Younger consumers are more likely than older ones to try synthetic and lab-grown foods and beverages, a recent poll from Charleston|Orwig, a Wisconsin-based marketing and communications firm, Maeve Webster of Menu Matters and Confidential Consumer revealed.
The poll of 500 U.S. consumers also found skepticism and concern about new food technologies. About one-third of the respondents expressed that concern, while one-quarter said they're worried about how healthful lab-grown products are compared to conventionally produced food.
- "There is an emerging awareness by Americans, especially the younger generation, that new technologies will become part of our food system," Mark Gale, CEO of Charleston|Orwig, said in a release. "However, for most consumers who are willing to give synthetic and lab-based foods a try, transparency and more information will be critical to adoption. They wonder: What’s in it? How is it made? Is it safe to eat?"
Ongoing transparency and education about technology-driven foods will be needed in order to encourage more consumers to give them a shot. Even though more than half the population is receptive to lab-grown products, more than 40% in this poll said lab-produced or synthetic foods and beverages are "scary" and they have no plans to add them to their diets, Charleston|Orwig said.
Following the pattern of greater acceptance among those aged 18-34, about a fifth of them said lab-grown products are the future and will help save the planet. However, not all of them hold such an optimistic view. More than a quarter of that group called the items "scary" and said they wouldn't be willing to try them — though this is much less than the 46% older than 55 with those views.
Charleston|Orwig CEO Mark Gale noted new food technologies can have a positive impact, even though they may cause unease among some groups because they're so new and different. After all, he said, pasteurization, which is a standard practice that kills harmful bacteria in products like milk and juice, was new technology once.
Developers and manufacturers of lab-grown foods are familiar with these consumer concerns and have been doing what they can to address them. However, because of the high production costs and potential consumer reluctance, such companies may have to work harder to market their products since they could take longer to catch on.
Nevertheless, more lab-grown beef, chicken, fish or crustacean products are racing to be first to market. Israeli startup Aleph Farms recently announced it had developed a cell-grown minute steak, while Future Meat Technologies has a facility dedicated to producing cultured meat under construction and slated to open next year. Memphis Meats is working on lab-cultured meat and poultry — in which both Tyson Foods and Cargill have invested. Just is working to develop lab-grown chicken and has partnered with Japanese meat producer Toriyama to produce lab-grown wagyu beef.
But it isn't just meat that is being created in the lab. Fermented dairy company Perfect Day just closed a $140 million funding round and, following this summer's successful test sale of ice cream made with cow-free milk, is slated to announce products and partnerships to get more products to market next year. Other companies recreating dairy and egg proteins, including Motif FoodWorks and Clara Foods, are on track for their ingredients to hit the market in coming years.
One asset of lab-grown products is the sustainability factor. More consumers are wondering whether raising and consuming conventional meat products is the best thing for their health, animal welfare and the planet. Fewer food safety issues because of the nature of how the products are produced is another plus for the segment. Lab-grown manufacturers are well advised to stress these positives in order to get more consumers interested in their products.
As food products emerge from laboratories, it may make sense for companies to market them specifically to younger consumers since they seem more receptive. While it's possible older consumers will eventually come around, it make take time for them to see how well specific brands do in the marketplace before changing their attitudes toward new production technologies.
Other recent research underscores this approach, finding manufacturers may do better with introducing food tech using both scientifically supported information and emotion to maximize buy-in before products arrive in stores. Focusing adequate time and effort on how to market and sell such foods may turn out to be nearly as important as development and manufacturing when it comes to consumer acceptance.