Consumer Attitudes Toward Cultured Meat
As the world continues to increase its meat consumption, issues such as animal welfare and environmental protection have captured the public’s attention. In an effort to make the food system more humane and sustainable, many researchers have turned their attention to cultured meat. These products are derived from animal cells, meaning they could eliminate the need for intensive, harmful animal farming.
Research on cultured meat nearly doubled between 2015-2020, but there are many barriers that must be overcome before these products reach the public. According to the authors of this article, consumer acceptance is arguably the biggest obstacle. To gain a better insight into how consumers will respond to cultured meat, they conducted a literature review of 43 articles addressing the factors that influence cultured meat acceptance.
According to the study, perceptions of risk related to food, perceived naturalness, and public awareness are some of the most crucial elements of consumer acceptance. Personal factors like demographics and food neophobia as well as ethical and environmental concerns are also important considerations.
When evaluating new foods, research suggests that consumers weigh the risks and benefits of the products. In terms of cultured meat, consumers may be more likely to accept it if they feel it provides health and food safety benefits (in other words, if they’re assured that these products are nutritional and safe).
Cultured meat, according to advocates, can improve human health by reducing factory farming, which may reduce the spread of zoonotic diseases. However, critics argue that cell culture can never be fully controlled and that unexpected biological processes may have harmful effects on human health. Given the uncertainties, research suggests that many consumers believe cultured meat lacks any direct health benefits, instead viewing it as unsafe for human consumption.
Perceived Naturalness & Product Properties
Studies show that a food’s perceived “naturalness” may influence consumer acceptance. For example, the authors point out that people are more likely to reject cultured meat if they believe these products are overly processed or inherently unnatural. A 2020 study revealed that consumers greatly preferred insect-based hamburgers over cultured meat hamburgers in terms of health and naturalness.
Product features such as taste and nutritional content also affect consumers’ food choices. Many studies have shown that protein alternatives need to look, feel, and taste like conventional meat to gain consumer acceptance. The review found that consumers placed a higher value on healthiness, taste, and safety than on convenience, cost, and sustainability. However, the current cultured meat technology is expensive, which may work against these products when they come to market.
Public Awareness & Knowledge
Research on other food technologies has found that consumers with limited awareness may be more skeptical of novel products. Consumer perception studies on cultured meat have found that most consumers know very little about the process. However, while having more knowledge led to a more positive view of cultured meat in some studies, it increased concerns and more negative perceptions in others. When people are unsure of a novel food, their perception of risk is heightened, which may ultimately lead them to reject the product.
Consumers who lack prior knowledge about a novel food also frequently rely on heuristics, such as seeking out new information to confirm their existing opinion, when evaluating new food technologies. As a result, the review found that acceptance of cultured meat is more strongly influenced by prior subjective knowledge than by new information.
The authors found that one of the main factors influencing people’s willingness to pay for meat alternatives was food neophobia, or the fear of new foods (for example, fearing the technology or unknown health risks). Consumers often rely on food industry insiders such as research institutions and regulatory bodies to form their perceptions. As a result, these actors can shape food neophobia.
Cultured meat acceptance was also found to be influenced by demographic factors like age, gender, location, and educational attainment. For example, studies often show that consumers who are most likely to eat meat alternatives are young, educated men. Cultural factors, personality traits, and one’s worldview may also play a role in acceptance.
Ethical and Environmental Concerns
Concerns for animal welfare, the environment, and other ethical considerations also play a big role in people’s willingness to embrace cultured meat. But the ethical advantages of these products may not be strong enough to encourage acceptance, as even ethically-driven people still tend to focus on things like naturalness, health, and taste. Surveys also noted that some individuals perceive cultured meat as being morally questionable in terms of their religious values.
Overall, the authors found that there is low acceptance of cultured meat. However, they acknowledge that our understanding of these products is still limited. Researchers need to dive deeper into how healthiness, safety, naturalness, and sustainability play a role in consumer acceptance. Similarly, existing research is based on hypothetical acceptance of cultured meat, as these products are not yet available.
For animal advocates, the results of this review suggest strategies to encourage more consumers to embrace cultured meat products. For example, it’s important to provide plain-language information and to pay attention to how cultured meat is framed (for example, recent studies have found that consumers prefer the term “clean” or “cultured” meat over “lab-grown” meat). It’s also important to focus on the personal benefits of these products, and to reassure people about their health, taste, and safety concerns. Finally, it’s important to remember that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to promoting cultured meat, as people are often swayed by personal, cultural, and other unique factors.