Consumers & Cultured Meat: A Review Of Literature From 2018-2020
Cultured meat is a technology that has the potential to create meat without killing animals. It’s a promising technology, and its success could help to mitigate the ethical, environmental and health problems associated with traditional meat, even without reducing meat consumption to zero. Above all, it could be a crucial step for those who do not want to stop eating animal products. Cultured meat is not yet available commercially, though many companies are working hard to push it to market as soon as possible. It is therefore important to address consumer perceptions, doubts, or objections in order to facilitate the marketing of cultured meat when the time is right.
In this literature review, researchers looked at 26 empirical, peer-reviewed studies published between 2018 and 2020 addressing consumer acceptance of cultured meat. Its aim was to update another review conducted by the same researchers for studies published between 2014 and 2018. Researchers reviewed overall acceptance, demographic differences, perceived benefits, key barriers, price, taste, and finally — what might be of most interest for cultured meat advocates — possible interventions to increase the acceptance of cultured meat.
Overall acceptance: Researchers found that a high proportion of consumers would try to buy or eat cultured meat, and they tended to perceive it as more beneficial to society than to themselves. Cultured meat seems to be more accepted than genetically modified foods, more appealing than eating insects, but less accepted than plant-based meat. The latter depends on consumer preferences; cultured meat is more appealing to people who love meat.
In addition, studies showed differences in acceptance of cultured meat between countries. For example, Chinese and Indian consumers were more positive about it than those in the United States. In each case, differences rely on distinctive drivers: whereas intentions to buy cultured meat were mainly driven by disgust in the U.S., its perceived health and nutrition was the main driver in China and its perceived ethicality helped it in India.
Demographic differences: Young people found cultured meat more appealing than older people; the same was true for urban dwellers as well as for meat eaters compared to vegetarians. Moreover, men were more likely to accept cultured meat than women, more educated people were more likely than less-educated people, and left-wing/liberal people were more likely compared to right-wing/conservative people. That said, there are still areas of uncertainty. For example, the effect of economic status remains unclear.
Perceived benefits: The study found that consumers consider avoiding animal suffering as one of the main benefits of cultured meat. They also believe that cultured meat has environmental benefits, such as reduced greenhouse gas emissions and reduced water and land use. In addition, they can see it as a potential solution to resolve global hunger and global warming. Ethical and environmental benefits had a positive impact on purchase intentions, and while health and food safety also affected purchase intentions, they did not appear to be an obvious benefit for consumers. It might be useful for advocates to emphasize these two points in future for people who may be swayed by them.
Key barriers: A first barrier to the acceptance of cultured meat is the perception that it is unnatural. But this does not automatically lead to rejection: It’s mainly people who care about naturalness who will reject cultured meat, while those who don’t care about naturalness may not have the same perception. Other important barriers include safety and health concerns; consumers are not sure that cultured meat is safe and wholesome in the long term. Disgust sensitivity and neophobia — an aversion to new or unfamiliar foods — increases the rejection of cultured meat. Finally, mistrust of food scientists and a penchant for conspiracies lead some to the rejection of cultured meat.
Price and taste: Price and taste are two crucial aspects for consumers, and they were found to be important factors in purchase intentions. Some people were willing to pay more for cultured meat than traditional meat, but not everyone. For the latter, cultured meat will have to be affordable, and in addition, it needs be tasty. At the moment, consumers think that cultured meat will not taste as good as traditional meat.
Interventions: Several interventions can improve the acceptance of cultured meat. The researchers highlighted that presenting positive information about the benefits of cultured meat seems to increase its acceptance. Details about the personal benefits to the consumer would be among the most effective types of information. In general, it may be beneficial to avoid overly technical explanations.
Besides the above, the name is important. Clean meat seems to be the name that leads to the highest acceptance. However, the authors also note that, more surprisingly, the language of presentation is also important. A study showed that presenting cultured meat in English to people whose mother tongue was German increased the intention to buy it, but there seems to be only one study on the effect of language, and more are needed to see if this is a robust effect.
Finally, interventions focusing on the naturalness of cultured meat appear to be of limited effectiveness, although few studies have addressed this aspect. Thus, advocates should not necessarily dwell on it, and look to other interventions in the meantime.
Overall, this study provides a useful overview of current literature on the acceptance of cultured meat. Though not all animal advocates see the potential in cultured meat technology, those that do will find that this literature review helps to clarify current public opinion around cultured meat, as it gets ever-closer to market.