The Mainstreaming of Soy
Charting the future of public relations
Holmes Report

The Mainstreaming of Soy

With an FDA-approved health claim, an international research symposium on soy and health, and plans to create an even healthier, more functional soybean, it could only mean one thing: Soy’s going mainstream.

Paul Holmes


With an FDA-approved health claim, an international research symposium on soy and health, and plans to create an even healthier, more functional soybean, it could only mean one thing: Soy’s going mainstream. And with that popularity comes the need to defend market share in the face of attacks on its safety and health profile. Publicis did so with a multi-faceted strategic program, helping persuade millions of “The Joy of Soy.”


The United Soybean Board (USB) comprises 62 volunteer farmers who represent the interests of over 600,000 soybean farmers nationwide.  USB is responsible for marketing and promotions of soy products, with an overall goal of increasing domestic use of U.S. soybeans from 1.2 to 1.75 billion bushels by 2005. Health and safety concerns pose a major threat to soy market share – chief among them is concern over agricultural biotechnology, as well as potential labeling of trans fat, a type of fat in hydrogenated soybean oil that may have a negative effect on cholesterol levels.  About 57 percent of U.S. soybean crops are produced from seeds that have been enhanced through biotechnology to resist damage caused by herbicides, leading anti-biotech activists such as Greenpeace to aggressively question the safety of biotech foods. Other issues have surfaced, including concerns over potentially negative effects of soy on conditions such as breast cancer and premature brain aging. 

With these challenges in mind, Publicis Dialog developed and implemented an integrated marketing and public relations program designed to build on its past efforts for USB. The program would help defend soy’s dominant place in the edible oil and animal feed markets through a two-fold approach:  One, issues management, and two, promotion of USB’s “Better Bean Initiative” (BBI), an initiative to create an enhanced soybean that better meets the needs of the food and feed industries. Additionally, Publicis was working to increase consumer awareness of the health benefits of soy.


Publicis conducted research to support both the “Better Bean Initiative” and the health benefits of soy.  First, we conducted ongoing telephone surveys and one-on-one visits to assess attitudes in the food and feed industries about the BBI.  We also surveyed purchasing directors from the largest oil users and processors in the industry, including McDonald’s, Burger King, Cargill and Hunt Wesson, to determine whether the value-added soybean traits would be desirable for their food processing applications. 

In addition to the BBI, USB has supported research that confirms the role of soy in preventing and treating diseases like heart disease and cancer. This was instrumental in securing the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval of a health claim for the cholesterol-lowering properties of soyfoods (e.g. tofu, soy flour, and soymilk).  For the past seven years, Publicis has conducted original research on behalf of USB to measure consumer attitudes about nutrition and perceptions of soy products.  According to USB’s 1999 Consumer Attitudes on Nutrition survey, 76 percent of Americans perceived soy as healthy, yet only 27 percent consumed soyfoods regularly. This was an indicator that we would need to include taste, convenience and availability as part of the message.


Sharing the progress of the BBI with food and feed industry leaders is critical for a successful launch in 2002.  Equally important is communicating the current benefits of soybean oil to prevent major food companies from switching to competing oils before the BBI.  

Objectives for October 1999 - October 2000 

  • To increase awareness of USB’s Better Bean Initiative (BBI) among the food and feed industries through targeted communications and one-on-one interaction with industry leaders.  
  • To maintain edible oil market share at 81 percent and support growth in the edible protein category. 
  • To increase awareness of soy and its health-promoting properties among consumers by 10 percent. 
  • To increase usage of USB resources, including USB’s TALKSOY Web site, among food and health professionals by 20 percent.

Audience:  This program was targeted toward audiences with the greatest influence on consumption of soy products: 1) Food and feed industry, including farmers, processors and refiners, food and animal feed industry decision makers – especially those who use soy products as ingredients in their products; 2) Influencers, such as media representatives and healthcare professionals; and 3) Consumers who are concerned about cholesterol and heart health.


Food and Feed Industry Relations

Monitor evolving needs of food and feed industries and perceptions of the BBI at trade shows such as Institute of Food Technologists (IFT).

Create interest and demand for soybeans with enhanced compositional traits among key oil and meal end users via Soybean Innovations newsletter, two Soybean Innovations Summits, discussions at trade shows and TALKSOY Web site. 

Develop and conduct interactive communications workshop with BBI team to hone in on key messages and prepare team to effectively deliver messages to key audiences.                                                    

Strengthen USB’s position as information resource by promoting TALKSOY Web site through direct mail, interactive demonstrations at select trade shows and monthly email updates.

