One school district is asking the soy food industry to market to the school nutrition market and, in doing so, to be willing to work with the district in refining the products’ packaging and sodium content, while offering competitive pricing.


John Becherer, CEO of the United Soybean Board (USB), announced the theme of the two-day Soy Symposium: New Horizons. This theme would manifest itself in scientific data and trends discussed during the presentations and discussions. Soy ingredients, he believes, are at the cutting edge of ideas for functional products, an important market considering nine in 10 consumers believe nutrition is important when selecting foods, according to a recent USB survey. Some 85% of Americans recognize soy as being healthy, that survey found.

So, is it healthy? A panel on the first day explored this topic in “New Health Frontiers for Soy in Wellness and Disease Prevention.” Pauline Maki, associate professor with the department of psychiatry at the University of Illinois at Chicago, discussed studies relating soy and cognitive function. Most cognitive studies involving soy have had mid-life women as subjects. Indirect evidence, Maki found, indicated soy might decrease anxiety, but a wealth of evidence showed estrogen positively impacts the brain and cognitive function. Fewer studies involved men but, of those, there were memory improvements, though some benefits were only found in women: verbal fluency and planning, for example.

Women, however, have likely been confused about the mixed messages regarding soy, explained Mark Messina, executive director with the Soy Nutrition Institute, while delivering a “Late Breaking Review of Critical Soy and Health Issues.” Focusing on breast cancer, Messina noted the controversy over soy but indicated the ingredient “has shown positive and protective results. Data on these will be published within the next year.” One cited study found soy does not affect estrogen levels in pre- or post-menopausal women, and another examined childhood exposure to soy: soy consumers were slightly taller, and soy intake had no relation to weight but was associated with a slightly lower body mass index.

Weighty Issues

Soy may well have a relation to weight management, contends John Erdman, professor in the department of nutrition at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. A variety of studies have concluded that soy foods can help with the management of obesity and related chronic disease, he has found. These foods are at least as good as other protein sources for promoting weight loss and weight management and, at the same time, soy foods will improve lipid profiles. Regarding the application of soy foods for weight management or weight loss, he noted that portion control/meal replacement can work. However, these items simply must taste good; there should be a variety of soy-based products, with relevant advertising, as well as dietary guidance and appropriate reinforcement.

Exploring soy introductions to the marketplace, Lynn Dornblaser, director of Mintel International Group’s Mintel Insights, discussed claims in soy-based foods: most focus upon wellness benefits, and many bundle these benefits (i.e., the inherent goodness of soy in addition to other claims). These claims include organic formulations, whole-grain ingredients, added calcium, bone health and heart health. However, soy products do not all revolve around health. Many also focus on flavor (particularly ethnic cuisines) and fun, while beverages, in particular, blend soy with other ingredients, such as juice or cereals.

Older consumers, Dornblaser related, perceive the health benefits of soy; these innate health benefits are the most often cited reasons these consumers choose soy-based foods. Younger consumers, however, opt for soy as a meat replacement or because they dislike the taste of the foods that soy is replacing. Dornblaser believes this indicates an opportunity to make soy seem tastier to older consumers.

Taste is the number-one driver for consumer purchase, contended Karl Weingartner, director of the International Soybean Program at the National Soybean Research Laboratory at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Therefore, he advises manufacturers to consider flavor in addition to function, nutrition and size (capacity). Soymilk, for example, also has many benefits that could lure consumers: a lack of lactose, no cholesterol, and low levels of saturated fat and sodium.

Back to School

Soy’s nutritional positioning would prove central to the symposium panel “Boosting Nutrition with Soy in U.S. and International Feeding Programs.” Eric Steiner, associate administrator of the USDA Food and Nutrition Service’s Special Nutrition Programs, explained that the National School Lunch Program has expanded the mandatory milk provision to other milk products: “to include lactose-free milk and dispensations for non-dairy beverages that are nutritionally equivalent to milk.”

Meanwhile, Kathy Lazor, school foodservice director with Maryland’s Montgomery County Public School District, offered a case study on the acceptance among her students of soy-based products. Over a three-week period, five items were tested, most meeting with positive results. Included in the group were Morningstar Farms’ Veggie Chik’n Nuggets; Gardein Veggie Chick’n; Midland Harvest Pasta; Hearty Griller Beef Patties; and Morningstar Farms Spicy Black Bean Burger. All scored well, Lazor found, and as a result, Veggie Chik’n Nuggets and the Spicy Black Bean Burger were added permanently to the menu. In the time since, response to the nuggets has been very favorable, though the black bean burger has proven less popular.

Lazor went on to compare soy food items vs. traditional entrées: soy items have 18% fewer calories, 45% less fat, 57% less saturated fat, six times the amount of fiber, no trans fat and one fifth the cholesterol, though a 20% higher sodium content. She advises the soy food industry to market to the school nutrition market and, in doing so, to be willing to work with the districts to refine products’ packaging and sodium content, while offering competitive pricing.

