The Soya Explosion

The demand for soya-based beverages has exploded in the last decade. Success in this growing market requires innovations across the entire production chain, from extraction to flavour profiles and packaging. By Kit Lai, director, Soya Knowledge Centre, Tetra Pak

Soya-based beverages are not a new thing. In fact, the Chinese have been consuming soya for 5,000 years. However, the growth of these beverages has gone global and exploded in the last decade. Soya milk in Tetra Pak packages has grown at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 6.2 percent in the last six years and is expected to grow at a similar rate over the next three years.

Understanding market tastes and consumer trends, combined with innovative beverage processing and packaging solutions, is critical to successfully tapping into this burgeoning growth opportunity.

The recent growth in the popularity of soya beverages is often attributed to an endorsement by the US Federal Drug Administration (FDA) in 1999, which allowed a health claim on food labels stating that a diet with 25 g of soya protein, that is also low in saturated fat and cholesterol, may reduce the risk of heart disease.

FDA Endorsement

Endorsements such as the FDA’s have helped to spark global interest in soya and created a market with huge potential for customers. In particular, there is room for growth in Western countries where soya uptake is strong but not as established as it is in Asia.

The challenge has been that Western consumers are not used to soya and do not like the ‘beany’ flavour of soya drinks as much as their Asian counterparts.

This is where innovation played a crucial role. The development of an extraction technology has enabled the delivery of different intensities of flavours to suit consumer preferences in different markets.

This varies from the traditional method whereby beans are soaked in hot water for a long period of time, resulting in a very strong soya bean taste which is preferred in Southeast Asia.

Extraction Technology

The extraction technology features three major sections: grinding, fibre separation and enzyme deactivation. These sections are integrated into a complete extraction system to produce a soya base with a high protein content and high nutritional value, while being able to vary the beany taste of the soya beverage produced.

First, soya beans (whole or de-hulled) are fed into the grinding section of the system and the beans are continuously ground and simultaneously, the soya base is extracted under different temperature parameters. This creates a soya base with different taste profiles—low bean or a high bean taste.

The system does not require soaking or blanching of the bean. After the grinding stage, a decanter is used to separate the insoluble fibre, called okara, from the desired soya base.

Lastly, the enzyme deactivation section uses direct steam injection to treat the soya with heat and deactivate the enzyme. A downstream vacuum vessel flash cools the product. After cooling, the soya base is transferred for further processing and packaging.

While ensuring the right flavour intensity is important, there is also a need to ensure that the extraction of soya base is efficient. Therefore, a two-step filtration system with enhanced grinders was developed, resulting in yields of 75 percent compared to other methods that yield 65 percent at best.


Aseptic Packaging

Aseptic technology is a key contributor to delivering soya beverages globally. Aseptic processing and packaging technology enables soya milk to be transported and stored without refrigeration or preservatives for at least one year.

Another opportunity is the growing trend for different flavour offerings. While demand for plain soya milk is high, the market for soya milk is becoming increasingly segmented. Kids are interested in chocolate and strawberry flavoured soya drinks, while older consumers might want to indulge in cappuccino flavoured soy drinks.

A team of marketing experts, food technologists and engineers can work together to spot trend and formulate and test a variety of new products that they believe would be successful with consumers in different markets. These generic formulations can then be shared with customers who will further modify them for their own products.

In addition to testing flavours, new packaging concepts will allow to see how their products can be brought to market. Global market insight can be used as a reference to spot trends that influence packaging design.

For example, consumers with increasingly hectic lifestyles often eat and drink ‘on-the-go’, so portion size packages can be designed to allow for easy handling and drinking while on the move. The designs should then be assessed by focus groups to test consumer receptiveness.

There is a huge market opportunity for soya beverages. However, process innovation is not enough. Manufacturers need to have products that will be a hit with consumers. Innovation is the key to unlocking these markets’ true potential. With these in place, there are plenty to be excited about the potential that soya beverages have today and tomorrow.

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  • Last modified on Tuesday, 15 July 2014 11:25
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Asia Pacific Food Industry (APFI) is Asia’s leading trade magazine for the food and beverage industry. Established in 1985, APFI is the first BPA-audited magazine and the publication of choice for professionals throughout the industry with its editorial coverage on the latest research, innovative technologies, health and nutrition trends, and market reports.

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