Lab-grown meat: One in three consumers ready to try, US shows greater willingness than UK

636555829905484252Ingredient Comms Cultured meat.jpg

02 Mar 2018 --- Lab-grown meat is making waves among some of the world’s biggest investors tipping the innovation to be the future of protein-packed food – and now new research reveals nearly one in three consumers are willing to eat it.

29 percent of UK & US consumers say they would eat cultured meat, while 40 percent of Americans are happy to do so and 60 percent of vegans are willing to give it a try, according to new research from Surveygoo, commissioned by specialist PR agency Ingredient Communications.

And vegans are the consumer segment most likely to do so, according to the online survey, with 60 percent stating they would be willing to do so. 

Click to EnlargeThe figure was lower for vegetarians (23 percent) and pescatarians (21 percent). Meanwhile, 28 percent of meat eaters – the largest cohort in the survey (888 of 1,000) – said they were prepared to give cultured meat a try.

Respondents were told that cultured meat was real meat grown from cells in a laboratory and not sourced from animals. They were then asked if they would be willing to eat this type of meat if it was available to buy in shops and restaurants. In total, 29 percent said they would, 38 percent said they wouldn’t, and the remaining 33 percent said they didn’t know.

Consumers are questioning their eating habits in an unprecedented way, something that ties in with Innova Market Insights’ top trend for 2018 – Mindful Choices – points out Richard Clarke, Founder & Managing Director of Ingredient Communications Ltd.

“Meat consumption, in particular, is in the spotlight. People are asking themselves whether eating meat is the right thing to do in terms of health, animal welfare and sustainability,” he tells FoodIngredientsFirst.

“Many in the food industry see lab-grown meat as a way to address these doubts. That’s all very well, but we wanted to know what people really thought about the prospect of eating it. Our survey was designed to gauge just how ready consumers are to do so.”

American respondents (40 percent) were much more likely to choose to eat cultured meat than those in the UK (18 percent) – which suggests that cultured meat pioneers would be well advised to initially target the US market.

“The survey results give an interesting indication of where consumers are right now on this subject,” adds Clarke.

Click to Enlarge“There’s an enormous amount of interest in the potential of cultured meat. The industry remains embryonic but is attracting significant investment.”

“Surveys like this offer an insight into how consumers are thinking so that companies can start to consider where the best opportunities for lab-grown meat lie, and also how they can address any pushback.”

The survey comes at a time when consumers globally are thinking about their food and beverage decisions with many people often enjoying meat but feeling a sense of guilt because of animal welfare issues as well as farming and environmental challenges.

Cultured meat & mindful choices 
Innova Market Insights released its top trends for 2018 a few months back, naming “Mindful Choices” as the top trend. 

It’s all about how the increasingly thoughtful and mindful consumer will continue to catalyze changes in the way that companies produce, package and label their products. 

The other element driving the “mindful choice” trend is about peace of mind, while making a positive impact in the world, through ethical claims. There has been a +44 percent CAGR in ethical claims (2010-2016, global), which includes ethical animal/human/environment, excluding ethical packaging.

And so one of the most compelling benefits of cultured meat is its ethical credentials. 

“We were surprised by how many respondents expressed a willingness to eat cultured meat. It’s such a new concept and when you consider the backlash against GMOs, and the unstoppable momentum of the naturalness trend, it seems counter-intuitive that people would be willing to eat meat produced in a laboratory,” adds Clarke. 

“However, our survey shows that it has appeal for a significant proportion of consumers, particularly those in America.”

UK versus US consumer perceptions 
The rise of cultured meat has been a key discussion area for several years, with pioneering research from the University of Maastricht leading to the creation of the spin-off company Mosa Meat in 2015, but commercial launches still appear to be some way away.

Also in 2015, California startup Impossible Foods was working to introduce a plant-derived burger to the US market that releases a blood-like substance as it cooks.

Impossible Foods creates meat and dairy foods directly from simple plant ingredients and announced in October 2015, that it had raised US$108 million in Series D financing led by UBS.

Now a few years later the Impossible Burger is a big hit with chefs across the US restaurant scene as the firm has partnered with the foodservice industry to roll out the concept.

In March 2017, Impossible Foods announced it would build its first large-scale plant in Oakland California to produce one million pounds of plant-based burger meat a month.

Meanwhile, the UK has not yet had so much exposure to the idea of cultured meat. 

“The results of this survey indicate that there is a huge difference between how US and UK consumers perceive cultured meat,” says Neil Cary, Managing Director of Surveygoo.

“It shows how countries which, on the surface, appear to share many similar values, may, in fact, diverge quite widely on certain issues.”

“It’s very early days for cultured meat and our findings highlight the value of asking consumers how they feel about cutting-edge developments such as these.”

Last summer clean meat innovators Memphis Meat received groundbreaking support from investors, including billionaire entrepreneurs Sir Richard Branson and Bill Gates, as well as one of the world’s largest global agricultural companies, Cargill. 

Based in the San Francisco Bay Area, Memphis Meats is developing methods to produce meat directly from animal cells, without the need to breed or slaughter animals.

And just last month, the venture capital arm of US multinational corporation Tyson Foods – the world's second largest processor and marketer of chicken, beef and pork – invested in the food tech startup, insisting it’s not counter-intuitive. 

Also at the beginning of this year, groundbreaking Israeli food-tech startup, SuperMeat, raised US$3 million in seed funding and joined forces with one of Europe’s largest poultry producers, PHW, establishing itself as a significant contender in the global shift towards lab-grown clean chicken.

The recent seed round was led by US-based venture capital fund New Crop Capital and VC firm Stray Dog Capital with both firms saying they are openly committed to investing in more sustainable food systems.

By Gaynor Selby