While this was a significant drop given the overall US dietary supplements market was in robust growth, it was an improvement on the previous year, in which sales slumped 26.2 percent (year to May 15, 2010), said Kerry Watson, manager at the SPINS product library.
“Soy supplement sales have been declining for some time. I think in general consumers are confused about whether soy and good or bad for them. There are concerns amongst consumers regarding the possible affects soy may have on hormones in the body.”
Some shoppers were also worried about genetic modification, she added: “Non-organic soy runs the risk of being genetically modified and consumers have no way to know whether a product does or doesn’t contain GMO unless they choose to state that information on the label.”
Sarah Day LeVesque, analyst at soy research and consultancy firm Soyatech, said: “We include negative publicity and consumer confusion among the trends that have been contributing to flatter soyfoods/supplements sales in the past few years.”
The SPINS figures did “line up with our data on soy supplements”, said LeVasque, but stressed that they excluded a lot of supplements containing soy that might be performing differently, including soy protein powders and vitamin and mineral supplements with added soy (eg. calcium and soy).
Twinlab marketing boss Marc Stover, said: "Our Vege Fuel (soy protein) sales are flat."
Frutarom: Bucking the trend
However, several suppliers contacted by NutraIngredients-USA.com reported growth for their soy ingredients during the year.
For example, Israeli flavors and health ingredients firm Frutarom said sales of its SoyLife branded soy germ isoflavone ingredient in the US were up this year.
Laurent Leduc, vice president at Frutarom’s US health business unit, said SoyLife had been particularly successful when blended with other ingredients, citing the success of the Go Less blend for bladder control, which combines SoyLife and pumpkin seed extract.
“The SPINS numbers do surprise me but many of our customers use SoyLife in blends with other ingredients which may not be reflected in the SPINS data. Frutarom sales of SoyLife were up last year and the trend is still going up for us this year.”
Negative publicity about soy was frustrating given its health benefits, said Leduc. But he added: “I think the negative press on soy is down and we are now starting to see a positive trend with new studies on safety and bone health. Regarding safety, we have over 30 studies done with SoyLife.”
Solbar: Women’s health opportunity
Solbar does not sell Isoflavones in the US due to a patent issue. But global sales manager for Isoflavones Hadar Sutovsky said sales in the rest of the world were up 28.12 % in 2010 driven by strong growth in the women’s health market.
Bad press about soy was not helpful, said Sutovsky, but added: “The menopause therapeutics market is presently dominated by hormone therapeutics that have highly questionable safety profiles and if approved for treatment and shown to be safer, non-hormones for the treatment of menopause via dietary supplements will strongly compete with the currently marketed drugs and will significantly alter the market dynamics.”
Good and bad press
Sheldon Baker from nutraceutical brand marketing firm Baker Dillon Group, said a 15 percent drop was a “significant decline but could be attributed to the overall economic situation and also that soy supplements are not considered a primary need, but rather a specialty use to address particular health issues”.
However, soy foods did get a mention in the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which urge consumers to increase their intakes of “fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products, such as milk, yogurt, cheese, or fortified soy beverages” and to choose a variety of protein foods, including “soy products”, he noted.
Strong growth opportunities in soy protein
According to Mintel and SPINS, the $2.6bn US soy food and beverages market (in food and drug stores, mass merchandisers - excluding Walmart - and natural stores) slumped 13.6 percent during 2008-10 and is predicted to decline a further 17 percent during 2010-12.
There were scores of reasons for this that were product specific, said Mintel senior analyst David Browne, but negative publicity surrounding soy’s impact on hormones and the GMO factor hadn’t helped: “We’re seeing some companies actively promote the fact that they don’t use soy.”
However, many soy ingredients firms have reported solid growth this year, with strong demand from sports nutrition, weight management and clinical nutrition markets.
Sharpest drop in conventional sales channel
SPINS data shows a 7.1 percent slide in sales of soy supplements in the natural sales channel, a 19.3 percent drop in the conventional (food, drug, mass merchandise) channel and a 15.3 percent drop in the two channels combined in the 52 weeks to May 14, 2011.
*‘Soy supplements’ are defined by SPINS as “those supplements that are derived from soybean, including isoflavones and ipriflavone.” They do NOT include calcium or other supplements with added soy or soy protein supplements.