How the Convenience Factor May Play into the Future of Soy Foods

Opportunities abound for U.S. Soy as consumers eat more meals at home to minimize the impact of rising food costs. For example, in January 2023, 80% of meals were prepared at home with 26% of shoppers saying they planned to cook more at home in February.[1] Frozen meals and convenience products represent a favorable niche for soy ingredients. Soybean oil, with its multi-functional benefits , appeals on several levels to budget-conscious consumers, food service operators and food manufacturers. Additionally, soy foods lend themselves to emerging shopping styles and snack trends.

Sourcing Soy Foods through Omnichannel Shopping

In today’s compartmentalized retail landscape, 98% of U.S. consumers do their grocery shopping in-store at least some of the time. However, 63% are also grocery shopping online more often than they did a year ago, with convenience driving the trend.[2]Shelf-stable soy food product options include packaged snacks, silken tofu, soybean oil and canned soybeans.

According to a global survey on grocery shopping behavior, online shopping is most prevalent in portions of East Asia, South Asia, and the Middle East. Approximately 96% of Chinese shoppers do online shopping for groceries, followed by 93% of consumers in India, 89% in South Korea and 77% of purchasers from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.[3] E-commerce also is one of the booming industries in the U.S.[4]

Hello, Functional Soy Snacks

Portable soy foods make it easier for consumers to enjoy functional snacks that offer health benefits beyond nutrition. Approximately 54% of consumers want functional benefits and say healthy snacks are part of their eating plan throughout the day. Also, 71% want convenient grab-and-go snacks, whether at home or away from home.[5]  In Latin America, for example, three factors influencing food and snack trends are sustainability, inflation and the search for functional foods.[6] Functional snacks are surging in popularity, with consumers looking for portable, quick and satisfying options. The market in Latin America is expected to grow from its 2021 total of $53.9 billion in 2021 to reach $75.7 billion by 2027.[7] Fermented foods, including soy yogurt, are budget-friendly examples.

Soy Foods Support Food and Beverage Trends

As previously noted, E-commerce is one of the ten booming U.S. industries. E-commerce offers consumers more ways to purchase shelf-stable soy foods such as soy milk, silken tofu, canned soybeans, soy snacks and textured vegetable protein (also known as TVP, or TSP, textured soy protein).

Soy foods also are well-positioned in the dairy and egg alternatives segment, which has enjoyed a robust rate of new product introductions. The growth rate is expected to rise 8.9% annually between 2022 and 2027 to reach $9.6 billion by 2027. The predicted increase is attributed to an increasing consumer awareness of personal health and the health of the environment when making food choices.[8] Soyfoods made from verified sustainably grown[9] U.S. soybeans align with the  expanding definitions of sustainability that are steering the plant and cultured cell-based meat alternatives industry—a segment that is anticipated to grow at a rate of 8.4% annually from 2023 to 2027.[10]

Meeting consumer demands is a balancing act with emerging priorities. For example, Gen Z consumers (currently ages 13-26) consider mental health a top priority. In the U.S., this group is currently estimated to be 60 million strong, and they represent eco-conscious, healthy eaters.[11] Versatile soy foods are convenient options for adding trendy, sought-after benefits such as protein, pro-biotics and plant-based ingredients to one’s diet.

Soy Foods Opportunities

Consumers are embracing new takes on beverages, including flavored plant-based milk and specialties such as the classic soy milk tea popularized in Taiwan. Convenient packaged soy milk tea products are available in popular flavor varieties such as lemon, matcha and chai. In Japan, soy milk itself also is available in dozens of flavors including sweet potato and a variety of fruity, floral, coffee and tea flavors.

In July at the Institute of Food Technologists Expo 2023, several categories of new products offered attributes aligned with consumer priorities. Soy foods have the potential for competing in categories such as drinkable yogurt, functional beverages with added protein, and foods said to support cognitive function. A recent meta-analysis of studies supports that there may be beneficial effect of dietary sources of soy isoflavones on cognition.[12] Among the food sources of soy isoflavones are convenient products like tempeh, soy yogurt, soy cheese, dry-roasted soybeans and soy milk.[13]


This article was (partially) funded by the United Soybean Board.

[1] IRI Worldwide. Re-Fresh for 2023 and Beyond. February 28, 2023.

[2] Mintel. U.S. Grocery Retailing: In-Store and Online Market Report, 2023.              

[3] NielsenIQ: “E Commerce: Is it tepid or hot among today’s consumers?” December 2022.

[4] “Ten Booming Industries in the U.S. to Watch in 2023 and Beyond.” June 1, 2023.

[5] IRI Worldwide. Circana 2023 Snacking Survey. The Snacking Supernova, April 2023.

[6] The Food Institute. Three Key Trends Impacting the Latin American Food Industry.  April 27, 2023.

[7] Market Data Forecast. Latin America Snack Products Market Size, Share, Growth (2022-2027). March, 2023.

[8] “Ten Booming Industries in the U.S. to Watch in 2023 and Beyond.” June 1, 2023.

[9] The U.S. Soybean Sustainability Assurance Protocol.

[10] “Ten Booming Industries in the U.S. to Watch in 2023 and Beyond.” June 1, 2023.

[11] Source: Mintel Spotlight. “4 Facts About Gen Z Consumers and the Opportunities They Present for Brands.” July 2023.

[12] Chendi Cui, Rahel L. Birru, Beth E. Snitz et al. Effects of Soy Isoflavones on Cognitive Function: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis of Randomized Control Trials. Nutrition Review, Feb. 2020.

[13] USDA Nutrient Data Laboratory.