Poland is a long-term market for Solae, but its soy ingredients are mainly used in meat products for their functional (gelling and emulsifying) properties. "We see this as a market reaching maturity," Dr Reinhart Schmitt, vice president, Europe, told FoodNavigator.com at this week's FiCEE trade show in Warsaw. "The focus now is to move soy outside the traditional market, and into new applications." He claimed that Solae is leading the advance into these new areas - not just in Poland, but in the wider CEE market including the Baltic States and Russia - but he "expects quick follow up from competitors". As Solae is singing about soy in products like yoghurts, ice-creams and beverages, it is not forgetting the meat industry in its new angle. It can also be used as a substitute or partial meat replacement for a healthier product. "Now the emphasis is on how to make a healthy burger with, for example, 10 per cent of the fat or 50 per cent of the cholesterol," said Schmitt. Markets like North America have already gone through their conversion, with soy being used in convenience foods and dairy replacement products. Soy fruit drinks are also available in Mexico and South America, and the company expects such concepts could catch on in CEE. But while in the US and Western Europe there is considerable attention to the healthy attributes of soy, it is not understood in quite the same way in parts of CEE. In the 1950s, 60s and 70s, meat was scarcely available in some countries in the region, he said. Soy was consumed as a cheap alternative. Since consumers would have preferred to have been eating beef, the low value image for soy has persisted. Given the vast differences in perceptions of soy, Solae is adopting a different approach for each of the local markets within the CEE region. As to how long Solae expects to turn around public opinion in countries where soy is held in low regard, Schmitt said: "Nothing changes as slowly as nutritional habits." But thankfully there are other drivers beyond dietary habits that could prove instrumental in opening up new soy uses - such as dairy costs, for example. While he accepts that there have been price increases in identity-preserved soy beans in the last couple of years, the curve is still "way below typical dairy prices". The squeeze on margins could, therefore, help turn manufacturers on to soy as an alternative to dairy, and as the prices of dairy products rise at retail consumers, in turn, could be tempted to try alternatives. One of the main technical challenges when working with soy is creating a taste and texture that is as close as possible to those of the product it is replacing (be it meat or dairy). The company had a chef at its stand at FiCEE, who was preparing samples of a soy product in breadcrumbs that could very easily be taken for chicken. To meet such technical challenges, and to work with its customers on any specific hitches that may arise, Solae has a "flying squad" technical team in Europe that supports customers for new applications. Solae's European manufacturing bases for its soy ingredients are in Belgium, Denmark and the UK, but it has local sales offices in all countries.