How Do Chinese Consumers Feel About Lab Grown Meat?
American consumers who are adopting a plant-based diet but are unfamiliar with traditional Chinese cuisine may be surprised to find a litany of meat substitutes at their local Asian food market. Meat substitutes have been common in Chinese cuisine for centuries. As such, one might wonder whether or not Chinese consumers would be open to the idea of artificial meat, otherwise known as cultured meat, cultivated meat, in vitro meat, or lab-grown meat, all of which refer to the technological food product that is grown from live animal stem cells rather than from farm animals. The authors of this study set out to answer that exact question.
Readers may be aware of lab-grown meat and its value proposition of potentially being able to alleviate the issues associated with conventional meat production, such as environmental and animal welfare issues, food safety, public health, and the scale of global protein demand. The authors of the article at hand created a survey that included a brief introduction to lab-grown meat, along with culturally appropriate questions and rigorous post-survey statistical analysis, leading to answers that are likely strongly indicative of each survey respondent’s true beliefs.
The respondents were evenly divided among men and women, most of whom were college-educated, middle-class, and self-identified meat-eaters. Approximately half recognized the aforementioned issues associated with conventional meat production and accepted lab-grown meat as a potential solution. With that being said, it was the authors’ conclusion that the barrier for lab-grown meat adoption for Chinese consumers would not be the aforementioned issues (in fact, survey respondents willingness to consume lab-grown meat increased once educated on conventional meat issues), but rather concerns regarding safety (42.5%) and unnaturalness (34.1%).
Additionally, a total of 49.7% of respondents would be willing to try lab-grown meat, 31% of whom would do so due to the food crisis (in China, saving food has always been a topic of great concern to society especially after the great Chinese famine). Interestingly, of those who already eat meat substitutes (70.1%), 34.1% would refuse to accept lab-grown meat as an alternative to conventional meat, likely due to the naturalness associated with centuries-old traditional plant-based products and unnaturalness currently associated with lab-grown meat.
Among demographic groups, the group with the lowest willingness to try was women who are not scientists and who work outside the meat sector; however, women were characterized by an increasing willingness to try with increasing age. Men who were self-identified high meat-eaters, or who were old respondents with high education levels were characterized as more willing to try lab-grown meat. Similarly, cultured meat acceptance was significantly higher amongst agricultural and meat workers – diametrically opposed to the stereotype of American blue-collar worker attitudes. Most notable was that 90% of respondents were willing to pay for lab-grown meat at a lower price than conventional meat.
One conclusion that can be drawn from this study might be that the large number of “swing consumers” are the ideal market — tracking with strategies amongst companies like Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat who are targeting “reducetarians” (those seeking to reduce meat intake). Conversely, safety and unnaturalness will be the strongest barriers for the lab-grown meat industry to tackle. Price was not a determining factor, outside of lab-grown meat eventually needing to reach price parity with conventional meat.
It may also be worth considering that Chinese consumers, as indicated by the survey, would still prefer to consume plant-based meat substitutes rather than accepting the idea that lab-grown meat might become a viable alternative in the future. As such, strategy as to whether continuing to promote widely-accepted plant-based products and/or beginning to tackle the existing barriers associated with lab-grown meat will need to be considered. In any case, any efforts by the lab-grown meat industry in China will need to consider Chinese food culture, perspectives on food, and traditional philosophy, or else risk rejection.