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Soy Products Can Tout Benefits

October 26, 1999

ARLINGTON, Va. (AP) _ Doing their grocery shopping, Anne and Steve Browning skipped the dairy case and instead plunked five cartons of soymilk into their cart. ``We bought it because we kept hearing about how good it was for you,″ said Mrs. Browning. ``We don’t buy milk anymore.″

With the government now allowing food labels to tout soy’s ability to lower cholesterol, a new surge of interest is expected, and not just in traditional such soy-based foods as tofu and soymilk.

Consumers can look for soy to start showing up in everything from bread and cereal to soup and salad dressing, industry analysts say.

``Soy is a big food opportunity,″ said Carlos Gutierrez, president of the Kellogg Co. Kellogg’s is acquiring the biggest maker of soy-based meat alternatives, Worthington Foods, and announced this week it is developing a soy cereal.

Sales of soymilk, tofu and other soy-based foods are expected to reach $2.14 billion this year, up from $852 million in 1992, and reach $2.6 billion next year, according to Soyatech Inc., which tracks the industry. Soymilk sales alone are growing at close to 40 percent a year.

U.S. production of soy additives like the flour and concentrates that are mixed into bread and other conventional foods is valued at $1.8 million this year, triple what it was in 1992, and is expected to hit $3.3 billion by 2002.

Soy ``is going to continue to cross over into the mainstream″ market, said Peter Golbitz, president of Soyatech. ``The historical growth in the industry was without a health claim. The health claim is icing on the cake and will push food companies to add soy proteins to a variety of food products.″

Studies indicate that soy also may have anticancer properties and may fight osteoporosis as well as symptoms of menopause, but its ability to lower cholesterol levels is the best documented.

The new food labels are expected to start appearing in grocery stores within days.

In order to qualify for the label, foods must contain 6.25 grams of soy protein per serving, one-fourth of the 25 grams of soy protein daily that studies have shown is needed to show a significant cholesterol-lowering effect. An ounce is a little more than 25 grams.

Foods most likely to be eligible include soy beverages, tofu, soy-based meat alternatives and baked goods, according to the Food and Drug Administration. A soy burger patty has about 10 grams of soy protein, depending on the manufacturer, and an 8-ounce glass of soymilk about 6.5 grams.

Food makers have traditionally left the soy market to small entrepreneurs, but that’s changing.

Along with Kellogg’s acquistion of Worthington Foods, Dean Foods Co., the nation’s largest milk processor, recently took a minority stake in Boulder, Colo.-based White Wave Inc., a vegetarian food company. White Wave makes Silk, one of the fastest growing brands of soymilk.

Silk, sold in traditional milk cartons and requiring refrigeration, unlike most soymilk, is now in 8,000 conventional supermarkets, compared with 100 a year ago. White Wave officials say they hope to be in 10,000 by New Year’s.

To gain broad acceptance, however, soy drinks and foods such as tofu will have to overcome a reputation as relatively tasteless.

``You definitely have to do something to them. It’s not something you take out for a snack,″ said Jane Overslaugh, who was buying soymilk in a Fresh Fields natural-foods supermarket in Arlington. She cooks with tofu and mixes soymilk in smoothies.

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