Meat, Culture, and Cultured Meat: Supertrends Surveys Consumer Attitudes Toward Cell-Based Meat
The young industry of cultured meat has seen many technological, funding, and regulatory breakthroughs in 2020. Despite the rapid growth, some questions remain to be answered: Will consumers eat cultured meat? Will cultured meat face negative consumer attitudes, similar to genetically modified food?
Cultured meat, or cultivated meat, is meat produced in a laboratory environment from animal cells. 2020 has been a record-breaking year for this young industry. Investment in this sector soared to US$350 million; fetal bovine serum (FBS)-free media has been developed and commercially produced; and Singapore became the first country to approve the sale of cultured meat. Despite the breakthroughs on the technology and regulatory fronts, as a novel food, cultured meat also requires cultural acceptance. There have been a few polls on consumer acceptance with diverse results. But there have not been many studies exploring the relationship between culture and meat, or cultured meat. What is considered edible meat in different cultures? Do people think cultured meat is real meat? What are the most important benefits people look for in cultured meat? Supertrends carried out a campaign in several countries to explore the cultural concepts of meat and cultured meat.
A survey designed to explore the cultural concepts of meat and cultured meat
Supertrends targeted four countries for this research – China, India, Switzerland, and Colombia. China and India represented significant food cultures in the “East”. They are also some of the biggest and fastest-growing markets for both meat and fish, while Switzerland represented typical “Western” food culture, and Colombia represented another ethnic culture where livestock plays an important dietary role.
Instead of a simple “yes or no” survey, the Supertrends team set up their research in three parts. In part one, participants were asked to freely list what they considered to be meat and words associated with cultured meat. Participants also were asked to write down the reasons why meat is eatable or uneatable. Keywords from participants’ descriptions were categorized and analyzed by the Supertrends team to determine if cultured meat fits into the concept of “meat” and whether it is considered edible. The conclusion was then tested in part two, where the participants had to answer survey questions regarding whether they were willing to try, purchase, and eat cultured meat. In part three, people around the world were asked to make predictions on 15 key future milestones related to cultured meat. These were then compiled into a crowd-sourced future timeline of cultured meat.
Cultured meat was associated with technology more than meat
Participants used words such as “stem cell”, “man-made”, or “biotech” to describe cultured meat.
The findings from this research are quite eye-opening. Across all participants, around 70 percent of the keywords in the free list of meat were related to animals. Some of the participants defined signs of life, such as respiration or blood circulation, as the defining criteria for meat. On the other hand, cultured meat was clearly associated with technology. Participants used words such as “stem cell”, “man-made”, or “biotech” to describe cultured meat. In general, the answer to the question of whether consumers view cultured meat as meat is that they are in doubt. This opinion was reflected in the mixed results of part two, where more than half of participants from Switzerland and Colombia stated they were willing to try cultured meat, while participants from China and India displayed less interest.
Another interesting finding is that the majority of participants’ personal opinions towards cultured meat were positive or uncertain. However, this does not mean that they were willing to try cultured meat. For instance, most Indian participants considered cultured meat to be “good”, “eco-friendly”, and “healthy”, yet 55 percent of the Indian participants were reluctant to try cultured meat. At the same time, 80 percent of the Swiss participants, who mostly voiced uncertainty and opposition, were willing to try cultured meat.
The wisdom of the crowd
The consensus time among survey respondents was in general two to three years later than the experts’ prediction
In the last part of the research, a crowd-sourced timeline was formed based on the “wisdom of the crowd”. Comparing the consensus time (average time of all predictions) with the time predicted by industry experts, Supertrends found that the consensus time among survey respondents was in general two to three years later than the experts’ prediction. This again signaled that the technology development in this novel food industry is ahead of consumer readiness.
The supertrends crowd-sourced timeline for cultured meat
Things can change pretty quickly in an innovative field. People’s opinions can be influenced by many elements. By the time the Supertrends research on culture and meat was published, Singapore had already become the first country to make cultured meat commercially available. It is now up to the cultured meat industry to seize the opportunity and encourage consumers to make up their minds.
If you are interested in the complete findings from the Supertrends research, you can read the full article for free here.
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