Sponsored by United Soybean Board
Getting back to innovation
The past year has been one of countless changes and unforeseen challenges, as restauranteurs, grocers, and the food manufacturers that support them grappled with the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic – from enhanced safety protocols to ghost kitchens, to exploring new pickup and delivery options, restauranteurs have demonstrated strong innovation to survive in an ever-changing year. But as the country begins to emerge from the pandemic, menu innovations are again beginning to appear. From revamped chicken sandwiches to classic menu favorites re-emerging, innovation is back and looks to remain an important fixture for restaurant growth.
Consumers evolving too
While restaurants were forced to innovate to survive in the past year, consumers have undergone an evolution of their own. Store shelves were picked clean, forcing consumers to turn to online shopping to fill their pantries. They became more interested in cooking and more concerned about the safety and health benefits of the food they consumed.
According to a recent Health Focus International survey, 67% of consumers said they were very/extremely concerned about their family’s health and 58% said they were very/extremely concerned with their own health . And many of these shifts appear to have some sticking power as the pandemic loosens its grip; 38% of consumers say their diet is healthier now than before the pandemic and 78% believes the changes will be permanent .
To remain relevant, restauranteurs will need to meet their patrons with new and updated menu items that support this newfound interest in health.
|“Consumer interest in plant-based eating is strong and will likely remain strong in the coming decade. This interest is driven by increasing consumer awareness of the health and sustainability benefits of diets that are more plant-centric. While the total number of consumers adhering to a strict vegetarian or vegan diets is not rising dramatically, we are seeing traditional meat-eating, mainstream consumers, choosing plant-based foods and beverages more often as everyday choices for themselves and their families.”
~Jean Heggie, Soy Industry Consultant
Functional food trending with consumers
With an increased focus on health and wellness, consumers’ interest in functional foods (those foods with specific health benefits beyond basic nutrition) has grown. A recent study indicated that the majority of consumers in all age groups are interested in adding functional foods to their diet, with more than 80% of those from age 18-39 agreeing. Perhaps more importantly, 30% of consumers indicated they’d be willing to pay up to 10% more for foods with functional benefits . The growth of functional foods in foodservice is undeniable.
The power of soy
As consumers become more educated on the food they’re putting in their bodies, and the wide array of proteins available, they’ve begun to focus on a more complete protein to meet dietary wants and needs. Two-thirds (67%) of adults believe consuming a complete plant-based protein is important; one in five believe it’s very important .
Soyfoods can contribute valuable nutrition to plant-based diets, from flexitarian to vegan, while also providing important health benefits. Soy, whether consumed as a traditional soyfood like tofu or edamame or as an ingredient in a meat alternative, can be sources of fiber, protein, essential fats and minerals including calcium, iron and potassium, but the actual amounts depend on whether the soybeans are further processed [4-6]. In addition to their rich nutrient profile, soyfoods provide dietary components, such as isoflavones, which are not found in other plant foods .
Now more than ever it has become easier to include soy in diets. Plant-based burgers, including those made from soy, are now served at more fast-food establishments, and soymilk is found in nearly every coffee shop, both local and nationally owned.
Soy burgers and soymilk are often viewed as highly processed foods, but when compared to many alternatives, soyfoods provide several nutrients and benefits to overall health. The amount and quality of protein provided by a soy patty and beef patty are similar, as well as the amount of protein and calcium when comparing cow’s milk and calcium-fortified soymilk , making it easier for consumers to feel good about changing their eating habits.
Here are a few reasons why soy is a powerful protein for overall wellness:
- May reduce the risk of heart disease
- Consuming soy protein as part of a diet low in cholesterol and saturated fat has been found to reduce the risk of heart disease 
- May protect against certain cancers
- One analysis has shown total soyfood intake has been associated with a 29% reduction in risk of prostate cancer 
- Early intake of soy has been associated with a reduction in the risk of developing breast cancer 
- Aids in weight management
- Research shows that protein intake, especially from high-quality sources such as soy, increases satiety 
Soyfoods can help meet the nutrient needs of consumers as they continue to focus on their overall wellness, and search for a complete protein that delivers great taste. The versatility of soy makes it easy to include in menu staples as well as new food innovations.
Versatility is key
The versatility of soy is what drives its inclusion in so many foods today. With health concerns being one of the largest reasons consumers pick plant-based diets, restaurants have started incorporating soy products into their menus to meet diet and nutrition needs. According to the International Food Information Council, 28% of consumers ate more protein from plant sources in 2020 than they did in 2019; 24% ate more plant-based dairy alternatives and 17% ate more plant-based meat alternatives. 
For some consumers, soy is a new protein option for their diet. The versatility of soy can help consumers incorporate soy protein as part of their daily diet. This creates an opportunity for restaurants to introduce new, exciting menu items featuring soy proteins.
The versatility of soy works to its advantage, with approximately one-half of consumers worldwide now having flexitarian diets that include both meat and meat alternatives . Soy-based alternatives provide consumers with an opportunity to consume protein, but also have options beyond the bun. The versatility of soyfoods ranges from edamame and minimally processed choices such as tofu and soymilk, to convenience products like frozen meals and dessert products.
- Wave 1 HealthFocus Global Study: The Changing World of Nutrition and Wellness amidst the COVID-19 Pandemic; Health Focus International 2021.
- Burke KI. The use of soyfoods in vegetarian diets. Topics Clinical Nutr. 1995;10(2):37-43.
- Messina M, Messina V. The role of soy in vegetarian diets. Nutrients. 2010;2855-88.
- Rizzo G, Baroni L. Soy, soy foods and their role in vegetarian diets. Nutrients. 2018;10(1).
- Franke AA, Custer LJ, Wang W, et al. HPLC analysis of isoflavonoids and other phenolic agents from foods and from human fluids. Proc Soc Exp Biol Med. 1998;217(3):263-73.
- Soyfoods Guide 2019-2020. https://www.indianasoybean.com/resources/media/Soyfoods-Guide-2019_web.pdf
- International Food Information Council, 2020 Food & Health Survey.
- Euromonitor, Global Lifestyle Survey, 2019.