With UK sales of soya milk, desserts, cream and yoghurts rising by 9% in value over the past year [ACNielsen, year to October 2006], Alpro's commercial director, John Allaway, is confidant next year will be fruitful for the soya market. 

"We are heartened by the growth in the soya market as a whole and by strengthened market leadership," he says. "Growth has come across the range and was driven by innovation. 

"The most exciting thing is that there is still huge potential for further growth. Our brand penetration is 11.4%, meaning 2.8m UK households are eating our soya milks and desserts [TNS, year to 31 December 2006]. Soya is moving into the mainstream."

In May last year Unilever UK launched Adez, a fruit juice brand with added soya. It has already recorded sales of £6m [ACNielsen, year to 4 November 2006] and a blackcurrant & raspberry version was added in January with a smaller bottle for on-the-go consumers later this year.

Adez business operations manager at Unilever UK, Mike Knowland, believes health is a key driver for the category.

"Consumers are more aware of how food and drink affect their health and are shifting away from carbonates and colas," he says.

"Healthy, convenient products are enjoying strong growth, and innovation within the category is attracting new buyers. By expanding our range and investing in marketing support we can really build on our success this year."

Unilever certainly is investing heavily, with £12m being spent on a nationwide marketing campaign to ensure it is not just the lactose-intolerant who opt for the soya-based drink.

Manufacturers agree there is a lot more room for growth in the soya market, and that promoting soya as a real alternative to dairy is the way forward.

"Consumers are still ­talking about being healthy, but now they're acting on it," says Daniel Derrick, director of sales and marketing for soya drinks producer So Good.

"Soya is healthier than dairy, with less trans-fats and saturated fat. Many health-conscious people are choosing it because now they are more educated about nutrition."

Derrick is adamant there is more room for growth. "It's rare you get a category that has year-on-year growth," he says.

"Over the past year the market has had double-

digit growth and has been growing for the past seven years.

"Now that it has been approved that we can claim soya lowers cholesterol, it means it has more appeal to a wider audience."n