Much like the mainstream wellness movement it’s now a part of, soy has evolved from a crunchy niche (tofu casserole, anyone?) into a major shelf presence. Just walk through the aisles of your neighborhood grocer and you’ll see soy milk, soy nutrition bars, cereal made with soy, and more, all prominently displayed.
Chalk this up to a host of factors. Food technology has helped soy develop beyond bland and into a palatable lineup of foods and drinks. There are also the many perceived health benefits, including studies that link soy to heart health and weight loss. And then there are those who, for whatever reason, have begun to swear by soy. Many — including, ahem, my mom — believe substituting soy for dairy or meat helps control their allergies. Or perhaps it helps with asthma, or headaches.
Whatever the reason, soy-based product sales have shot up over the past couple years. According to Packaged Facts, the category grew 29% between 2003 and last year. By 2012, the research group estimates, soy sales could increase from a current $2.1 billion industry to a $3 billion one. Companies like Clif Bar, with nearly $100 million in sales last year, are cashing in on the trend. Same with Dean Foods and its WhiteWave brand, which racked up $333 million in soy milk sales last year — an 85% share of the category.
In addition to the factors that have driven soy sales up to this point, some emerging market and cultural trends could work in the category’s favor. More and more milk drinkers may switch to the soy variety, especially if price and supply instability continue like they have. The number of consumers looking for meat alternatives — currently 26% of all households, notes the Packaged Facts study — should also increase; along with the physical health reasons behind cutting out meat, there also seems to be a burgeoning awareness of livestock’s contribution to global warning. Those cows sure do burp and fart a lot.