- A third of 1,000 U.S. and United Kingdom consumers who participated in an online survey commissioned by PR firm Ingredient Communications said they’d be willing to buy lab-grown meat if it was available in restaurants or grocery stores, New Hope Network reports.
- Six in 10 vegans (from a total of 112) said they would give it a try. Also willing to try were 40% of Americans and 18% of those from the U.K. Overall, the survey found 29% would try lab-grown meat, 38% would not, and 33% weren’t sure.
- These results comes at a time when companies including Memphis Meats, Future Meats and JUST are investing in lab-grown protein as an alternative to resource-intensive meat production, New Hope Network says. The survey indicates consumers are at least open to the idea of cultured meats.
Perhaps years of eating seedless watermelon and other carefully bred foods have warmed the consuming public to the idea of eating meat grown in a lab from animal cells. Cultured meats currently aren’t available on grocery store shelves or restaurant menus, but that’s likely to change soon as the process becomes streamlined and costs become palatable to consumers. The question is, will consumers really buy it?
Eric Schulze, senior scientist at Memphis Meats, thinks so. His company manufactured the world's first cell-cultured meatball and chicken strip, and he said that as consumer demand for meat grows, lab-grown meat is one way to meet it. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, meat consumption will reach a record high this year — 222.8 pounds of meat per person.
"The world loves meat,” Schulze said at a conference in Las Vegas last year. He noted that 96% of Americans eat meat each day, and global demand is expected to double by 2050. Today’s consumers also have concerns about sustainability, adding to lab-grown meat’s allure, said Schulze. He estimates his company’s process requires up to 90% less greenhouse gas emissions, land and water than conventionally produced meat. He said consumers will buy into the concept, especially if the new foods mimic that tastes and textures of traditional meats.
Venture capitalists seem to agree. As Business Insider reported earlier this year, Tyson Foods announced it had invested in Memphis Meats, joining other notable investors such as Bill Gates, food producer Cargill and Richard Branson.
At the same time, the number of people with meat-free dietary lifestyles is growing. Thirty-one percent of Americans go meat-free on certain days, while Google searches for “vegan” jumped 90% in the past year, according to the Chicago Tribune.
It remains to be seen whether vegetarians or vegans — a small percentage of consumers overall — will accept lab-grown meats as they learn more about them. Much depends on their reasons for not eating meat in the first place. Lab-grown meat could make sense for those who avoid animal foods for environmental reasons, or because they are concerned with how cattle or chickens are raised for mass production.
Others may just stay with their plant-based proteins, eggs and milk. “It’s not an alternative to meat: it is meat,” author and animal advocate Paul Shapiro told Veg News. Cells in the lab grow as they would in an animal’s body and create actual meat, not meat alternatives, he said. Although he supports the growth of lab-grown meats, he thinks they will appeal more to meat-eaters looking for alternatives.
But will lab-grown meats be perceived as real meat by the public? The debate is starting, even though there is no market date set for any of these products. USDA has proposed separate regulations for these products in an appropriations bill working its way through Congress.
The U.S. Cattlemen’s Association also thinks cultured meats need better definition. The group has filed a petition with the federal government arguing cultured meats should not be allowed to label or market themselves as “meat.” Companies working on lab-grown meat have pushed back against this petition, with Memphis Meats CEO and co-founder Uma Valenti telling Food Navigator that such a move would "stifle innovation."
Surveys can serve as healthy barometers of public mood, but there's no way to know for certain how consumers feel about cultured meats until the foods hit store shelves and restaurant menus. It very likely could come down to price and taste for many buyers. As the idea of lab-grown meat gets more mainstream, companies producing them should invest in intense marketing to help customers understand their products and their benefits.