A recent Associated Press (AP) article finds soy has established itself firmly in the mainstream, with soymilk now occupying shelf space right next to regular milk in major supermarket chains, a far cry from the days when it was a staple only of natural and health food stores. Despite this mainstream acceptance, however, the AP believes a recent sales plateau for soy products leaves room for a new breakthrough.

Mintel International Group (Chicago) finds most of soy's growth occurred in 2001 and 2002, when retail sales in the U.S. jumped 18%, compared with the 6% increase during 2003 and 2004. Introductions of soy products, meanwhile, have been experiencing double-digit growth for the past three years. Analysts, however, believe soy manufacturers should push the boundaries of innovation to capture the occasional consumer and to bring in those unwilling to try the products so far.

Since 1999, growth in soy foods has benefited from the FDA health claim allowing manufacturers to advertise soy-based foods as heart healthy, yet the Soyfoods Association of North America (Washington) is lobbying the FDA for more. The FDA is reviewing the group's petition for a claim stating soy protein can lower the risk of certain types of cancer.

The year already has seen one potential positive for the future of soyfoods: calcium- and vitamin D-fortified soy beverages and calcium-set tofu have been added as alternatives to milk in the revised Women, Infants and Children (WIC) food packages. Those packages also permit the selection of dried and canned whole soybeans as a meat alternative.

Similarly, the availability of non-dairy alternatives in schools is a provision of the Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act of 2004. However, the USDA still needs to develop the rules to implement these provisions, which could require up to 18 months.