Shifting Consumer Perception on Soyfoods

Consumers want food that is grown in the U.S. or made with U.S.-grown crops. Soybean Checkoff-funded research confirms that consumers support domestic agriculture. The survey indicates positive movement in consumer attitudes, according to Mace Thornton, vice president of communications and marketing strategy for the United Soybean Board. “I don’t know whether or not that is an indication that people really are thinking about American-grown agriculture – American-grown soybeans – during the current pandemic, as being safer, more healthy,” said Thornton, “but that’s certainly the big trend that we took away from this.”

Positive consumer perceptions, along with growing awareness that U.S. soybeans are sustainably grown, create an opportunity to raise the profile of soyfoods, said Thornton. “That is the biggest area where soy’s reputation comes into play.”

Consumer support of domestic agriculture is strengthening, according to the survey, with 78 percent of respondents saying it’s important to purchase U.S.-grown food, including soybeans. “Consumers really trust U.S. farmers as being custodians of the food supply,” said Thornton. “About 82 percent of the consumers felt very or somewhat positively about U.S. farmers. We also found out that 83 percent of the consumers in our survey rank farmers as being the most trusted aspect among members of the food supply chain to help ensure food safety.”

With promotion and education being key pillars of the checkoff, the survey validated that informing consumers is an effective tool, with 72 percent of respondents feeling more positive about soy as a food ingredient after learning about the sustainability of soybeans. The survey indicated only 39 percent of consumers are aware that the soybeans used in popular foods are grown sustainably. Likewise, communicating about soy as a high-quality “complete” protein proved to be the most impactful statement on consumers’ perception of soy, highlighting an essential opportunity to demonstrate its excellent protein profile to health-conscious consumers.

Sixty percent of respondents think soy-based foods are somewhat or very healthy, but Thornton sees opportunity in the 26 percent who have a neutral view, and the six percent who don’t have enough information to answer. “That means that not only do we have 60 percent that is pretty firmly in our camp when it comes to thinking of soy as being healthy,” he said, “there is another 32 percent out there that we can help target with our fact-based messaging to help move that needle even further.”