Could lab-grown chicken be a hit with consumers?

Dive Brief:

  • Bay Area startup Memphis Meats announced its scientists have created the first chicken strip made through cell-replicating technology, wraccording to The Wall Street Journal.
  • The company, along with other high-tech meat substitute developers, sees its development as a more environmentally friendly, humane alternative for consumers. Americans eat 90 pounds of chicken per capita each year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, making it by far the country’s most consumed meat.
  • As the science develops, Memphis Meats hopes to bring its lab-grown chicken in line with industry production and pricing levels. But it has a long way to go: Currently, the company can produce one pound of chicken for just under $9,000. 

Dive Insight:

Lab-grown chicken will likely resonate with consumers who consider environmental concerns and animal welfare top priorities when buying food. Each year, producers worldwide process more than 61 million chickens. That’s a lot of birds, not to mention the exponential amounts of feed, waste and energy that factor into raising and processing them.

Meat companies like Tyson and Hormel also see something to like in these new meat creations. Tyson has expressed a willingness to eventually offer lab-grown meat as an alternative to customers, and recently bought a 5% stake in cultured-meat company Beyond Meat as a way of staying up to date on the industry’s movements.

With its new chicken offering, Memphis Meats joins other high-tech meatless alternative companies like Impossible Foods, Mosa Meat and Beyond Meat. Some of these firms are harnessing cell technology, while others are finding sophisticated ways of combining vegetarian ingredients to make strikingly convincing meat substitutes.

Will meat eaters actually bite, though? A lot depends on the taste, which by all accounts seems promising so far. A burger engineered by Impossible Foods looks and tastes like the real thing, according to testers interviewed by the Journal, even down to the redness of the patty.

Consumers will likely be skeptical of artificial meat, so marketing will play a crucial role. Even natural and organic consumers drawn to the sustainable and humane qualities of these offerings may have their doubts about advanced technology in their food, as they’ve expressed with genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. This may make the advanced vegetarian options from companies like Beyond Meat a safer bet.

But in the end, taste and price could help erase any misgivings consumers have about high-tech meats. Major players will certainly work hard to curry their favor. As David Lee, chief operating officer of Impossible Foods told the Journal, “the key to us isn’t to focus on those who’ve already chosen plant-based foods, but on those that really love a great-tasting burger.”

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Filed Under: Manufacturing Ingredients Meat / Protein
Top image credit: Memphis Meats