., gets the word out about soy through cooking classes. Held quarterly, the lessons feature many Center Store products, such as frozen desserts, edamame (whole soy beans, typically sold frozen), pudding and custards, and soy protein powder.

During the classes, Lund associates field an array of consumer questions about soy, according to Bea James, the chain's corporate whole health manager. Among them are: Can soy cure menopause symptoms? Will soy give me the same amount of protein as meat? How can I get my kids to eat it?

To answer such questions, the 20-store operator relies on in-store soy demonstrations at least once a month. Using a demo called "Tofu 101," the retailer showcases three to four ingredients that can be used as a tofu marinade.

This kind of promotional activity is key to the success of soy-food retailing, said Nancy Chapman, executive director, Soyfoods Association of North America, Washington, a nonprofit trade association that promotes the consumption of soy.

"What we've found is that people don't want to put down that first dollar on something they don't think will taste good," Chapman said. "That's why sampling is so important."

Fairway Market, New York, highlights soy several times a year with advertising and sales promotions, Paul Weiner, natural food buyer, told SN. During such events, a column titled "The Joy of Soy" runs in the retailer's circular. The purpose of the column is to inform shoppers about the advantages of soy products.

"Soy products are used extensively in the Asian diet, and this is believed to contribute to the low incidence of endometrial cancer," reads a recent column. It also touts the fact that soy protein contains essential amino acids, and that soybeans contain neither saturated fat nor cholesterol.

The association between soy and health has made it possible for retailers to cross merchandise soy in multiple areas of the store. Fairway, for instance, displays single-serve bags of Glenny's soy crisps on endcap displays in the vitamin aisle, according to Weiner.

Sales of soy-based foods in all retail channels were $3.9 billion in 2003, a 7.2% increase from 2002, according to a new report from Soyatech and SPINS. Soyatech, Bar Harbor, Maine, is a publishing, market research and consulting firm. SPINS, San Francisco, provides marketing information on the health and wellness industry.

In the food, drug and mass channels, sales were a collective $1.9 billion, an 8.6% jump. The top five Center Store categories are, in order: energy bars, meal replacements, meat alternatives, cereal and shelf-stable juices. The strong sales are a result of a growing acceptance of soy-based foods and beverages. At present, one of six Americans consumes a soy item once a week or more.

"People are really beginning to appreciate soy's role in a healthy diet," said Tina Nelson, director of sales and marketing, consumer products division, Sunrich Food Group, Hope, Minn., suppliers of soy products to manufacturers like Vitasoy.

Supermarket retailers have changed their attitude toward soy, too, according to Peter Golbitz, president, Soyatech.

"Retailers now understand that soy is not a 'way-out-there' food," he said. "They view it as a premium, high-margin item."

Part of this is because the market is no longer limited to just tofu and soymilk. Today, shopping baskets can be filled with Center Store items like energy bars, cold cereals, frozen entrees and desserts, and salty snacks. Soy coffee has even entered the market.

"The trend with soy is that it is fitting into everyday eating habits," added James of Lund Food Holdings. "It's a staple food now."

Lunds and Byerly's stores carry plenty of soy-based Center Store items, such as meat alternatives like the Boca Burger, Genisoy soy crisps, frozen edamame, and soy-enriched bars and cereals.

While soy-based foods are performing well and have successfully crossed over into mainstream food outlets, the market is maturing. At Bashas', refrigerated soymilk is the top-selling soy-based item. However, Center Store products like soy chips and soy nuts perform marginally well, according to Howland.

"We may be reaching the 'X' factor for soy," said Golbitz, noting that Americans may have their limits on the amount of soy they will consume.

Retailers agreed, saying the growth rate has slowed from the category's explosion in the late 1990s.

"It's still in a growth phase, but the line isn't quite as steep as it was," said Howland of Bashas'. This is largely a result of limited new-product introductions, and he attributed this to the fact that many manufacturers of soy products also market low-carb products, and are focusing most of their efforts on the low-carb market.

Golbitz agreed, saying, "We're waiting for the next generation of innovation." He predicted that while the future of soy will be mostly in the meat and dairy cases, there's plenty of potential for Center Store, especially in the area of snacks.

Soy, Oh Boy!

Soy is making a strong impact on Center Store

2003 Dollar Sales; % Change (2002) (food, drug, mass)

1. Energy bars: $476.8 million; 12.5%

2. Meal replacements/powders $295.5 million; -6.1%

3. Meat alternatives (frozen): $236.7 million; 1.8%

4. Cereal: $113.1 million; -7.7%

5. Shelf-stable juices: $34.2 million; N/A (new category)

Source: Soyatech/SPINS Note: Figures exclude refrigerated soymilk, tofu, fresh meat alternatives, and other non-Center Store products, as well as sales from Wal-Mart.