Europeans are increasingly opting for soya-based alternatives to dairy and meat products, according to a new report.

New research from industry information firm Prosoy shows that in 2003 the market for soya-based drinks and desserts and meat-free and tofu products in Europe reached a value of €1.5bn (US$1.8bn).

After a market growth of well over 10% in 2002 compared to 2001, the market again showed double figure growth in 2003 and is expected to continue such growth between 2004 and 2006. Market growth of almost 20% was recorded in 2003.

“The demand for soya-based milks, yoghurts and desserts is growing as a result of changes in lifestyle, growing food intolerance and allergies, as well as the positive health image of soya,” said Gerard Klein Essink, senior researcher at Prosoy Research & Strategy.

The demand for meat-free products has shown to be sustainable. In the aftermath of the European 2001 BSE and 2002 Foot & Mouth crises, the market has grown a further 3%.

“New European and national health claims regulations, which are now being drawn up are also likely to have an impact, since medical research on soya has already shown positive effects on blood cholesterol levels and heart diseases, bone strength and menopausal problems,” adds Klein Essink.

Innovation has also played a large part in the growth of the market, particularly with soya-based milk products, which are increasingly being offered through the chilled sections of supermarkets, and with the introduction of new meat-free ready meal concepts in the meat-free sector. Sales in the chilled sector have grown more rapidly than frozen meat-free sales.