Since the early 1990s, soyfoods have found their way to more and more dinner tables. In 10 years, soyfood sales have grown at a compounded growth rate of just more than 14%/year, according to Soyatech, a market research firm that tracks soyfood product sales.

Certainly, the development of better-tasting, higher-quality soyfood products delivered to the marketplace has driven growth. But recognition of soy's health benefits — including FDA's allowance of food companies to highlight the cardiovascular health benefits of soy protein on product packages — has bolstered consumer interest as well.

As a result, the next food industry revolution appears to be the development of functional foods. Also called nutraceuticals — short for nutritional pharmaceuticals — they're food products that include special health properties. In a nutshell, the idea is to enrich foods with ingredients like soy that will defend or improve a consumer's health.

FORTIFIED AND FUNCTIONAL

The concept of fortifying foods isn't new. For years, soy ingredients have been used to improve the quality of processed meats and baked goods, but only at low levels.

Today, new technology has helped develop high-protein, flavorless soy ingredients and, therefore, soy fortified products are gaining popularity.

Country Choice Naturals, a Minnesota organic baked goods company, introduced a line of cookies fortified with soy protein more than a year ago. Minnesota-based French Meadow Bakery produces Woman's Bread, which is rich with cranberries, flax-seed and soy isoflavones. It's been overwhelmingly received and is being distributed nationally.

Cargill Health and Food Technologies started its nutraceuticals business in 1997 and is marketing a new line of soy isolates named Prolisse. Cargill is promoting the new ingredient to major food companies for use in a variety of products, such as energy bars, sauces and beverages.

DuPont Protein Technologies is another leading researcher and manufacturer of soy fiber and soy protein ingredients, one of which is Solae. Genie Haggie, a representative for the company, says interest in soy ingredients continues to grow.

“We have a couple of customers launching new products enriched with soy in early 2003,” she reports. One example is the meal replacement beverage Snapple A Day, which contains 7 grams of Solae soy brand protein.

Industry observers expect many food companies to roll out functional foods as a way to add value to their products and gain market share.

CUSTOMIZED CROPS

And as technology develops, even more science lies ahead for functional foods, as leaders in seed technology are exploring ways to produce crops such as soybeans with increased health benefits.

While some technology already exists, for now, the Biotechnology Industry Organization has voluntarily decided to stop growing certain experimental crops bio-engineered for pharmaceutical and industrial purposes to ease fears of accidental contamination of food or animal feed.

Despite this, the food industry's ultimate goal is to develop foods that contain grains and other ingredients that help people stay well.