Plant-Based and Clean Meat in the USA, India, and China
In recent years, we’ve seen an increased focus on alternative meat products, particularly plant-based meat and clean meat. Whereas plant-based meat is developed to mimic the taste and texture of meat using only ingredients from plants, clean meat – sometimes also called cultured meat or cell-based meat – is grown from animal cells. Both plant-based and clean meat products come with a huge advantage over conventionally produced meat: They do not require large-scale suffering of animals, and avoid environmental destruction and resource depletion from animal agriculture.
More and more companies, both new start-ups and established corporations, are investing in meat substitutes. While technological challenges remain to scale up clean meat production and decrease costs, another major question is whether consumers will be willing to buy plant-based and clean meat, or leave them on the supermarket shelves.
Researchers have been exploring consumer acceptance towards meat substitutes for some time now. However, most of that research has focused on consumers in the U.S. and Europe. Few studies have looked into other markets where demand for meat is expected to rise. Also, different studies often use different methodologies, which makes it harder to compare their results.
In this study, researchers explored consumers’ attitudes toward meat and novel food products, as well as their acceptance towards clean and plant-based meat in the world’s three most populous countries: China, India, and the United States. The overall results were surprising: Urban, well-educated, and high-income consumers in China and India were more likely to accept and buy clean and plant-based meat than consumers in the United States.
In their surveys, researchers asked participants from all three countries the same questions to ensure comparability. Two standardized questionnaires, the Food Neophobia Scale and the Meat Attachment Questionnaire, were used. The former estimates people’s aversion towards new food products, while the latter measures positive emotional attitudes towards meat consumption. Additionally, participants answered questions about demographic factors, eating habits, and attitudes towards and familiarity with plant-based and clean meat.
With this large-scale dataset, researchers built regression models to estimate which demographic factors predict consumers’ intentions to buy clean and plant-based meat within each country. Some of the key results of the analysis include:
- Consumers who were more familiar with alternative meat products were more willing to buy them. This suggests that with an increasing presence on supermarket shelves, in the media, and in advertisements, people will buy more clean and plant-based meat. This finding applied to all three countries.
- In the U.S., meat-eaters and people who were strongly emotionally attached to meat were more likely to be willing to eat clean meat, but less likely to eat plant-based meat. This suggests that in the U.S. the two alternative meat products cater to different market segments and should be marketed differently. By contrast, Chinese and Indian consumers who reported eating more meat and had a stronger attachment to meat were more willing to buy both plant-based and clean meat.
- Consumers in India who perceived production of clean and plant-based meat to be more ethical and sustainable were more willing to eat these products than consumers with the same views in the U.S. and China. This suggests that messaging focused on environmental and animal welfare benefits could be more effective in India than in the two other countries.
While this study offers plenty of interesting results, the researchers note that it comes with some limitations. The Chinese and Indian survey samples were not representative of the countries as a whole. On average participants had more urban lifestyles, were better educated, and had higher incomes than the total populations in China and India.
The researchers point out that, while this limits the extent to which their findings can be generalized to each country, the findings are still highly relevant since urban, well-educated, high-income people are likely to be the first consumers to be exposed to plant-based and clean meat in China and India.
Another limitation is the general validity of self-reported data on consumption habits and willingness to buy products. People may have a poor memory about their own eating habits and may not be correct in predicting their future purchasing behavior. Moreover, survey respondents are more likely to give answers that they think are socially desirable.
Finally, one should be careful when making cross-cultural comparisons of survey results. Respondents from different cultures may answer survey questions differently, as has been suggested by a Faunalytics study on consumers in China and the United States.
Despite these limitations, this study reveals similarities and differences in consumers’ attitudes towards plant-based and clean meat in China, India, and the United States. The results are highly relevant for advocates in those countries, and should be taken into account when developing messaging strategies.