‘Lab-Grown’ Vs. Plant-Based Meat: Gauging Market Share
As the range of meat alternatives grows, consumer awareness – and behavior – surrounding this new development changes as well. In this study, researchers conducted a survey to determine what information is relevant to consumers; their data can hopefully aid alternative meat producers in their marketing.
The main portion of the study consists of four surveys given to 1,830 Americans recruited through the internet. No filter was applied to this field, and the researchers state that the pool is a relatively accurate reflection of the general American public. The first survey was a control round, in which the subjects choose one of four options: either a farm-raised beef burger, a lab-grown (elsewhere called “clean meat”) beef burger, a plant-based alternative using pea protein, or a plant-based alternative using yeast which closely mimics farm-grown beef. The last two options were generic versions of the Beyond Burger and Impossible Burger, respectively. Participants could also choose none of the options.
The next three rounds of surveys were essentially the same as the first, but with one type of information added in each. In one, each burger was branded – Certified Angus Beef, Memphis Meats, Beyond Meat, or Impossible Foods. In another, environmental information was given about the impact of each choice. In the last one, information about the technology used in production of each burger was given. Each participant would choose nine times in each section, at various price points. There was also a set of three policy questions, which were answered simply yes or no. These asked whether the participant supported or opposed plant-based and lab-grown meats being labeled as beef, whether they supported a 10% tax on beef to help the environment and animal welfare, and whether they support the term “beef” being legally restricted to meat coming from farm-raised cows.
The results show that beef is still king with U.S. consumers. It was the most-chosen product in every round at every price point, which should be unsurprising given the relative newness of the alternatives and the Standard American Diet. However, the alternatives did not perform too poorly: in the control round, the Beyond Burger captured 14% of the market share, Impossible Foods had 7%, and lab-grown burgers were chosen by 4%.
Branding was the only information type that had a major effect on the percentage of people choosing farm-raised beef, but it actually increased it from 65% to 72%. Environmental information moderately increased the percentage choosing plant-based alternatives, but most of this growth came at the expense of the “none of the above” option, rather than from the share of people picking farm-raised beef. Information about technology and production increased the share of people choosing lab-grown beef, but shrank the market share of the plant-based alternatives. The policy round was roughly in-line with what you’d expect from the market share studies. The majority of consumers surveyed supported a ban on labeling anything other than farm-raised beef as “beef,” and were opposed to implementing a 10% tax on beef. 30% of those surveyed accepted lab-grown beef being labeled as “beef,” compared to around 25% for the plant-based alternatives.
One gap of this study, is that consumers were not questioned about health, a major driver of food choice. Red meat consumption has been linked to several forms of cancer, and both the Impossible and Beyond burgers are cholesterol-free. Furthermore, the Beyond Burger has more iron than a beef patty of the same size. U.S. consumers clearly have some willingness to substitute foods for the sake of health – skim milk, chicken sausages, and margarine are all grocery store mainstays, despite having a reputation for inferior taste compared to their unhealthy counterparts. Providing consumers information about the health benefits of plant-based meat may influence them more than information about the environment or production technology.
The vast majority of consumers are still only familiar with farm-raised beef. The Impossible and Beyond burgers are becoming more widely available nationwide, but still have a long way to go before public consciousness catches up. Meanwhile, lab-grown beef is still in the experimental stage, with a per-pound cost in the thousands and no retail availability. As these alternatives become more widespread and affordable, public opinion may change. However, this study does provide evidence that information about the environmental impact or production process is not a good sales-boosting technique, and overcoming the familiarity bias may be the biggest hurdle.