History of Soy Products

From their cottage industry beginnings to today’s multi-million dollar international companies, soyfoods have come a long way in the past 20 years. Early soyfoods companies were often small family run organizations that sold their tofu or soymilk door-to-door to small segments of the population. These days, soyfoods are found throughout the United States in restaurants, supermarkets, and even your area pizza parlor and coffee shop. It is amazing the transformations soyfood companies have undergone in this short time frame.

In 1979, Hong-Kong-based soymilk maker Vitasoy introduced their soymilk to the United States. Initial sales were so small that their product was sold store-to-store in San Francisco’s Chinatown. Today, Vitasoy offers a wide range of shelf-stable classic, lite and specialty flavored soymilks available in supermarkets and natural foods stores across the country. At a time when Americans are more weight conscious than ever, the company launched Vitasoy COMPLETE which offers higher fiber and calcium, and lower carbs, calories and fat than other soymilks. Vitasoy is the leading maker of tofu in the United States and also offers an extensive line of authentically Asian noodles and wraps, and soy-based dressings and spreads under its Nasoya and Azumaya brands.

At that same time Vitasoy was selling their soymilk in California, a small Minnesota company, Sunrich Food Group, a Sun Opta Company, was working to develop soymilk domestically. Starting with soybeans and equipment meant for dairy production, Sunrich began making its first soymilk in 1985. Today, Sunrich Food Group begins every batch of soymilk with premium soybeans, specifically selected for their superior characteristics and flavor most suited for soymilk. Running on state-of-the-art technical equipment, uniquely created for soymilk processing and assisted by expert research and development teams, Sunrich Food Group now offers the key ingredient foundations behind many of the USA major brands.

With the introduction of Westsoy Lite in 1991, Westbrae (now part of the Hain Celestial Group) has advanced diversity in the soymilk category by introducing flavored soymilk, juice/soymilk blends, coffee and soymilk blends, the first fortified soymilk (Westsoy Plus), and the first creamer, Cream-de-soy. The product developers adapted traditional Asian beverages to American’s nutritional expectations. Hain Celestial Group continues to introduce new soymilk products that appeal to all taste preferences and nutrition needs. This company started the revolution in packaging as well by introducing the flip top on the half-gallon packages. Yves Veggie Cuisine, a product line of Hain Celestial Group, targets 95% of the population with tasty, familiar alternatives to reach those who select at least one vegetarian meal per week. The company wants consumers to get into a comfort zone with soy and stay there.

In 1996, White Wave made a significant impact on the soy foods market with the introduction of Silk Soymilk. The first soymilk to be sold refrigerated in a gable-top package, Silk began appearing in refrigerators in stores and homes across the United States. Silk Soymilk sales continue to grow at 3-5 percent per week, and Silk products have penetrated 94% of supermarkets nationwide.

Even dairies are getting into the act. In 2002, the nation’s largest dairy processor, Dean Foods purchased White Wave and Suiza Foods and began producing and distributing soymilk nationwide along with its dairy offerings.

Many of the soymilk companies would not have been able to package their products without the expertise of Tetra Pak Inc. Tetra Pak develops, produces, and markets complete processing and packaging systems for dairy, beverage and prepared food applications in the United States. Perhaps best known for its aseptic processing and packaging systems, Tetra Pak is also one of the top producers of gable top milk and juice cartons in the US. Tetra Pak’s aseptic cartons have found wide acceptance in the growing tofu and soy beverage markets, because of the package’s many unique features: the multi-layered packaging material protects products from the harmful effects of oxygen and light; nutritional value and quality are retained without preservatives; light-weight, strong design is easy to transport; and products enjoy a long shelf life.

As companies looked to develop soy foods that appealed to western tastes, advances in processing has allowed for foods to be made from components of soybeans such as soy protein concentrates and isolates. These technology advances have lead to a wide range of second-generation soy foods that appeal to people across the United States.

Since Cargill began as a small grain elevator in Iowa in 1865, it has grown into a thriving company that processes and distributes soy protein products throughout the world. Cargill established a Health & Food Technologies unit in 1997 to develop health-promoting ingredients such as soy protein isolates with isoflavones.

From its beginnings as a linseed crushing company in 1902, the Archer Daniels Midland company has been an innovator in soy protein processing. ADM’s Specialty Ingredients Division offers soy isolates, soy concentrates, soy flours, textured vegetables protein, and soy grits. In 2000, ADM and Martha Gooch teamed up to create Martha Gooch Soy7: a blend of soy protein and Martha Gooch’s standard pasta formulation.

Lightlife Foods was one of the original companies offering 100% vegetarian meatless alternatives. From their beginnings making tempeh in an old car wash to introducing the first fat and cholesterol free hot dogs, Lightlife has been an innovator in providing fresh soy-based meatless products, including deli slices, bacon, and chik’n strips.

Founded in 1993 by a restaurateur wanting to provide a great tasting vegetarian burger, Boca Foods, a subsidiary of Kraft Foods has also been a leader in providing meatless entrees. Boca has extended the product line beyond vegetarian burgers to include meatless crumbles, breakfast links, and pizzas that appeal to American tastes.

At the same time that manufacturing companies were developing soyfoods that appealed to Western tastes, global research was being conducted to explore the potential health benefits of soyfoods. DuPont Protein Technologies’ teams were at the forefront of leading soy protein research, conducting protein quality work since 1967 and heart disease research since 1977. DuPont has continued this commitment to soy protein and health research, and for the past 10 years has been investigating soy protein’s potential effects on critical areas such as women’s health, bone health, menopausal relief, performance nutrition, weight management and cancer prevention.

Much of the current soybean and health research conducted at universities across the United States is supported by the soybean growers themselves. The gains in the soyfoods market would not have been possible without the support of the soybean farmers through the Illinois Soybean Association & Illinois Soybean Checkoff Board, the Indiana Soybean Board, and the South Dakota Soybean Research & Promotion Council.

Join with the Soyfoods Association of North America in recognizing our members, who are committed to bringing great-tasting soyfoods to consumers throughout the year.

About SANA

The Soyfoods Association of North America is a non-profit trade association that has been promoting consumption of soyfoods in the diet since 1978. SANA is committed to encouraging sustainability, integrity and growth in the soyfoods industry by promoting the benefits and consumption of soy-based foods and ingredients in diets. SANA seeks to educate consumers about how soy products can easily be brought into their lives including cooking and preparation techniques, substitution for other ingredients in favorite recipes, and through the use of pre-packaged products. SANA members include large and small soyfoods companies, growers and suppliers of soybeans, nutritionists, equipment representatives, food scientists and retailers. To learn more about soyfoods, related health benefits and find great-tasting soy recipes, visit various sections of SANA’s website at www.soyfoods.org.