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Soy growth boosted by societal change towards sustainability

By Jess Halliday , 11-Jun-2010

Food companies and consumers have moved from talking about sustainability to taking action in the last 18 months, says Solae – and the societal change that is taking place will help propel more growth in the soy sector.

Michele Fite, VP of global marketing and strategy at Solae is addressing the Sustainable Foods Summit in Amsterdam today to explain soy’s role in meeting the planet’s future food needs. She told FoodNavigator.com that big shifts are already showing.

“Lots of customers and lots of consumers have talked a lot about sustainability, but it was just a conversation,” she said. In the last 18 months however growth in soy has accelerated as customers are starting to act on the conversations.

Fite said that food manufacturers are setting stiff targets for reducing their carbon footprint. They recognise that 50 per cent reductions cannot be realised through processing challenges alone, so they are looking towards ingredient sourcing to help.

Soy compares favourably with animal protein-sources beef and dairy on environmental impact. For instance, soy yields far less carbon than beef and dairy production and uses less water and energy. Soy also yields 10x more protein per acre than beef, and 5x more than dairy, she said, which is significant given that land for producing sufficient protein to nourish a projected 3bn extra people globally by 2050 in short supply.

“We are seeing increasing interest in soy from all customers, as it relates to sustainability issues. We are increasingly being asked to share data.”

While Solae may be keen to see more soy products, as well as soy used in combination with animal proteins, Fite emphasised: “We are not recommending that soy replace animal protein, but that it be part of the solution in how to provide protein for a growing population.”

No flash-in-the-pan

Fite does not believe the interest in sustainable soy is connected to the economic travails in the last 1ast 18 months, even though vegetable protein tends to be cheaper than animal protein.

“Societal changes are the primary reason,” she said. “If it were just economic, people would snap back.”

But they are showing willing to invest in changing their production systems, and that is a signal of a permanent change.

We are very optimistic… We see this as a long-term societal change that will work well for soy.”

She cited figures that indicate some 50 per cent of consumers globally think about the environment when they make environmental decisions – although 65 per cent said they look for products that are good for them.

GM concern

Asked how soy’s sustainability story sits with European consumers’ concerns about genetically modified foods, Fite explained that all the soy Solae supplies for food use in the EU is non-GM identity preserved “which is considered the gold standard within the industry”.

For the rest of the world the majority of soy is GM, but the company can provide non-GM soy if requested.

“It all depends on what the customer’s needs are,” she said.

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