Soy foods slip, no relief in sight

June 15, 2011

Prepared foods are one bright spot in soy, as consumers largely seek healthy food alternatives.

The three-year decline in soy food sales shows no signs of abating.

Several trends could steepen declines, estimated by Mintel to be another 17% between the 2010 to 2012 period (following a 16% slide to $2.6 billion between 2008 and 2010, as measured by SPINS). The Mintel research firm cites “non-soy-based product threats, higher ingredient prices passed on to consumers, soy burnout, and soy allergies” as reasons for the soy foods sales downturn.

Soy food and beverage makers reveled in superfood status and charged premium prices heading into the recession, when consumers cut back, observes F3. Product innovations slowed and consumer interest waned. 

Households aiming to eat healthier sought alternative products that taste better. While more than half of consumers surveyed by Mintel say they do like the taste of soy, 45% of non-soy users say taste is what keeps them away. About one in four non-soy users feel soy products are too costly. “With soy aversion now a relevant concern, there are tons of competitive products available that have made it easy to switch to something new,” says David Browne, senior analyst at Mintel.

After peaking above the $1.5 billion benchmark in U.S. food stores ($2 million and over in sales, excluding supercenters) in early 2008, dollar sales of soy foods in U.S. food stores have experienced low single-digit declines each year. For example, dollar sales of all food and beverage products labeled with a soy characteristic were down 1.9% to $1.36 billion in the 52 weeks ended April 16, 2011, according to Nielsen data tracking prepackaged, UPC-coded products only. This occurred on a 3.3% equivalized unit volume decline.

In the comparable period two years ago, dollar sales of soy-labeled products fell 4.1% on a 7.5% EUV drop. And in the same period a year ago, soy dollar sales fell 4.3% on a 3.0% EUV dip, the Nielsen data show.

Soy milk, the largest contributor to soy-labeled product sales, has also been in a three-year slide – down in successive years by 2.2%, 6.2% and most recently 9.0% to $353.3 million. This occurred on 5.3%, 1.9% and 7.2% EUV declines, reports Nielsen. (Coconut, almond and oat milk are some of the non-dairy alternatives more prominent on store shelves today.)

Other sizeable categories in decline include:

  • Soy cereal. Dollar sales are down three straight years by 14.7%, 19.3% and 13.1% to $93.8 million, on EUV declines of 17.1%, 21.0% and 13.8%.
  • Soy butter and margarine. Dollar sales fell in the two latest years by 15.1% and 11.0% to $40.5 million, on 18.5% and 14.0% EUV declines.

Two bright spots:

  • Soy prepared foods, ready-serve. A steady rise in dollar sales, most recently by 3.3% to $307.0 million, on a 2.3% EUV increase.
  • Soy prepared foods, frozen. Dollar sales soared in the latest 52 weeks, by 24.2% to $132.7 million, on an 11.7% EUV jump, according to Nielsen.