Clean Meat: Convincing People That ‘Unnatural’ Doesn’t Mean ‘Bad’
Clean meat is real meat that is created from a cell sample rather than an animal. Investors have been very interested in funding clean meat, but most people have only been exposed to the idea in sensational news articles, if at all. When clean meat becomes easy and cheap enough to produce for a mass market, it will be important to make sure that people aren’t avoiding it just because they think it’s ‘unnatural’ and therefore bad. That’s happened with genetically modified foods, vaccines, and — perhaps most historically relevant — in vitro fertilization.
The authors tested the effects of three kinds of appeals on 2,600 participants. The first appeal debunked the assumption that “natural is good and unnatural is bad.” The second emphasized how other things we eat and use are also “unnatural,” like yogurt and antibiotics. In the third appeal, participants were told that many other people were excited about trying clean meat. Before and after, they surveyed participants on their attitudes toward clean meat in terms of their willingness to purchase, interest, concerns, and perceived benefits.
After a few months, the one appeal that still had a positive effect was the second appeal, which emphasized the “unnaturalness” of other things we eat. Participants who received this appeal were more willing to pay for clean meat. To some extent, they also displayed more positivity about and interest in clean meat. In fact, this appeal to “embrace unnatural” had the strongest effect on people who were the least interested in clean meat at the start of the experiment. In contrast, the other appeals had only a temporary impact.
Unfortunately, however, negative publicity overall had the greatest and most lasting effect. Some people read anti-clean meat information, which gave them a negative view. Even after reading pro-clean meat information, they remained biased against clean meat. On the other hand, the people who were most interested in clean meat at the beginning of the experiment were also the most resistant to anti-clean meat information.
These results are extremely important for future clean meat marketing strategies. The Good Food Institute, an influential clean meat organization, focuses on the pyramid of taste, price, and convenience. However, this study shows that consumers might also be concerned with another factor: prejudice. Even brief negative quotes can turn people off to clean meat, possibly for a long time. This is a warning for clean meat advocates, because social media messaging allows people to publish and spread anti-clean meat opinions and information rapidly and widely.
Finally, while the outcomes of the study suggest that clean meat marketing should emphasize that clean meat is no different from other “unnatural” things we use and eat, the authors acknowledge that much more research is needed to replicate these results and test other strategies. For those interested in clean meat, this presents social science as a crucial academic area to explore in addition to science and technology. Interested advocates should also be sure to check out Faunalytics’ study of clean meat and consumer acceptance released earlier this year.