Soy has "lost a little of its luster," said Rick Shea, a
food-marketing consultant and former Kraft marketing executive.
"People are realizing there isn't necessarily one magic bullet ...
so they are broadening their use of [health] foods."
Marketers are responding. Silk, long-known for its soy milk, now
also sells almond milk and coconut milk. "Lighter users of soy milk
... are being drawn to the new varieties in the category, like
almond and coconut," said Jennifer Hartley, marketing director for
Silk, which is owned by Dean Foods., suggesting that taste is a
Regular variety Silk soy milk still leads the nondairy milk
category with 35% share, but sales fell 14.6% to $206.6 million in
the year ending March 20, according to SymphonyIRI. Meantime,
almond milk sold by competitor Blue Diamond has made strong gains,
moving up to third place with $70.2 million in sales. Silk's almond
milk, introduced last year, and coconut milk, released in January,
are also rising.
In the soy food sector, slumping categories include baby food,
cookies, snack bars, soy cheese and frozen desserts, according to
Mintel, whose report does not include sales from Whole Foods,
Trader Joe's and Walmart because the figures were not available.
The meat-substitute category has held its own, with frozen
meat-substitute sales increasing 4.1% from 2008 to 2010 and
refrigerated alternatives up 16.8%.
But as of late, sales for some biggest brands have flat-lined.
Morningstar Farms' frozen meat substitutes, owned by Kellogg Co.,
fell 2.3% to $109.5 million in the year ending March 20, while
Kraft Foods-owned Boca brand dropped 4.2% to $38 million, according
to SymphonyIRI. New competition is also coming from companies such
as England-based Quorn Foods, which markets frozen burgers, chicken
and other products made from "mycoprotein," a fungus-based
substance that the company touts as being high in fiber, low in
calories and good for digestion.
"You're seeing a lot of innovation in the vegetarian and vegan
category. Soy isn't the only alternative any longer," said Carlotta
Mast, editor in chief of NewHope360.com, which covers the
health-food market. Indeed, soy was missing from many of the
hottest products at the recently held Natural Products Expo West, a
leading natural and organic trade show. Among the favorites cited
by NewHope360, which produced the show, included Kootenay Kitchen
Vege Pates from North of 49 Naturals, touted as "dairy/egg/ soy
free," and Food for Lover's Vegan Queso, made from nutritional
Soy gained momentum in the 1990s and broke through as a
health-food darling in 1999 in the wake of an FDA decision that
cleared the way for marketers to promote soy proteins as reducing
the risk of heart disease. Soon after, commodity giant Archer
Daniels Midland Co. formed alliances with food makers to mark soy
products with a "NutriSoy" logo, which today still designates
products with at least 6.25 grams of soy protein per serving.
"It became a catch-all that people couldn't get enough of ,"
said David Browne, author of the Mintel report. Mr. Browne worked
at Whole Foods in the 1990s and remembers women buying soy nuts
"almost like a medicine."
But in recent years, the soy industry has dealt with conflicting
news reports about cancer risks. Because soy has estrogen-like
chemicals, there's been some fear that it could increase the risk
of breast-cancer recurrence in survivors, but research presented at
recent meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research
allayed those fears.
At the same time, soy innovations have slowed since peaking
during the low-carbohydrate craze of the mid-2000s, according to
Mintel. Now, gluten-free products are the rage, as marketers from
General Mills to Anheuser-Busch introduce products catering to
consumers with gluten intolerances.
"Gluten-free products are fueling their own growth through
innovation," said Phil Lempert, who runs Supermarketguru.com. "Soy