Meat Made Better: Will Consumers Bite?
Imagine being able to produce a prime rib without a cow, bacon without the pig or hot wings without the chicken. That’s the promise of “cultured” or “clean” meat. Cultured meat is started with animal cells that are then propagated in a nutrient medium. The final product is meat, but without the need to raise and slaughter an animal. This process has the potential to substantially reduce animal suffering as well as reduce the environmental damage from animal agriculture. While not yet available to consumers, companies are working furiously to bring these products to market.
Prior studies on lab-grown meat suggest that the public is concerned about its safety, taste, and price. For producers, overcoming these reservations will be key to the product’s success. So why not take advantage of the opportunity to improve the meat’s nutritional profile? For example, steak could be engineered to have less saturated fat, or that fat could be replaced with healthy omega-3 oils. To test the appeal of this concept, researchers in this study surveyed 775 adults about their beliefs, attitudes, and intentions to consume cultured meat. They also gathered demographic data to test acceptance of clean meat across gender, age, education, political identity, diet, where they live, and household income.
For the experiment, respondents read one of two passages. One discussed nutritional enhancements in cultured meat and the other described the nutritional equivalence of cultured meat to meat from animals. Those who read the passage about nutritionally-enhanced cultured meat viewed it as having more health benefits and being better for society. However, they seemed skeptical on the issue of taste, perhaps because they thought the nutritional enhancements might compromise this critical attribute. If something doesn’t taste good, people won’t buy it no matter its health or other benefits. Therefore, if cultured meat fails on this front, it will likely fail in the market.
Across all participants, almost two-thirds viewed cultured meat as safe to eat and were willing to try it. A little over a third (36%) said they would buy it regularly. About a quarter even reported they would pay more for it than for conventionally produced meat. The appeal of cultured meat is highest among younger consumers, meat-eaters, political liberals, and those already familiar with the concept.
For animal advocates, a couple of cautionary notes are in order. This study was sponsored by the Cellular Agriculture Society, whose mission is to advance the production of foods such as cultured meat. This creates the potential for biased results because of a conflict of interest. In addition, the lack of parallel structure in the wording of the passages about cultured meat may have altered the survey results. That said, the outcomes were in line with previous research and suggest solid market potential for this new technology.