The Brand in Brand-new

“Catalyzing, Propelling and Sustaining Innovation for Growth” delved into the need for true, “brand-new” innovation as a growth mechanism for companies large and small. Speaker Aaron Brody, president and CEO of Packaging/Brody Inc., noted 100,000 new products hit markets around the world in 2007; in the U.S., the number was around 27,000--14,000 of these made some sort of health or well-being claim. With that much competition, any developer would be wise to assess the market and make sure there is a corporate fit for the product being considered. While he believes smaller companies, in particular, may be unable to compete on a major marketing scale, they can compete in new media marketing: YouTube, MySpace, Facebook, etc. That said, be forewarned: Brody estimates a launch costs 10 times the price of developing a product.

Brody did note the abundance of confusion when it comes to new product introduction numbers. While a single retailer may see more than 20,000 new UPCs every year, fewer than 10% fit what he defines as a new product. Only 6% are truly new products, he explains: 10% are seasonal or regional; 28% are test items (some of which are new); and 56% are conversions, which he regards as some form of a line extension. Why is there a lack of really new products? Brody cites insufficient time, funds or willingness at the corporate level, a longer list of opportunities from line extensions, and the difficulty and expense in the design and research process.

The American market is not an easy one to penetrate. Of those 20,000-plus new foods introduced every year within the U.S., 80% are withdrawn within two years.

Generation Gape

Ann Fishman, CEO and president of Generational-Targeted Marketing Corp., defined consumers by a generational standpoint: namely, America’s six living generations. In doing so, she went beyond simply describing their purchasing habits and delved into their mindsets and feelings. At the same time, it must be explained that her approach is different from some: whereas others prescribe a set 18- or 19-year gap between generations (Boomers from 1946-1964, Generation X from 1965-1983, Generation Y from 1984-2002), Fishman defines the generations by the watershed events that shaped them, be they wars or keystone events.

The G.I. Generation, for example, includes those born between 1901-1924, a group civic in nature and concerned about others. Fishman describes this “Can Do Generation” as primarily team players: they brought the U.S. out of the Depression and put man on the moon, while creating Social Security and Disney. This most literate of all generations values convenience and convenient packaging, and though their bodies and taste buds may have changed, their sweet tooth remains strong and hardy.

Born between 1925-1942, the Silent Generation are “Do Gooders,” Fishman explained. It is a generation of helpers which has “produced every feminist leader and most civil rights leaders.” This incredibly wealthy, stable and wise group, whose ages span 65-82, see themselves as vital, active and in the prime of life. As such, they have changed the way Americans regard aging: for them, Botox and cosmetic surgery has emerged as almost common. They respect the opinions of others, particularly experts, and therefore respond well to expert endorsements and awards. This wealthy group is beginning to spend like never before on themselves; they view this as their time to travel, buy a second home and/or to eat gourmet foods.

Hot on their heels are Baby Boomers, born from 1943-1960. These are the idealists, the dreamers but also the “Me Generation,” defined as such for two reasons: it is the most mothered generation in history, and Boomers “have had to focus on themselves to compete with the other previous generations,” Fishman finds. This group is materialistic and looking for products to fit their needs; however, they are completely unaccustomed to a market not focused upon them. They distrust authority, so experts’ quotes do not sit well; in fact, they prefer celebrity endorsements. They think they will be young forever and want to prolong youth and the fun that goes with it. They love learning and self-improvement. It is the first generation to value individualism over the group. They are nostalgic (never getting out of the 1960s). Boomers are in their peak earning years, but they are much better at spending than saving—and they are willing to spend more.

Fishman regards those born between 1961-1981 as the most difficult to understand. Generation X, she believes, is the most important market in America, because of its influence on purchases. These “street-savvy survivors” grew up during a time of weakening family, religious culture and social programs, leading them to become self-reliant and practical, considering they have been feeding themselves and shopping for the family since their youth. With that amount of experience, they are wise shoppers and want value for their money. They have little regard for hype or spin; these are shopping-experienced and smart consumers. Once burned, Xers will not forget or forgive. Their trust must be earned each and every time. Speaking specifically about soy, Fishman believes Generation X is puzzled by the versatility of soy.

Generation Y is regarded as the “Can Do Kids.” Born between 1982-2000, these consumers are “living the lush life;” a cell phone is indispensible. From an early age, they have had a tremendous amount of disposable cash; teens currently spend $175 billion, Fishman has found, and their influence extends into groceries, electronics and all points in between. When marketing to them, be forewarned: this is a savvy lot; they understand marketing and know manufacturers want their business. They are motivated by word-of-mouth/mouse (computer) marketing. This has its advantages, Fishman relates, as this is basically a free, ongoing focus group and tasting panel.

Fishman expects the sixth and final generation currently in America to grow to become similar to the Silent Generation described earlier. These are the children born since 2001: the 9/11 Generation. While it is too soon to know too much about this group’s beliefs, there are indicators: it is over-protected at home, in school and in society. As such, they will tend to avoid risks and will become conformists. pf

Website Resources

www.unitedsoybean.org -- United Soybean Board
www.soyfoods.org/2008-soy-symposium -- Soy Symposium
www.annfishman.com -- Generational-Targeted Marketing Corp.