Issues Management

Manage negative issues threatening market share by tracking development and monitoring media coverage of issues, maintaining and updating USB’s Media Response Guide, training farmer spokespersons and coordinating media interviews.

Facilitate cooperative efforts between USB and other commodity groups to develop unified approach to gaining acceptance of agricultural biotechnology among key influencers and ultimately consumers.   

Consumer Communications

Promote awareness of FDA approval of soy protein health claim and other new research on health benefits of soy, generating interest and creating awareness through consumer media channels.

Measure success by using USB’s annual Consumer Attitudes about Nutrition survey.


The program included, but was not limited to, the following activities (see binder for more information):

Participated in and helped plan the Soy Innovations Summits, two symposia for the food and feed industries, in September 2000 in Chicago and Atlanta; provided recommendations for the agenda and mailing lists of potential attendees.  

Created and distributed the Soybean Innovations newsletter and Web site section to 5,000 key people in the food and feed industries on an ongoing quarterly basis.

Organized the first commodity coalition meeting on biotechnology, hosted by USB, the American Soybean Association and the National Corn Growers Association, Nov. 2, 1999, in St. Louis, MO.  Representatives from soy, corn, cotton, sugar beat, wheat, pork and popcorn boards came to the first-ever forum to discuss implications of agricultural biotech.

Provided support during the World Trade Organization Ministerial in Seattle, November 1999.

Created message points related to potentially negative issues and coached spokespersons on applying them. (Ongoing)

Updated and maintained USB’s Media Response Guide, a complete guide of USB’s issues with talking points. (Ongoing)

Promoted FDA approval of soy protein health claim and new research being presented at the Third International Symposium on the Role of Soy in Preventing & Treating Chronic Disease in Washington, DC, in November 1999. 

Performed media relations for the symposium; provided strategic counsel to symposium management to help minimize the effect of negative presentations; prepared a Crisis Preparedness Plan in the event of on-site anti-biotechnology protests.

Planned and facilitated a press luncheon during the International Symposium to help translate and communicate the highly technical scientific information for the media audience.  

Planned and facilitated a press conference at the National Press Club to coincide with FDA’s announcement of the approval of the soy protein health claim, October 26, 1999. 

Exhibited at the IFT Meeting & Food Expo in Dallas, TX, June 11-14, 2000. 

Developed and promoted recipes; posted on the TALKSOY Web site and encouraged their use among trade press. 

Created and posted an online “newsroom” on the TALKSOY Web site with information on health-related issues, agricultural biotechnology, heart-healthy recipes and a frequently updated list of story ideas. 

Conducted a radio media tour with registered dietitian in Chicago in May, to discuss the FDA-approved soy protein health claim and the role of soyfoods in the new USDA dietary guidelines.


Publicis Dialog’s successful integrated marketing and public relations program produced significant results so early that USB decided to raise its initial goal of increasing domestic utilization of U.S. soybeans from 1.2 to 1.5 billion by 2005 to an even more dramatic goal of reaching 1.75 billion bushels by the same date. Accomplishments so far have included:

Increased Awareness of the BBI – Two industry symposia brought over 40 key decision makers together with farmers and researchers to evaluate progress of the BBI.  More than 50 telephone surveys with thought leaders from the food industry fed information back to USB that was instrumental to future planning.  

Maintained Market Share – Publicis met the goal of maintaining edible oil market share, and ended the year with a slightly higher year-end average of 81.4 percent -- despite negative media coverage on biotech, trans fat, and health and nutrition issues. 

Increased Consumer Awareness – According to the Consumer Attitudes survey (see binder), our efforts led to a 25 percent increase in consumer awareness of the benefits of soy, far exceeding the objective of 10 percent. In addition, media relations for the FDA health claim yielded nearly 220 million gross media impressions – nearly three times the goal of 75 million. Media coverage appeared in such prestigious outlets as Better Homes & Gardens, Men’s Journal and Food & Wine.  The $165,000 investment yielded $2.5 million worth of coverage, based on the advertising value of each placement — a fifteen-fold return on investment. 

Increased Use of Resources – Traffic on USB’s Web site doubled, from an average 9,492 visits per month in 1999 to an average 19,558 visits per month in 2000.  The TALKSOY pressroom launch has been integral, producing 6,007 more hits since April 2000.
By increasing awareness and support of the Better Bean Initiative among food and feed industries, sustaining market share, expanding consumer awareness of health benefits, and encouraging more people to tap USB’s resources, Publicis Dialog has helped bring the humble soybean out from the shelves of niche natural food stores by creating a major mainstream presence. 

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