Scientific research linking soya consumption to low cholesterol and lower incidence of osteoporosis is widening consumer appeal for soya drinks, with governments in various Asian countries also encouraging soya milk consumption because of its health and nutrition benefits.
For example, the Malaysian Ministry of Youth and Sports launched in 1999 a two-month marketing campaign to encourage consumers to buy packaged soya milk. The Health Promotion Board of Singapore and the Ministry of Public Health in Thailand are also using education campaigns to inform consumers of the health benefits of drinking soya milk or consuming soyfoods.
Other factors driving growth include marketing campaigns of manufacturers, with the South-East Asia region home to some of the largest soya drink manufacturers in Asia, such as Malaysia's Yeo Hiap Seng and Green Spot in Thailand.
Keen competition between producers is resulting in new product launches and aggressive marketing of soya drinks. Novel flavours of soya drinks, such as green tea and mango, and soya milk with functional ingredients like omega acids, have been introduced in recent years, fuelling growth of the category, according to the market research company, without using health claims.
But while there is little opportunity for European soymilk makers in this market, which is dominated by Asian companies that have often been producing for over 20 years, the organic soymilk sector has so far been created by imports. The most common sources of organic soya drinks include Australia and USA and there is very little production of organic soya drinks in South-East Asia, according to OrganicMonitor.
Bigger opportunities for European companies exist in the rice drink and oat drink markets, added the firm.
"These markets are highly import dependent and most volume is imported from Australia, North America and Europe. There is potential here for European companies," said an OrganicMonitor spokesperson.
Soya drinks still, however, account for the majority of sales volume in the South-East Asian non-dairy drinks market, which is set to be worth US$220 million in retail sales this year. Rice drinks and oat drinks are not widely available in South-East Asian countries with low consumer awareness and high retail prices hindering market growth.
The modernisation of the retail trade in Asian countries, which has led to a large rise in the number of supermarkets and hypermarkets, could however help the market to evolve. These outlets are becoming the most important sales channels for non-dairy drinks, with large supermarkets in the major cities offering a comprehensive range of non-dairy drinks, with some offering soya bean drinks, organic soya milk, rice drinks and oat drinks.
Organic non-dairy drinks are mostly marketed by health food shops.
In Singapore, which has some of the largest consumers of non-dairy drinks in Asia in terms of per capita consumption, the fresh soya drinks market is showing high growth with leading brands competing strongly with dairy milk in the chilled cabinets of supermarkets. Many Singaporean consumers favour fresh soya milk because it has lower fat content and it is priced less than imported dairy milk.