Snack Food & Wholesale Bakery recently was able to talk to Pam Smith, RDN, about consumer habits and changes to the industry as a result of COVID-19. 


Liz Parker: What kinds of recipes can be made with soy?

Pam Smith: Soy’s versatility in cooking is one of the many things I love most about soy products! Whether used in main dishes, soups, desserts or snacks, soy-based ingredients can be used in a wide variety of recipes and adaptations. As a chef, I enjoy what soy brings to a recipe—promoting moisture and flavor retention, as well as enhancing texture and interest. As a registered dietitian nutritionist, I rely on soy to boost high-quality, complete protein in a recipe, while providing nutrients and phytochemicals such as isoflavones.

Soy is my absolute go-to protein in plant-based or plant-forward recipes ... Green Tea Salt Edamame, Soy and Mushroom Blended Burgers, Miso Eggplant, Chai Blueberry Tofu Smoothies and Overnight Oats, Sizzling Tempeh and Summer Vegetable Stir are just a few of my favorite summer superfood dishes. Snack food manufacturers will also appreciate the versatility and the wide variety of different forms of soy protein available, from soy flours to soy puffs, when formulating products.


LP: How has COVID-19 increased the amount of people who incorporate plant-based foods into their diet?

PS: In these “stay at home” days, a new era of home cooking has emerged, likely out of necessity, boredom—and to satisfy cravings for new experiences and flavors. In fact, according to the International Food Information Council’s Food and Health Survey, 8 in 10 Americans reported that they have altered their eating habits as a result of the COVID-19 virus. For many, that has led to cooking with new, even unfamiliar ingredients and cuisines blended with comfort foods. As the days have turned to months, I believe that more people are looking to improve their overall health and wellness which has resulted in adopting new eating habits and a focus on nutrient rich, high quality protein foods. When combining new cooking and eating patterns and flexitarian cooking, it’s a natural place to land. That is supported in recent United Soybean Board research, which found that 65 percent of consumers eat both animal and plant proteins and that 61 percent are incorporating more plant-based meals than they were two years ago.


LP: Why is soy preferred over other types of plant-based protein? 

PS: The United Soybean Board Plant-based Protein Study found that 88 percent of consumers say a “complete” plant-based protein is important to them. However, not all consumers realize that soy is considered one of the most complete sources of plant-based protein available, as it provides all the amino acids essential to human nutrition. Soy has a diverse and broad product range that includes soybeans, edamame, tofu, miso, tempeh, and soy protein, making it easy to incorporate into diets for plant- and meat-eaters alike.

Snack food manufacturers in particular will be interested to learn that 77 percent of consumers say the type and amount of protein in their plant-based snacks is important, with 61 percent interested in seeing specific health claims such as “high quality source of protein” on products.


LP: Why are males more likely to eat a mostly animal-based protein diet, versus females?

PS: This has especially been shown in males over age 30—it’s an interesting question, and one that has resulted in a number of behavior/belief studies. I’ve noticed that eating meat and cooking it are often presented and viewed as culturally masculine, while vegetarianism is generally associated with the effeminate. The phenomena can be linked to reinforcing factors, such as male’s muscle building desire and a lack of information about complete proteins. Males that choose plant based proteins tend to eat meat alternatives and/or protein bars most often—which could speak to product awareness, availability and cravability.

Interestingly enough, the United Soybean Board Plant-based Protein Study found that males were actually more likely than females to order plant-based meats again once they had tried them. USB’s recent study found that 92 percent of male consumers reported that they would order a plant-based burger like the Impossible Burger again after trying, with 87 percent of females saying they would do the same.

Pam Smith, RDN, is an internationally known nutritionist and energy coach, radio host, industry culinary consultant, and best-selling author. She has provided wellness and menu coaching to professional, corporate, and life athletes—from the NBA’s Shaquille O’Neal, the Orlando Magic and LA Clippers, the PGA’s Larry Nelson and Brad Faxon, to the executive and culinary development teams at Darden Restaurants, Walt Disney World Cruise Lines, Hyatt Hotels and Resorts, McDonald’s, Cracker Barrel and Ruth’s Chris among others. Pam creates menus and recipes with a focus on wellness for some of America’s best restaurants and was the co-creator of the Bahama Breeze and Seasons 52 restaurants. She co-chairs The Culinary Institute of America’s Healthy Menus R&D Collaborative and has been the Festival Host and Emcee of all culinary events for the entire twenty-two years of Disney’s Epcot International Food & Wine Festival. Pam began her private practice of nutritional counseling in 1978 as one of the original private dietetics practices in the United States, and has since inspired hundreds of thousands to eat well and live well.