Urban Chinese Consumers & Cultured Meat
As the scientific development of cultured meat (sometimes referred to as “clean meat” progresses, it is important to keep up with consumer perceptions of cultured meat as a food product. Cultured meat has great potential for improving our current food system’s issues surrounding animal welfare, food security, and environmental sustainability. However, without consumer demand on a global scale, cultured meat will struggle to fulfill these aims. This study aims to examine the public’s attitudes towards cultured meat products among consumers in China. Specifically, a total of 1,004 adults were surveyed in the urban cities of Beijing, Qingdao, and Tai’an regarding their knowledge of, acceptance of, and willingness to pay for clean meat. Of the respondents, 60% were female, 90% were aged 46 or younger, 59% had a college degree or higher, and 54% had below-average household income. The majority of respondents (88%) self-reported being in above-average health.
The authors explain that in China, the translation of the term “cultured meat” is very uncommon. Instead, the translation of the term “artificial meat” is much more commonly used, despite this latter term being broader and encompassing plant-based meat substitutes in addition to cultured meat. As a result, respondents were asked about “artificial meat” in the first set of survey questions; then they were presented with information about cultured meat before being asked specifically about “cultured meat” in the second set. In the set of questions on artificial meat, it was revealed that 90% of respondents had heard about artificial meat but only 11% had knowledge on the topic. Most respondents (70%) assumed that artificial meat was created as a way to make profits from selling a new food item, and very few knew about its animal welfare, food security, or environmental protection aims.
Next, respondents were given information about cultured meat in particular, including these intended benefits. Prior to receiving information about cultured meat, only about a quarter of respondents indicated acceptance of artificial meat, and a similar proportion (22.6%) outright opposed it. However, once they were provided the information about cultured meat, nearly half of respondents rated it favorably (45.5%) and only 12% opposed it.
The researchers found a correlation between respondents who were unaccepting of cultured meat and those who were unaccepting of methods of growing vegetables without the use of soil, which could indicate that these respondents were likely against “unnatural” food production methods in general. They also found a correlation between trust in the government’s food safety regulations and acceptance of cultured meat. Males, younger respondents, and respondents with a college degree or higher indicated greater acceptance of cultured meat. Age was especially significant: less than 6% of respondents under 30 years old opposed cultured meat, compared to 28% of respondents over 49 years old. Since the study sample was composed of people who were slightly younger than the general population in their cities, it is probable that the general population in these three Chinese cities would be slightly less accepting of cultured meat compared to the respondents sampled in this study.
The vast majority of respondents indicated a willingness to taste artificial meat (77%) and purchase it (69%). After being presented with the information about cultured meat, an even greater majority indicated a willingness to taste cultured meat (84.5%) and purchase it (78%). The researchers also presented respondents with questions that measured how much they were willing to pay for artificial and cultured meat versus farmed meat. Based on their answers, the researchers calculated the respondents’ relative “willingness to pay.” They found that respondents were, on average, only willing to pay 94.3% of the price of farmed meat for artificial meat. However, after being presented with the information about cultured meat, the average willingness to pay for cultured meat was 102.2%, meaning that on average, respondents indicated that they were willing to pay slightly extra for cultured meat over conventional meat.
Several insights can be gained from the results of this study, though one must keep in mind that these insights are specific to the population being studied (essentially, adults living in urban cities in China) and the point in history that the survey responses were collected (2019). Most respondents knew very little about artificial and cultured meat, and in fact, their responses seemed to become more positive as a result of the information they were presented about cultured meat after initially answering questions about artificial meat in general.
These findings demonstrate that educating the public about cultured meat can, at the very least, allow more people to form an opinion and potentially display greater acceptance towards this novel food product based on their newfound understanding. It may be particularly effective to target information campaigns towards the type of people found to be most receptive to cultured meat overall, such as people who are male, young, or college-educated. Given the high rate of interest that respondents had in trying cultured meat but the relatively low willingness to pay extra for it, producers are advised to keep production costs low by continuing to invest in developing cost-effective culture medium and bioreactors. Of course, investment into research on taste, texture, and food safety of cultured meat is needed as well. Advocates can help inform the public about cultured meat, including how it is made and what food system problem it aims to solve, so as to clear up misunderstandings that the public may have. Additionally, advocates can help in their capacity as consumers by encouraging their local food retailers to carry cultured meat products at affordable prices — or even purchasing it themselves if they feel comfortable doing so.