South African Consumers Are Ready To Embrace Plant-Based And Cultivated Meat
Plant-based and cultivated meat are on the rise globally, attracting increasing attention from consumers, businesses and investors. However, the industry is facing a large knowledge gap in many developing and emerging markets, especially on the African continent. To date, most of the research on consumer perceptions of plant-based and cultivated meat has been conducted in the United States as well as some European and Asian countries.
We now have new empirical evidence that can start closing this knowledge gap. In Feb 2021, our team of researchers from Credence Institute and North Mountain Consulting Group surveyed a representative sample of over 1,000 South Africans on their perceptions of plant-based and cultivated meat. In October, we then published our findings in Frontiers in Sustainable Food Systems. In this blog post, I will highlight the main empirical findings of our recent study and argue that plant-based and cultivated meat can be strong levers for enhancing food systems in South Africa and beyond.
The Promise of Plant-Based and Cultivated Meat
Introducing plant-based and cultivated meat to consumers in emerging and developing markets may be one of our best strategies to avoid the missteps many Western countries have taken when it comes to food production. The adverse effects of industrial animal farming on public health, the environment and the lives of animals have become well-known in recent years. While economic development has produced marvellous benefits for people across the planet, rising incomes and urbanization have historically also been accompanied by an increase in meat consumption.
Substituting conventional meat with innovative foods like plant-based and cultivated meat might give us a chance to have our cake and eat it too. These products can mitigate the above-mentioned animal welfare, environmental and public health issues, while having familiar sensory characteristics and fitting within typical meal patterns. Plant-based and cultivated meat offer a market-based solution that can enable developing and emerging markets to follow alternative and sustainable paths in developing their food production systems.
Scaling the production and distribution of plant-based and especially cultivated meat products still faces some challenges. Apart from that, the success of these new technologies crucially depends on their adoption by consumers. The good news is that we just found out that South African consumers are eager to adopt plant-based and cultivated meat products.
Strong Acceptance and Positive Outlook
In a recent study, we surveyed a panel of over 1,000 South Africans aged 18-61, representative across age, gender, income, and race. As the graph below shows, about two out of three respondents stated they were highly likely to try plant-based and cultivated meat products respectively. Similar high numbers were found for the degree of support and likelihood to purchase, two other measures for future adoption of these alternative proteins.
These findings are especially notable as familiarity with meat alternatives is currently still low among the South African population. For each of the two categories, only around 17% of participants indicated they were highly familiar with the products. At the same time, we found prior familiarity to be the best predictor for purchase intention in both this and other studies. We can thus expect consumer adoption to further increase as alternative meat products become more commonly available and known.
Participants in our study seemed to intuitively grasp this dynamic. When asked to imagine a future in which plant-based, cultivated, and conventional meat were all readily available, consumers estimated their yearly meat intake to be split fairly equally among the three meat types. This would be a major change to current consumption patterns, where conventional meat dwarfs plant-based meat in terms of market size.
The positive outlook is further strengthened by looking at generational differences in consumer preferences. Our study found that younger generations show substantially higher levels of familiarity and adoption of both plant-based and cultivated meat. This is in line with findings from other studies in a variety of areas: Unsurprisingly, young people tend to be more eager to adopt emerging technologies and drive change in consumption patterns. As generational cohorts change over time, adoption of plant-based and cultivated meat is therefore highly likely to increase.
But generational differences are not only relevant when looking ahead into the future. The comparably high share of younger generations in many emerging and developing countries points to already strong markets for plant-based and cultivated meat outside of the global North. In South Africa, 63% of the population is under 35 years old, while the median age is only 28. In comparison, industrialized countries like Germany or Canada show median ages of 48 and 42 respectively. Of course, producers and marketers also need to consider other aspects like purchasing power or regulatory requirements when deciding which markets to focus on. However, our study highlights how promising developing and emerging markets can be for businesses in the alternative protein space.
Motivations for Purchasing and Desired Product Characteristics
Apart from these generational trends, we did not find great variance in future adoption levels between different segments of the South African population. Consumers across all parts of society indicated broad acceptance of plant-based and cultivated meat.
The only important sociodemographic predictor of purchase intention was household income. Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, respondents with a lower income showed a stronger purchase intention for both plant-based and cultivated meat. This might be explained by our questionnaire’s framing of these alternative proteins as social equity solutions. But it might also simply reflect the fact that food security is an important issue in developing countries like South Africa, so that less wealthy consumers are ready to embrace new products that help to create a more sustainable and equitable food supply.
In general, attitudinal and behavioral aspects seem to be much more important than sociodemographic factors for consumers’ adoption of plant-based and cultivated meat. As described above, familiarity with these innovative product types was the best predictor for purchase intention among our respondents. This stresses the need for accelerating the introduction of meat alternatives and showcasing the underlying production methods to the public.
In addition, we found different motivations for purchasing plant-based and cultivated meat to be highly important. Respondents that agreed with the benefits that such products provide were significantly more likely to purchase them. As can be seen in the figure below, animal welfare, health, the environment, and local food security emerged as the most important factors that motivate South African consumers to buy plant-based and cultivated meat. This shows that consumers are motivated by the multi-dimensional benefits that meat alternatives offer, including both altruistic factors and personal benefits – an important data point for advocates and marketers to understand which messaging South Africans should be most receptive to.
When it comes to product characteristics, we found that several factors are highly important to consumers: taste, texture, nutritional value, easiness to prepare, and fit with usual meals. For both meat types, taste and nutrition were rated slightly higher than the others.
In addition, we asked respondents to indicate which kinds of products would be most appealing to them. The results show that consumers are most eager to see plant-based and cultivated meat products emulating conventional beef and poultry. These product types are followed by pork, mutton and fish. Offal and game products were least desired.
Costs and Scaling of Production
All of the above-mentioned findings should be highly useful to both advocates and businesses. So far I have omitted one crucial factor though: the pricing of alternative meat products. On the positive side, our study found that roughly 30% of participants were highly likely to pay more for plant-based and cultivated meat compared to conventional meat. However, this also means that only about half of all respondents who indicated a high likelihood of purchasing will do so if the new alternatives are more expensive than conventional meat.
This finding speaks for the need to invest further into research, development, and production to bring costs down. Again, the focus on emerging and developing markets is instructive. With lower incomes, many consumers in the Global South cannot afford to pay more for plant-based or cultivated meat. This is especially unfortunate, given that our study found South African consumers with lower incomes to be more eager to adopt meat alternatives. To address this segment of the market as well as to alleviate food insecurity, it is thus vital to reduce production costs and thereby consumer prices.
In a Nutshell
In summary, investing in the production and distribution of plant-based and cultivated meat in South Africa and other developing and emerging markets seems beneficial for both the bottom line as well as for ethical reasons.
Our recent study shows that South Africans are eager to try and buy such products and that businesses can find large and growing markets in the Global South. In accordance with rising incomes and urbanization, meat consumption is projected to rise substantially over the coming decades. But the large segments of young consumers in many emerging and developing markets are also likely to adopt new products and consumption patterns, providing great opportunities for the introduction of alternatives like plant-based and cultivated meat.
Continuing to enhance and scale the production of alternative meat products can be a great vehicle on the path towards a healthy, sustainable, and equitable food supply in South Africa and beyond. It is vital to enable developing and emerging countries to avoid the health, environmental, and animal welfare problems associated with industrial animal farming.
Our research aims to aid this process. To our knowledge, ours was the first publicly available study to analyze consumer perceptions of plant-based and cultivated meat in Africa. It can serve as an important benchmark and we hope will be a starting point for further studies across Africa and in other developing and emerging markets.