Makers of soy products are rejoicing a Health Canada ruling that foods and beverages with soy protein can lower cholesterol.
The decision, made last week, means soy companies can promote the fact their products help reduce cholesterol. Labels with that health claim will likely start to appear on products later this year.
“A lot of companies have been looking forward to this health claim,” Jeff Schmalz, CEO of Soy 20/20, an association in Guelph, Ont representing the soy industry, told Canadian Grocer. “We think it will help their business.”
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Schmalz pointed out that soy sales and new product developed surged in the United States after the Food and Drug Administration there allowed the soy-cholesterol health claim link in 1999.
“So our hope is that the same thing happens in Canada,” he said.
He noted that the soy category has been mostly flat in recent years here but that with the new claim he's aiming to see a 25 per cent increase in volumes.
Some 10 other countries also recognize the link between soy and lower cholesterol. They include Brazil, Malaysia, Japan and South Korea.
In Canada the new health claim covers soy beverages, tofu, miso, soy cheese, soy nuts as well as products containing isolated soy ingredients, soy protein concentrate and soy flour.
To quality for the claim, products must contain more than six grams of protein per serving.
The claim is based on clinical studies showing that consuming 25 grams of soy protein per day helps to reduce cholesterol.
High cholesterol is a risk factor for heart disease. Thirty-nine per cent of Canadians six to 79 have unhealthy levels of cholesterol.
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A spokesperson for Health Canada said the department concluded that soy protein lowers low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol by about four per cent.
Health Canada did not consider whether soy protein actually prevents coronary heart disease.
Health Canada spent three years examining soy’s link to lower cholesterol after Soy 20/20 submitted a proposal for the health claim in December 2011.
Schmalz said his organization is working to create a health-claim label that soy companies could use on products.
He expects the label to be ready in about two months but that it could take at least six months before consumers start to see it on store shelves.
Brendan Kelly, marketing director at soy beverage maker Earth’s Own Food Company, calls the health claim a “huge opportunity” for soy products.
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Most people who decide to consume non-dairy products such as soy do so for health reasons, he said. About 15% to 17% of households in Canada currently consume soy beverages.
Kelly said that while soy beverage sales are down around 10 per cent in Canada, soy drinkers tend to be loyal repeat customers of the products. (Almond drinks, another non-dairy beverage, is seeing growth of around 40 per cent currently, he added.)
Earth’s Own roster of non-dairy products includes the So Good soy line and Almond Fresh beverages. The company is based in Burnaby, B.C.
Kelly said Earth's Own intends to market the soy health claim on its products, noting that “our packaging is our biggest voice to speak to the customer.”
“Here’s a food that can help deal with these cholesterol issues," he said.